Movies

How Much of The King of Staten Island Is Really Pete Davidson’s Life?

“Scott Carlin” shares a lot in common with the SNL comedian, but there are some key differences.

Side-by-side photos of Pete Davidson as Scott standing shirtless with his arms spread wide and Pete giving a thumbs-up at Sundance last year.
Spot the differences. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Universal Pictures and David Becker/GC Images.

Friday marks the debut of The King of Staten Island, the new Judd Apatow movie in which Pete Davidson plays a guy who doesn’t seem all that different from the actual Pete Davidson. But that doesn’t mean it’s about a successful comedian whose habit of being romantically linked to beautiful actresses and pop stars continually confounds the masses. Instead, it’s about what that guy was like before he got famous—or what he still might be like if he never had. “That guy is definitely close to me, like, five years ago,” Davidson told the Washington Post. “All those experiences are definitely real.” So where do Pete Davidson and Scott Carlin, his King character, diverge? All aboard the Staten Island Ferry, because we’re about to find out.

Family

When we meet Scott Carlin, he’s 24 and living on Staten Island with his mother and younger sister. (Real Pete is currently 26.) This mirrors Pete’s upbringing: As with the fictional family, they lost the children’s father, Scott Davidson, years before. (It is somewhat confusing to keep the Scotts straight here: Pete’s real father was Scott Davidson, and then Pete’s character in the movie is Scott Carlin and that character’s father is Stan Carlin.)* Other tragic details are true to life as well: The character’s father and his real counterpart were both firemen who died in the line of duty, and Pete/Scott were both 7 at the time. The movie doesn’t go into much detail about the fire that killed Scott’s father other than to say it was at a hotel, but it’s well known that Pete’s father died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

Some of the movie takes place at a firehouse or among firemen, and several firefighters featured were played by real New York firefighters who worked alongside Pete’s father. The movie depicts Scott’s gratitude for the way the firefighters give him a sense of what his father was like in non-parenting contexts, and they bond over a performance of the song “One Headlight” by the Wallflowers—Davidson has said this was his and his dad’s favorite song.

Scott’s movie mom, Margie, is played by Marisa Tomei. She has some things in common with Pete’s real mom, Amy, in that both work as school nurses (Amy at one of the high schools Pete attended, Xavier). Margie also works as an emergency room nurse for extra money. If Amy ever took on extra work, thanks to her son, it seems like she is living more comfortably now: Pete bought the two a house in 2016 and currently occupies the basement. Pete has said that he feels guilty that his mother, like the movie mom, did not date much while the kids were growing up, another topic the movie incorporates. As for Pete’s sister, in the movie her name is Claire and she is played by Maude Apatow, but her real name is Casey.

Health Struggles

At the very beginning of the movie, Scott is seen closing his eyes while driving, essentially courting disaster, something Pete said he did as a teenager. In real life, Davidson has spoken about his borderline personality disorder, depression, and suicidal thoughts. The movie mentions antidepressants and ADD but is otherwise somewhat vague about Scott’s mental health and its treatment.

Both Pete and Scott have Crohn’s, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. Pete has said one reason he smokes marijuana is to deal with the pain from the disease. In the movie, Scott too spends a lot of time getting high. Pete has struggled with other substances and turned to rehab for help in real life, and he’s been praised for his honesty about his addictions and mental health. The movie depicts Scott’s substance abuse as circumstantial and less serious.

Interests

One big difference between Pete and Scott is that the latter’s ambition is to become a tattoo artist. Pete Davidson, like Scott, has dozens of tattoos but, unlike him, doesn’t aspire to create them himself and instead spent much of the last decade developing a comedy career. (The movie goes out of its way to mention that Scott’s first tattoo was of Kermit smoking a joint, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that real-life Davidson has a Kermit tattoo.) In the real world, Pete started college but didn’t finish, and the movie gives Scott a similarly spotty educational record.

Scott and Pete share many of the interests of modern-day young men: hanging with their friends, video games, the aforementioned pot. Pete has a close-knit group of friends as in the movie, and the movie depicts Scott’s friends making light of his father’s death, similar to how Pete has joked about it in his own comedy. Did these friends ever try to convince Pete to help them rob a pharmacy, as in the movie? Unclear.

Pete’s real-life adoration for rapper Kid Cudi is also an element of the movie: Cudi is the artist Scott is listening to in that opening sequence on the highway. (The song is “Pursuit of Happiness.”) Davidson has spoken often of his love for the rapper, who has been similarly open about his struggles with mental health: “He saved my life,” Davidson said in 2016. “I would’ve killed myself if I didn’t have Kid Cudi.”

Whereas the real Pete has become notorious for his string of famous girlfriends, in the movie Scott’s love life is a pretty minor plot: He is sleeping with his childhood friend Kelsey but refuses to commit. (Quite the contrast from proposing to Ariana Grande so quickly.) The Kelsey plotline highlights Scott’s sexual prowess but shows his bedside manner is lacking, another detail that felt possibly autobiographical. In real life, Pete’s relationship with Grande gave rise to the phrase “big dick energy,” but the movie doesn’t tell us much in the way of details about Pete’s anatomy. However, it does wink at the topic when a character played by Pamela Adlon launches into a soliloquy about how well-endowed a different character in the movie is, a guy who is played by fellow comedian Bill Burr.

In real life, Davidson collects sneakers and is known for his scumbro style. Scott definitely wears a few things that feel appropriately scummy; watch for Wu-Tang Clan and Ghostface tees and a weird yellow shirt covered in mouths. But another obvious difference between the movie character and the real Pete is that while both favor flashy streetwear, only the latter has posed for GQ wearing Burberry, Lanvin, and Hermès.

Correction, June 13, 2020: This article originally misstated the first name of the father of the movie’s main character. It is Stan.