Coping through comedy

‘Saturday Night Live’ reflects on Israel-Hamas war

In somber opening, Pete Davidson speaks about his own father’s death as a firefighter on 9/11, says sometimes comedy is the way forward

Andrew Silow-Carroll is the editor-in-chief of JTA

Pete Davidson speaks about the Israel-Hamas war during an episode of 'Saturday Night Live,' October 14, 2023. (NBCUniversal via JTA)
Pete Davidson speaks about the Israel-Hamas war during an episode of 'Saturday Night Live,' October 14, 2023. (NBCUniversal via JTA)

JTA — “Saturday Night Live” returned to the air for its 49th season with a somber reflection on the Israel-Hamas war by former cast member Pete Davidson.

In the “cold open,” the Staten Island native spoke directly to the camera, reminding audiences that his father, a New York City firefighter, was killed in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

“This week we saw the horrible images and stories from Israel and Gaza,” he said. “And I know what you’re thinking: Who better to comment on it than Pete Davidson?”

He continued:

“Well, in a lot of ways, I am a good person to talk about it because when I was 7 years old, my dad was killed in a terrorist attack, so I know something about what that’s like. I saw so many terrible pictures this week of children suffering, Israeli children and Palestinian children. And it took me back to a really horrible, horrible place. No one in this world deserves to suffer like that, especially not kids.”

Davidson, whose father was Jewish and whose mother is Catholic, then shared a story about how, after his father was killed, his mother tried to cheer him up with what she thought was a Disney film. Instead, it was the ribald stand-up comedy special “Delirious” by another “SNL” alum,  Eddie Murphy.

“Sometimes comedy is really the only way forward through tragedy,” Davidson said. “My heart is with everyone whose lives have been destroyed this week. But tonight, I’m going to do what I’ve always done in the face of tragedy, and that’s try to be funny.

“Remember, I said ‘Try.’”

After the usual credits, Davidson then returned with a conventional monologue.

Davidson’s words were for the most part warmly received on X, formerly known as Twitter, which has been filled with polarized invective about the war.

“Thanks Pete Davidson and @nbcsnl,” wrote Robert Smigel, a former “SNL” writer and observant Jew. “Your opening was honest and inspiring, and the rest of the show was exactly what I needed. For a few hours, instead of the war, I was laughing and thinking about diarrhea. Thank you. Made me proud to be a rapidly aging alumnus.”

The war was referenced again in the “Weekend Update” segment. “Well, this was a terrible week for the world but a great week for random idiots who like to share completely unhinged thoughts wherever they can,” anchor Colin Jost said during the satirical news segment. “And weirdly it’s not even on social media anymore. I saw a 1,000-word essay called ‘How I’d Fix Palestine,’ and it was posted in a Yelp review of a Buffalo Wild Wings.”

“Even world leaders who could be making it better are making it worse,” Jost continued. “For example, former president Trump went out of his way to praise the terrorist group Hezbollah, calling them ‘very smart.’ Though in Trump’s defense he thinks Hezbollah is the genie from Aladdin.”

“SNL” has aired before in the aftermath of tragedy, most famously just 18 days after the worst terrorist attack in American history. In that September 29, 2001, episode, the show’s producer, Lorne Michaels, asks then-New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani for permission to continue the comedy show.

“But can we be funny?” asks Michaels.

“Why start now?” responds Giuliani.

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