Pete Davidson’s new comedy special crosses boundaries from the very beginning. “So Louie C.K. tried to get me fired me from SNL my first year, and this is that story,” the 49 minute stand-up starts. Davidson recounts how C.K ratted him out to Lorne Michaels for smoking too much weed and the awkward conversation that resulted. Davidson didn’t get in trouble; he could see from Michaels’ eyes that he didn’t really care, but what hurt Davidson was that the then highly esteemed comedian C.K. didn’t like him. Now, a few years later, Davidson relays his reaction to waking up one morning, after years of living in C.K.’s bad books, to the headline “Louie C.K. jerks off in front of women!” “And I said, yes!,” he jokes, as the crowd laughs. 

It’s a risky joke, as are they all. In a little under an hour Davidson calls out ex-girlfriend Ariana Grande for calling him an “amazing distraction” on the cover of Vogue after years of saying he has “Big Dick Energy.” He invites the audience to consider that his career would be finished if he’d ever said such a thing about any of her body parts. Yes, he’s dissing his ex and yes it’s cheap, but she has her songs and social media besides entertainment magazines, and he has to sit there and listen to all this. Before he gets on the topic of Grande, Davidson explores the unique relationship between women and their gay best friends. They’re the only ones allowed to act inappropriately, make sexual comments and gestures at women, including Davidson’s girlfriends, and for him, it’s suspicious and weird. These jokes point to what the whole special’s about: “There’s certain rules for certain people, and I don’t understand that.”

Davison is raw and fragile and at the same time, deeply bitter and cynical. The special is propelled by all the things that have annoyed, bothered and hurt him in the last few years, and here is he joking about them, trying to make peace with them in front of a room full of people. His father, who was a firefighter who died in 9/11. Politically correct Twitter warriors who call him out even for what he sees as unintentional mistakes, like sounding as if he didn’t care that former Navy SEAL Officer Dan Crenshaw lost an eye in war. The media continually portraying him as a loser who somehow managed to bag the perfect, beautiful, incredible Grande.

Davidson’s tried being himself, and you get the sense it hasn’t worked out for him. The world hasn’t welcomed his vulnerable, anxiety filled, staggering, authentic persona. While he certainly has a large group of avid fans, there are also Grande’s fans, who insulted him on social media before he left it.

In a candid interview with Charlamagne tha God, he revealed that the Saturday Night Live cast doesn’t take him seriously and he’s tired of being laughed at. He often speaks of his struggles with mental health on SNL, divulging very personal details about his battles on air and yet, always ends up being the punchline. This special is a hilarious defense of all he’s done and said and a charming attack on all those who’ve struck him. Davidson’s style is casual and relaxed. He speaks as if talking with a friend and giggles at his own jokes. His act isn’t polished the way most top stand-up comedians’ are- there are no transitions and often, there are long pauses, but this style speaks to who Davidson is and what he stands for. There’s no pretense, no censoring, just Pete as he is.