When Do You Pull a Pete Davidson and Not Joke About a Relationship? Dallas Comics Weigh In

Pete Davidson chose not to tell a joke about his ex-fiancee Ariana Grande on SNL.
Pete Davidson chose not to tell a joke about his ex-fiancee Ariana Grande on SNL. Mike Brooks

This might come as shocking news, but singer Ariana Grande and comedian Pete Davidson broke up. You probably haven’t heard anything about it and might need a moment to process your disbelief. When entertainers are involved in a breakup, it’s typical to see them work through the sadness by expressing it artistically. Songwriters may write a song about their exes, à la Grande’s “Thank U Next,” that mentions many of her previous boyfriends such as Mac Miller and Davidson. Comedians, like Davidson, may joke about things happening in their life.

Now while a song is usually welcome on most occasions, a joke in a time of grief appears callous and insensitive. A song at a funeral? A moving tribute. A tight five minutes of stand-up comedy at a funeral? You’re banned from all family reunions. There’s a third category, comedy songs, and they’re welcome nowhere, because parody songs are trash.

So when Davidson “proposed” to Saturday Night Live musical guest Maggie Rogers last week for a promo, Grande took to Twitter to rebuke her ex-fiance’s attempt at humor.

“for somebody who claims to hate relevancy u sure love clinging to it huh,” Grande tweeted.

Now what does that mean? Who the hell knows, but when Davidson did a segment on "Weekend Update" where he played his trademark character Pete Davidson, he ended by acknowledging the breakup with Grande directly to the audience.

"The last thing I will say is, I know some of you are curious about the breakup,” Davidson said. “But the truth is, it's nobody's business, and sometimes things just don't work out and that's OK. She's a wonderful, strong person and I wish her all the happiness in the world. Now please, go vote on Tuesday."

It was a slightly out-of-place sentiment in a segment during which Davidson had just made fun of a disabled veteran running for office, but it did bring up an interesting question in regard to comedians and their material. What is acceptable to share about your significant other?

"A girl might be cool with you talking about her crazy family, but if you mention her bitch best friend, she might freak." – Seth Cowles

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“I gotta say, it really depends on how secure or cool the significant other is with jokes about them,” Dallas stand-up comedian Seth Cowles says. “Also, it matters what the content is. A girl might be cool with you talking about her crazy family, but if you mention her bitch best friend, she might freak. If it is an ex, I don't think there is a line you can cross if it's true. If it's funny and not just mean for the sake of being mean, probably OK.”

Because a comedian’s material is often taken from their own lives, having a wife or husband and not talking about them can create difficulties in connecting to an audience with an honest point of view. For comedians like Dallas Observer’s Funniest Comic in Dallas, Wes Corwin, an understanding approach was necessary when approaching new material.

“My wife is a very private person,” Corwin says. “Which is funny because then I go on stage and talk at great lengths about our personal life. Fights, weird dates I think are sweet, conversations we have, trips we take, everything. I try to put in the extra time to not frame her like a punchline onstage because when I write about her, I don’t want her to come off as the 1950s nagging housewife kind of comedy trope some people present their wives as. I’m talking about her onstage because she’s one, a big part of my life and two, the funniest person I know.

"I think, at one point, I told her a joke I was doing at the time about a stay-home date where we made lasagna together, and she got very upset. It wasn’t that I crossed a line and that the subject matter was not complimentary, it’s that she felt like her private life was being shared with strangers, which she hated.

"We talked it over and I made it clear she pops in the set because she’s a big, permanent — knock on wood — part of my life and because I write as many jokes about the things I love as the things I don’t. So, she gave me approval.

"I make a point to tell her jokes where she comes up now so she knows what I'm doing. She doesn’t laugh at the ones about her student loan debt, but she says they’re fine.”

Regardless of whether it’s a male or female in the role of the comedian, the dynamics of the personal life being strained by oversharing on stage don’t change. It can be argued the male ego is the more fragile of the two, resulting in an even more patient approach required to navigate relationship material.

As Dallas comedian Marissa Nieto explains, the love you have for your partner is usually the best internal compass for what’s inappropriate to say on stage.

“I have so much love and respect for Ryan, my husband, that I would never intentionally try to hurt him for the sake of a joke,” Nieto says. “I’m a monster, but for other reasons like I hate ranch and Whataburger.

"I usually never think ahead to ask Ryan if he’s cool with me telling a joke. It’s typically after the fact, once I’ve worked on it and I’m about to do it at a show he’s going to be at and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, let me know what you think of this new breakfast bit.’

"I don’t try to cross any lines or say things on stage that I don’t feel comfortable saying in my marriage. For example, Ryan and I don’t use the word divorce, ever. We’re in this for the long haul and we don’t even want to speak that word out loud into the universe in the heat of the moment. I have instead said 'open marriage' to escalate a joke and it didn’t take away from what I was trying to do. I feel so darn lucky that I get to be married to Ryan, anything I use for a joke comes from a playful, fun place.”
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