Before meeting Pete for the first time, I had low expectations that we'd get along. I knew nothing substantial about him, only what I'd heard through others and tidbits from the press, which is to say I'd only heard gossip. I'm six years sober and I was pretty certain he partied — and partied hard. And straight guys tend to put me on edge; I never feel comfortable or safe enough to be myself around most of them. But a close friend I was crashing with in New York had met him at a party a few days before, and they were hanging out when I landed in the city.
It was the beginning of summer. As the elevator doors opened onto our now-mutual friend's Soho loft, I heard this crazy, guttural laugh and there he was, in all his Pete glory: basketball shorts, tattoos, baseball cap, smoking a blunt with a Colgate Wisp hanging out of his mouth like an early-aughts toothpick. "Hey man!" he said, before I could even put my bag down. I immediately felt drawn to him in this way that I've stopped trying to even make sense of. In a way that had nothing to do with his "BDE" [Big Dick Energy] (or maybe everything to do with it?). It was clear that I'd judged him too soon. We chilled that night, and I felt like I'd known him my whole life, or in past lives, like we were kindred and destined to be friends. Maybe it's because he reminds me of my older brother, even if he is two years younger than me; maybe it's because he stood up to shake my hand hello and sincerely made me feel welcome; maybe it's because he has this ability to laugh so goofily that you're immediately disarmed and can't help laughing with him.
Clothing and accessories: Versace
I think, in the end though, if I had to sum it up in one word it'd have to be heart: a massive — perhaps wounded — eagerly available heart inside the body of a boy I would've expected to beat me up in high school. A heart that will text you out of the blue, from 10,000 miles away, to say, "I'm here for you always, just want you to know, I love you!" A heart that isn't afraid to show love to anybody around him or of seeming "gay" for doing it. A heart that has changed my perspective and opened my eyes to a world of funny and what it means to truly be a friend — to be there for someone else without judgment, no questions asked.
We'd spent the summer getting close; he even came to WorldPride with me. In a car, on our way to set for his new movie with Judd Apatow, we brainstormed ideas for our upcoming shoot together. I threw out a Ken Doll concept. It seemed right since tabloids manipulate people in that way, him especially. He was down with the idea, but challenged me to go darker, something that leaned into his struggle with depression, which he has been admirably public about. He'd told me he slept in a car bed as a kid and I saw it immediately: this Staten Island Ken Doll version of Pete stuck in a Barbie nightmare, pills everywhere. "You'd be like depressed Ken," I said.
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"Yeah! And dickless, like, with Ken-dick," he said, and the whole car exploded with laughter. And actress/model/artist Julia Fox was the perfect outer-borough Barbie to Pete's Ken. A star on the rise in her own right, she's currently starring in the Safdie brothers' new film, Uncut Gems, produced by one of Pete's good friends, Sebastian Bear-McClard.
A few weeks after we shot the cover in Bushwick, Pete and I met up in LA on the set of The Real Bros of Simi Valley — he was shooting a cameo — for a wide-ranging conversation, touching on his relationships, Leonardo DiCaprio, gay rights and where he sees himself in 10 years.
(On Pete) Sweater and necklace: Versace; Pants and shoes: S.R. Studio. LA. CA.; Briefs: Pete's own; (On Julia) Hair bow: Hairstylist's own; Earrings: Susan Alexandra; Rings: Ralph Masri
Are you ever in Staten Island when you're not working?
I'm always in Staten Island, since I built this little fortress in my mom's basement. Pretty much all the homies just come over, we smoke a bunch of weed and micro-dose [mushrooms] and we watch movies.
That sounds like a dream...
Yeah! We don't really go out much, and I made my basement kinda like Vegas, where there's different lights, so you can't tell what time it is ever... Also I pump it full of oxygen — we have a thing that sucks the smoke out.
And your mom and her Peloton?
Yeah. My mom Peloton bikes every night... and it really sounds like she's getting banged out...
Haha moving on. So let's talk about comedy. Compared to when you were first starting out in comedy, the world seems like a more hyper-sensitive place where you can't say anything without somebody being offended. What does that feel like as a comic?
It makes doing college [shows] really hard. I refuse to do a college after this year 'cause it's like, you're just setting yourself up for trouble... Comedy is just, like, getting destroyed. Standup's about to be about, like, sneakers. Like, "Hey, everyone like sneakers?" You can't talk about anything. You can't. The second you open your mouth and have an opinion, you lose money today. And I don't think that's a safe place to live in.
Creatively, it seems like it would stunt you.
It's the worst! It's why I got rid of the Internet.
Clothing: S.R. Studio. LA. CA.; Socks: Pete's own
Talk to me about that. First of all, I'm jealous. Because it's a terrible place most of the time.
I got rid of the Internet because I can't be on it. And anytime I would go on, I would just see horrible things written about me all the time... I would look though the search tab on Instagram and I'm a meme! I'm multiple MEMES. I'm punchlines or set-ups to jokes, so social media's a little different for me. I had to get rid of it. Also, dude, it's like, anytime you put something on the Internet, or type it out, it could be interpreted so many different ways. When you see the person saying it, there's no mistaking it at all, so I'm just saving everything for standup, and for, you know, shit like that.
I feel like there's power in putting that shit in your own art, and not just letting it seep out, through these weird, subliminal Instagram stories or tweets.
Yeah. Like I'm not the star of Gossip Girl,you know —
But I wish you WERE…
Oh, me too.
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With a headband.
Every time you post something like that, you're being such a tool, you know? I think the generation after [ours] is missing self-awareness... Like, knowing you suck is really important. [Laughs]
Someone was telling me recently that there's this doctor in LA that gives you an Instagram filter face — that's literally what they do all day long to people.
That's insane. That's so sad.
They use Facetune in the room to show you what you're gonna look like. Isn't that crazy?
Wow — I bet that guy's ballin'...
Like the girls move to LA and no more than 10 hours later, they've picked out the cat filter on Instagram to have on their face.
Moving on from that! Do you say shit that you regret in your sets? And how do you deal with that?
Yeah, look, when I'm doing standup and stuff, nothing I ever say is coming from a hateful place. And you can't know what's funny until you try it, you know? But anything I've ever said on stage or made a joke about, I don't regret it. I mean, some jokes I'm like, "Welp, that joke sucked." You know? But I'm never like, "Aw fuck!" 'Cause there are times I try things that I think are ridiculous and they work. And that's what sucks about political correctness in comedy, I think that you need freedom.
What has living in the public eye over the past few years taught you about how to protect your private life?
This last year I've definitely learned a lot. Like, not to believe 95 percent of it, and I learned kinda how to hide in plain sight. But I've also learned that you could avoid a lot of stuff...
Hair bow: Hairstylist's own; Earrings: Susan Alexandra
Like, you learn how to move through places and how to spot people. You'll be like, "Oh. This is not a good idea." You know? I can still go to the movies, but we have to either get there first or we show up as it starts. So, it's just how you go about it and your overall demeanor.
We talk a lot about the male gaze on females, but you're a guy that's been subjected to the female gaze in a similar way, if that makes sense.
What do you mean?
Like you're this sexual icon for people.
OH!! Well, that's what people said...
And sexualized intensely. You're the reason BDE exists.
Yeah. I think it's very... weird. I don't really pay attention to it. But I do know that [the gaze] is either, "Ye-YESSS!" or "FUCK NO!" There's no happy medium with me, which I think is really fun. It's either like, "Oh, that guy's awesome," or it's like, "I hope that guy fucking falls off of a cliff." But it's sad and it sucks. When enough people call you ugly, it definitely gets to you. For me, personally, I can't block that stuff out. That's why I had to get rid of the Internet and stuff. But you definitely have to get to a place where you're just like, "This is how I look. Alright." You know?
(On Julia) Top: Vex Clothing; Tights: Gucci; Shoes: Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello; Rings: Ralph Masri; Bracelet: Julia's Own; (On Pete) Clothing: S.R. Studio. LA. CA.
But I think there's also the opposite of that, right? There are a lot of people who are like, "He's the hottest person in the world."
Right. Those people are crazy. It's all very weird. You lose either way. However you respond to that question, you lose.
Yea, I was talking to a musician friend, talking about how teenage girls message her about masturbating to her music and how uncomfortable it feels to be their sexual awakening…
Yeah! Well, I used to jerk off to Leonardo DiCaprio... Uhh, like his acting.
I mean, THAT'S amazing…
Yeah. I used to have a HUGE crush on Leonardo DiCaprio. I had this huge poster of him from The Beach in my room, and there used to be, like, "Leo love books"... Do you remember? Like, right when Titanic came out [when I was] in like third or fourth grade, he was just like, "teen milk." There were love books and I had all of them. He was the coolest.
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Have you met Leo now?
I've met him twice and I've just shaken hands and run away fast, like —
You can't even process…
Yeah, it's too much.
Well, when you're in a real-life relationship, what's your love language? Like, some people's love language is verbal, some people's love language is through buying things for other people, and some people's love language is physical…
I do all that shit! My love language, when I'm in a relationship, is I treat the person I'm with like a princess. I try and go as above and beyond as possible, because that's what you're supposed to do? If you're in a relationship with someone, you're just supposed to make that person feel as special as possible. But sometimes when you put so much on someone, it overwhelms them, and then they don't know if they could come close to that.
Or if they deserve that...
Or if they can keep up with it. So, it's very off-putting to some. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, and then it sometimes makes me feel bad about myself because I'm like, "I did all this stuff and..."
(On Julia) Clothing: Vex Clothing; Shoes: Giuseppe Zanotti; (On Pete) Suit and shoes: Alexander McQueen; Harness: Zana Bayne
They didn't fucking care.
You didn't care at all! But you can't do that. I have learned that anything you do, it just has to be 'cause you wanna do it.
No expectations. Otherwise you're gonna be resentful. It's something I had to learn in a past relationship, which sucked to learn through that person, but it makes you better. I used to get really upset that this person didn't "match" my intensity or how much I show by actions, you know? I'm not really good at accepting just words, 'cause people could say shit all the time. And this person was very word-heavy, so because of how insane I am, and how untrustworthy and scared I am, I couldn't only take that... So, I had to learn that you just have to do stuff 'cause you want to do it.
What else have you learned in past relationships?
That it's nobody's business. I think when you first get in a relationship and you're on television, you don't realize that when you post a photo of you and your girlfriend, you're pretty much announcing to the world your relationship. I didn't know that because I know couples that are together that I followed that, you know, are my homies that work at Best Buy, and when they post each other's picture all the time and there are no articles written about it or they're not followed around, you forget that you have to approach it differently, which is really difficult for both [people in the relationship], because the second [the public] knows you're together, it's already against you. You're losing. Because now they know you're together, if you're not [seen together], they know something went wrong. As opposed to like... people date. People date and are friends.
Yeah. And, like, people go on a couple dates and it doesn't mean they're together! On a celebrity level, but also like a high school level — it's in our human condition to want to know…
Who you fuck?
Who is fucking who, and why and how.
So now I'm just as private as possible. I'm as discrete as can be. I know now not to do PDA. I'm a very PDA [person], though. I'm a lovey person. I love licking faces.
That's cool. Speaking of faces, wanna drop the skin regimen?
Well [exhales], my skin's insanely bad because I have Crohn's, so I have like no immune system. So, I get cystic acne and I have to take extra-special care of my skin so it can still look shitty. But now I'm on Accutane, so I've been told I'm gonna be a little bit of a BITCH for the next six months.
Yep. Been there. Accutane made me like mad anxious and depressed and like… fully psycho. But not for a long time.
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And if you know about it, then you're fine.
Yeah, you're like, "Oh! It's the Accutane!"
That's why I'm cranky!
So... right now, it's just like, maintaining... the shit.
Maintaining the shit. Well, honestly, your skin does look poppin'.
(On Julia) Top: Susan Alexandra; Briefs: Vex Clothing; Shoes: Gucci; Rings: Ralph Masri; Bracelet: Julia's own; (On Pete) Clothing and accessories: Thom Browne
You were talking about how in a relationship you show your love on every level, and I see that with you and your friends, too. In the short amount of time I've been friends with you, I have witnessed your generosity, your love, your support of all of those around you. You're an ally to people. And you have so many gay friends. What does being a good ally mean to you, and what does it mean when someone is being a good ally for you, and what does it mean when someone's showing up and being supportive?
Well, nothing's cooler to me than seeing my friends crush it. I also have the most talented friends ever. And I think my friends are a good reflection of me... anybody that I fuck with is sweet and morally sound, you know? I find it super weird that it's weird that a straight dude has gay friends... like, some straight dudes do have gay friends, but like they make like a big show of it as opposed to them genuinely being a friend...
Just like how some pop stars use gay people.
Yeah. I really feel like I have to be careful when I'm saying this, but I do feel like a lot of women in entertainment use gay men as props.
Sure. I mean, I've been that for them. I feel like I've been that for a pop star's entertainment.
Right! If you really listen to any of the songs that they're doing, or any of the things that they're doing, it's to promote them[selves]. It's rarely for the LGBT community. It's to make them look good. Like, how cool they are that they're hanging out with gay people.
Being on the other side of that, as it pertains to our friendship, you've made me less scared of straight men. 'Cause I feel like I grew up in this world with older brothers who were sometimes really mean to me as a kid — now we're really tight — but their friends in high school fucking sucked. They were all fratty, douchey straight guys and I wrote off having any meaningful relationship with a straight dude because of that, and I feel like because of the way that you approach things, the way you think about things, you genuinely treat everyone equally, unless, like, they've maybe wronged you in some way.
Yeah, for the most part, I'm pretty accepting with everybody, unless they hurt me or my friends. And, even if then, I might be able to get past that.
What are you excited about right now?
I'm really excited for many things... to do the special!
It's your first big special?
It's my first real special, or I consider it my first real special, 'cause I did a special on Comedy Central when I was, like, 22.
And it was rushed. So, this is the first time I was able to put thought into it and effort into it, and I'm really excited about that. [I'm also excited about] this Staten Island movie with Judd [Apatow] that has all my friends in it, and this indie movie, Big Time Adolescence, with Jason [Orley], also has all my friends in it. Then we're shooting this movie in Miami in the summer, and you're in it — all the homies are in it. So, it's just a lot of friend-centric things right now... Everybody is working together and everything's really nice.
What goes into preparing for a special and what's different from when you were 22 and preparing for your first one?
Well, now I just feel like I have more to say. I feel like I have experiences.When you're 22 — not that it was that long ago, but it's a very different, significant change — all my jokes were very immature, high school, pot,"sMoKinG wEEd" [jokes], you know? Just nothing with substance. Now I still have that stuff in there, but I feel like I'm talking about stuff that's kinda more adult? Or mature?
You have life experience that supports your comedy.
I have stuff I'm excited to talk about, rather than jokes I'm just telling.
(On Julia) Clothing: Vex Clothing; Shoes: Giuseppe Zanotti; Harness: Zana Bayne; Rings: Ralph Masri; (On Pete) Suit and shoes: Alexander McQueen; Harness: Zana Bayne; Socks: Thom Browne
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Hopefully behind the camera.
You wanna direct?
Yeah, I wanna write stuff and direct and, like, honestly, just have a family.
You wanna be a dad?
I would love to be a dad, 'cause I feel like it's the one [thing] that would keep me here... everybody that I talk to that's had a kid and who used to be depressed says it just alters this part of your brain... And also, not that I didn't have [a dad], but I didn't really get to grow up with one, so I would like to do that for someone. Does that make sense?
Do you feel like you grew up quicker because of your father's passing?
Definitely. I say this all the time, but you're not supposed to learn what death is until you're in high school and that weird kid that you don't know, like, falls asleep in the car in the garage with the exhaust on or one kid ODs — that's when you're first supposed to be shocked with death and learn about it. You're not supposed to learn when you're SEVEN... That's just way too young. So I don't necessarily think I was like "man of the house" per se, but I definitely, mentally, learned a lot quicker than others... It's another reason why I'm so affectionate, I think, because people like to be coddled or... taken care of. It's nice to know that you're safe, you know?
Do you feel like getting into comedy at such an early age helped you process the death of your father?
Absolutely. I wasn't well liked in school growing up because I was weird because I was coping — dealing with personal stuff. So, I was acting out in school, and I was made fun of a bunch. So that's why I started doing standup, because people had to listen to me. I always enjoyed comedy, but I also wanted to do it because I felt like it could get a lot off my chest. It's the best form of therapy possible.
You've been so open about stuff that you're dealing with, like mental health issues. How are you feeling today with that and continuing to navigate that journey? What advice and thoughts do you want to share with younger readers who might be going through similar experiences?
I think if you're able to be open, it's really good. It's reassuring when you hear someone that you admire talk about [topics like that] publicly, because it's an embarrassing thing sometimes. Crohn's is an embarrassing disease to have so it's not fun to talk about, but there are people out there that have it.
Do you think you'll ever leave New York? I know we joke that you'll move to Colorado, but it seems like Staten Island and New York are so ingrained in you.
If it was for the right reasons, yeah, [I'd move]. But I get depressed out in LA, if I'm out there for more than a week. And I just love New York. It's just a different vibe. I love Staten Island. I love the person it made me. It really taught me what not to be. I love living there. I don't think anybody there is dumb or anything like that, it's just there were certain morals that I grew up around that I questioned, and it made me go do standup and go to Manhattan and meet other people. Because of that, I'm the first person in my family to have gay friends.
Ha. You know, most people would be like, "I'm the first person in my family to go to college…"
Yea-yea-yea-yea-yea-yeah! So now like my whole family loves gay people. They know not to be afraid. It's just because they were raised so, like, Catholic and old-school...
But, you know, Antoni came over to my house for Thanksgiving last year, and my aunts, they always say something a little off, but it's from a good place.
Clothing and accessories: Versace; Sock: Pete's own
They'll be like, [Staten Island lady voice] "Yer so handsome, are you sure yer gay?"
That's hilarious. I met your sister, she's such a sweet angel.
Yeah, I'm really lucky. I got lucky that I didn't end up with a thotty sister.
She just seems so smart and grounded and adult. Can she come run my life?
Well, yeah, she had to grow up even faster than I did, 'cause she had to deal with all my horseshit, usually... so she is the complete opposite of me. She had a 98 [Grade Point] average, studied, played D-1 basketball, scored a thousand points in high school... she's fucking coooool, has cool friends, was invited to parties. So, I'm super proud of her, and we don't have much in common, but that's why I'm so proud of her — 'cause none of the bad things that I do, she does. Like, she's a nurse. She runs a shift. She's a boss.
That's awesome. What are your favorite Staten Island spots?
You gotta go Campania, which is an Italian restaurant. Nucci's, which is an Italian restaurant, and then, Denino's, which is an Italian restaurant. Ummm, we also have a Moe's Southwest...
I FUCKING LOVE MOE'S! I grew up on Moe's!
When I'm in Moe's, I feel safe.
What super-famous comedian have you never found funny?
I hate David Spade, but I find him funny.
He's gross, but he is funny.
Yeah. Can I just say that? David Spade is a disgusting human being, but he is funny... If you're 17 and up, there's a chance David Spade has DMed you. Can you write that?
Do you wanna talk about Ariana?
I don't ever make public statements about relationships 'cause I just don't think it's right, you know? I usually express how I feel about anything through work. So, I hope she's well. I hope she's very happy. And that's pretty much it. And print doesn't usually age well.
Anything else you wanna talk about? When's your weed company launch?
April 2020 is the goal.
Love you, too.
Photography and Creative Direction: Tommy Dorfman
Styling: Chris Horan
Set Design: Lizzie Lang
Hair: Luke Chamberlain
Makeup: Isamaya Ffrench
Nails: Elina Ogawa
Lighting Tech: Megan Leonard
Digitech: Isan Monfort
Photo Assistant: Allison Brooks
Styling Assistant: Lauren Jeworski
Styling Assistant: Sierra Simone