King of Staten Island’s Ricky Velez is a New Prince of Comedy

King of Staten Island’s Ricky Velez is a New Prince of Comedy

King of Staten Island’s Ricky Velez is a New Prince of Comedy

The Queens native discusses his breakout role and his touching Pete Davidson bromance.

The Queens native discusses his breakout role and his touching Pete Davidson bromance.

Photography: Najah Brown

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

The King of Staten Island is a semi-autobiographical account of Saturday Night Live wunderkind Pete Davidson’s rocky, pre-fame coming of age. In it, Queens-born comic Ricky Velez plays Oscar, a dubious role model to Davidson’s adrift Scott. And while he and Davidson are real-life friends, it’s clear within minutes of chatting with Velez that the pair’s bond goes beyond your typical outer-borough bromance.

Nor were Velez’s responsibilities onset confined to that of a typical supporting cast member. Behind the scenes, Velez could often be found alongside director Judd Apatow, who enlisted Velez as a kind of attaché to Davidson’s life story.

As an authority on the subject matter, Velez’s standing is undeniable: Since meeting a 16-year-old Davidson when they were both stand-ups on the high-school-prom circuit, Velez has maintained a big-brother-like closeness to Davidson—presiding over the latter’s mythic evolution from BDE trailblazer to fresh prince of feature-length comedy.

Following the VOD release of King of Staten Island this month, Velez is watching his own star rise, announcing an Apatow-produced HBO comedy special for later this year. Here, he reflects on his friendship with Davidson and his own ascendant status in Hollywood.

VMAN Hey Ricky! Tell us about your experience on The King of Staten Island… How did the arrangement of you being able to ‘shadow’ Judd on set come about? 

RICKY VELEZ After I’d auditioned, Judd came to one of my stand-up shows. I had already been offered the role [of Oscar], which was everything to me—I didn’t expect anything more than that. But one night, I was sitting in bed with my wife and I got a phone call from Judd. He just called my cell phone and was like, “Hey! Wanna come work with me on the film, on the whole thing? And be part of the entire experience?” I was floored. I was like, “You mean I just follow you around and watch and learn?” So, I got to take a master class from Judd, basically, all of that summer. And it was incredible. And I got paid, which was awesome.

VMAN How did you and Pete [Davidson] meet in the first place?

RV Me and Pete met when he was 16 and I was 20, ten years ago. We met doing prom shows: After people went to prom, there used to be comedy shows that the prom hosted and we performed. They were miserable, but that’s how I made one of my closest friends.

VMAN Wow, I can’t imagine a tougher audience than high schoolers at prom.

RV Oh, there are [tougher audiences] out there. It was easier for us, because we were still kids. When you see a 40-year-old guy trying to talk to kids in high school being like, “Taxes are crazy!” ...It’s not going to work tonight, guy.

VMAN Did you find some common ground, comedically, with Pete, right off the bat? What did your stand-up back then revolve around?

RV In stand-up, everybody’s from everywhere. There’s not a lot of guys that are truly from New York City. Me and Pete just clicked the minute we met, just as New York kids, trying to do this thing. We just became really really close and he… I used to sleep over at his house [every year]  around 9/11, until I got married. He’s one of the better people I know.

VMAN It sounds like the anniversary of 9/11 has come to mean more to you and him—beyond the fact that Pete’s father tragically passed away that day, in 2001. You mentioned your son was born on 9/11?

RV You know, it’s such a tragic day in our minds. And for my son, who has meant nothing but happiness for everybody that’s [in his life], that’s really special. Pete is his godfather! It was really, really special [when he was born]—Pete was in the waiting room. That’s who Pete is. He’s always there for the people around him, as he was… I lost my mother suddenly, tragically, as well, and he was the first person there [for me]. He’s always been that guy.

VMAN Are there aspects of the film that are directly lifted from your life or your experiences with Pete?

RV My character is basically the guy you sort of don’t want Pete to turn into. Making that character was fun for me because I would take certain things from people that we both knew. So, I would take the attitude or the swag of one of the guys we knew that was a little bit off-color and just double down on that. Everything that I was attempting to do was something that I had sort of seen on the island.

VMAN You obviously have strong roots in New York. With all the changes since the onset of the pandemic, have you thought about moving away? 

RV I just escaped, actually. I was in New York for [most of the lockdown] but then we took off for Florida. I have a two-year-old, so it’s kind of hard to keep him in an apartment at this time. And, um, I don’t have a return flight. But at the same time, the minute the comedy clubs open up, I’ll be there. I’ll be back in the room. Yeah.

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