By Nick Fierro
Ricky Velez is the King of Queens… oh wait, we’re being told that’s already a thing? OK, not a problem, moving on. Ricky Velez is a powerhouse, a high-energy stoner storyteller whose rapid-fire wit enabled him to navigate the toughest comedy scene on the planet at an age where most of us were getting high and playing video games, not that he wasn’t doing that too.
As a teenager, Velez scrubbed floors in comedy clubs, took tickets at the door, and hauled trash, all for a few minutes of stage time. Now, as a husband and father, he has become a fixture of the New York Comedy scene, and a co-producer on Judd Apatow’s “The King of Staten Island,” a dark and brutally funny adaptation of the life of his best friend, Pete Davidson.
You may recognize Velez from “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore,” HBO’s “Crashing,” or Netflix’s “Master of None.” You may also recognize Ricky from the time he spent touring with Aziz Ansari, but if you don’t recognize him, we implore you not to miss him in the role he was born to play—Davidson’s slacker pothead counterpart as they search for purpose in the pressure cooker that is Staten Island.
Velez holds his own in this all-star cast that includes Marissa Tomei, Bill Burr, Steve Buscemi, a battalion of comedy legends and more jaw-dropping cameos than we can count. As a comic, he uses his unique storytelling ability to highlight the stranger components of everyday life, and in “The King of Staten Island,” he uses that very aptitude to paint a striking alternate reality for himself and his best friend.
First of all, congratulations on the film.
Oh man, thank you so much!
You’re not from Staten Island. You’re a Queens guy, right?
Yeah, born and raised in Queens Village, no one ever knows it.
How did you wind up as a co-producer on “The King of Staten Island?”
Well, Judd Apatow and I had done standup around each other for a while and he just called me up and asked if I’d be interested in punching up the script. I was like, “Yeah, absolutely, I would love to punch up a Judd Apatow script.” That turned into him and I working together six days a week.
Since it was your first film, was there a learning curve working with Judd?
That was the cool thing; Judd basically let me take a master class in making a movie. It was incredible, and if you thought of a joke in the moment, you just wrote it on a piece of paper, handed it to Judd and that was it. Last Summer, I spent almost every day of the week with Judd. We would work all day, ride to Staten Island together. What sucks is that I missed my child’s first summer. I have immense guilt about it, but we have definitely made up a lot of time since then.
How long were you on set?
I worked on the film for four months. That’s kinda why I’m not mad at the quarantine. That was my son’s first summer, and now I get to spend this whole Summer with him. I’m definitely loving spending time with him, but at the same time I’m itching, this is the longest I haven’t been on stage ever. This is crazy. Also, Judd and I are doing a special together. I want to get the gears going and knock the rust off.
What was one of the biggest highlights of being behind the scenes?
Me and Pete got to be in the room while Mike Vecchione auditioned.
Did you realize from the beginning that you’d be working with so many heavy hitters?
Every time we heard about someone else getting cast—Marissa Tomei, Bill Burr, Steve Buscemi—these guys that we looked up to in comedy, was the coolest situation ever. It was cool to be around people that are so good at what they do.
Plus you got to work with Pete.
Yeah, he’s my guy. He’s the godfather of my kid. He was there when my mom passed away. He’s one of the best people I know. My son was actually born on 9/11 which is crazy with Pete being the godfather.
How did the two of you meet?
So, I was the youngest comic at one club and he was the youngest at another club. A comic named Chris Destefano introduced us and we were like, “Oh, let’s just hang out all the time.” We ended up moving in together at one point, which was disgusting because everything turned into an ashtray. There wasn’t a clean bottle cap in the place.
What was it like seeing a version of Pete’s story happen on the big screen?
I knew certain things would be weird to watch, like Pete driving with his eyes closed, but him being in the fire truck, I didn’t like that, in the way that it made me sad. I just don’t like to face my emotions. Things like that hit hard.
There are some tense scenes in the film, like the robbery scene. Did you ever think you’d be shooting a really tense heist scene in a comedy?
Well, there’s a funny version of it that we made, and you guys saw the serious version. It was cool, I never thought I’d be getting shot in a movie. They basically just put explosives on you.
Yeah, spoiler alert, you get shot.
It’s amazing how many comics contacted me and were like, “You got shot by Jessica Kirson?”
What’s it like shooting an action sequence like that?
They gave us stunt doubles and everything. My stunt guy looked just like me. It’s really weird to be on set with another guy that looks exactly like you, but I wasn’t stepping out. I did everything. I mean, I was just jumping behind shelves and stuff. It wasn’t like I was hanging on the side of a plane.
Let’s talk tattoos. Do you mind talking about your tattoos?
Not at all, all of mine kind of mean something to me. There are a few dumb ones though. I only mind if you’re asking me just so that you can show me yours, you know?
What was your first one and when did you get it?
My first one was “718” inside my lip. I was 17 years old and I had to hide it from my parents. They were not fans of tattoos. I had this one uncle with tattoos and he was trouble. He had a tattoo of two women banging on his back and my parents used to make him wear a shirt in the pool. I remember once my uncle showed up in a polo and he was like, “I’m not wearing this in the pool,” and my parents were like, “Yeah you are.”
What was the first one they actually saw?
The first one they saw? I got three roses on my upper arm. My grandmother, every time she had a child, would bury a rose bush. She died of breast cancer, my Mom’s cousin died of breast cancer and my aunt passed away from breast cancer as well, so I got that one for each of them.
Your first visible tattoo was a memorial piece. Do you have any others?
My mom passed away four years ago on Valentine’s Day, and we had one deal, and that was that I can get as many tattoos as I want, but she didn’t want to see them if I wore a suit. So I got her signature on my wedding finger, just so I can break one more rule. I also got my wedding ring done because I knew I would just lose it.
As a comedian, do you ever address them on stage or try to cover them up?
I don’t even bring them up. I just think they’re so regular right now, everybody has them. They’re not what they used to be. They’re not that uncle. It’s not like, “Oh no, tattoo uncle is coming over and you know you’re getting a problem.” I don’t feel the need to address them.
Do you have any plans regarding a return to live shows?
I don’t want to feel responsible for getting people sick if they come out to see me. Also, is it worth it if I were to get sick or get my wife and kid sick? I just want this to be over enough to go back to normal because stand-up is the only art form that you cannot perform without an audience.