Comedian Ricky Velez was 20 years old when he met fellow comedian and future Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson while they played the comedy club circuit across New York City in the late 2000s. Davidson was only 16, but the two clicked right away. “We were both babies,” Velez, now 31, told Remezcla during a phone interview. “We were children playing a grown man’s game. In a way, we were raised by comedians. They guided us in the right way.”
Davidson and Velez’s paths would eventually split circa 2014 when Davidson was cast for the start of SNL’s 40th season. “We were both just trying to get better and work as hard as possible,” said Velez, who was born in Queens and is half Puerto Rican and half Irish. “When Pete got SNL, it just made me want to work harder, so I could do things just like that.”
A few months later, Velez would go on to land a role as a correspondent and panelist on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, which aired for two seasons. On The Nightly Show, Velez covered a variety of issues from diplomacy with Cuba to racism in pro-wrestling, and portrayed several characters, including Voldemort and the poop emoji.
Davidson and Velez would reunite when the SNL star teamed up with filmmaker Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) to co-write and star in his new comedy, The King of Staten Island. The script called for a character that Davidson wanted Velez to play. “He called me and was like, ‘Hey, I want you for this part,’” Velez said. “So, I went to L.A. to audition for Judd. From there, me and Judd just hit it off.”
The movie, which is currently available on demand, follows Scott (Davidson), an aspiring tattoo artist in Staten Island who is grappling with a case of arrested development and the fact that his mother has started dating a firefighter – the same occupation of his late father. In real life, Davidson’s father was a firefighter who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City.
Velez, who is also credited as a co-producer on the film, plays Oscar, one of Scott’s good friends, who is equally as immature but slightly more delinquent than his slacker buddy. When audiences first meet Oscar, he, Scott and some other friends, including one played by Colombian-American actor Moisés Arias (Monos), are hanging out in a basement, smoking weed and watching The Purge – with not a care in the world.
“Me and Pete have a lot of the same friends, so we decided to make Oscar a mix of some of the worst people we know,” Velez said. “My goal for my character was for him to be the person you didn’t want Pete’s character to turn into.”
Oscar might be a bad influence, but there are, arguably, still some redeeming qualities about him. He’s supportive of Scott and his dream to open a tattoo-themed restaurant, although Scott’s talent as a tattoo artist is questionable. Oscar even lets Scott use his body to practice tattooing. Oscar explains that he is such a good friend, he once drove over to Scott’s house to make sure he didn’t have testicular cancer (“You made me touch your nuts!”).
Still, Velez sees Oscar and Scott’s friendship as an “unhealthy” one. “He guilts him in ways that isn’t fair,” Velez said. “He feels like he’s owed something. It’s not a relationship Scott needs.” Although Oscar’s ethnicity isn’t mentioned in the film, Velez does reveal a physical attribute his character has that would hint that he shares Velez’s own mixed background. It’s easy to miss, but on his left arm, Oscar sports a mediocre tattoo of a leprechaun holding a Puerto Rican flag. It’s not a tattoo Velez has in real life – yet.
“They asked me what tattoos I thought my character would have, so I pitched that one,” Velez said. “I’ve always wanted that tattoo, but I want a nice version of it. But for the character, it had to be a really shitty version.”
Now with his first feature film complete, Velez’s stock is continuing to rise. He recently signed on to work with Apatow again on two more projects – a stand-up comedy special and a comedy series pilot, both for HBO.
“Doing a [stand-up] special is every comic’s dream,” Velez said. “Working with Judd has always been my dream. Putting them both together is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”
The King of Staten Island is now playing on VOD.