Comedy is a form of entertainment, but for the performers who call the stage home, it can also be therapeutic. Or so, it is for comedian Ricky Velez.
Some may recognize the NY-based stand-up artist from Judd Apatow’s feature last year ‘The King of Staten Island,’ or as SNL stand-out Pete Davidson’s best friend (who was the star of ‘The King’), or maybe even from the comedy circuit in the Big Apple (he’s been performing since he was 19.) But now, Velez is getting his own name in lights with his first comedy special set to premiere this Saturday on HBO, ‘Ricky Velez: Here’s Everything.’
With this special, Velez hopes to introduce himself to the world in true debutante fashion, but with jokes, a spotlight and a full audience there in real time instead of a ball. What happens after the fact is up to the viewers, but for Velez, it’s who he is. With more works coming in the future, the future is bright for the young comic, and it seems to only be the beginning.
Velez sat down to discuss his career, his dedication and what viewers can expect from his special on Oct. 23.
What made you start comedy?
The idea came once I was 19. I had dropped out of college and I was working odd jobs here and there and I started doing stand-up. I took a job at a comedy club and basically, I did shows every single night but I also took the tickets—that can make an audience annoyed when they see the ticket taker on stage. But it was a great place for me to get started.
[But before,] I followed stand-up and my older brother was really into it, he bought the CDs and everything. He introduced me to the ‘Daily Show’ and the half-hour specials you would see on Comedy Central when you came home from school—I just fell in love with it. Comedy is interesting because you can see your heroes really fast. They’re around and they’re in the clubs and you have very close access to them. Having the access that I did, I was able to learn from them.
The thing about stand-up that I know most people love is that you get instant gratification. You don’t have to wait to find out once you make something. Having this special waiting to come out is interesting because I taped it and I felt good about it and everybody that was there had a great time… But just waiting to see what happens, we don’t have that in live shows.
Was there a point where you realized you were ready for a special?
I don’t know if you ever really know other than when you get handed the opportunity. I think with a lot of trust in yourself and putting yourself in the right situations will get you where you need to be. I spent a lot of time preparing every night since I was 19… I can’t remember the last time I went a week or two without doing stand-up, so when the opportunity came I was ready to go.
What was the night of the special like for you?
The adrenaline definitely felt high, stakes definitely felt higher but at the same time, everybody was there for me. I knew that day was business, but it’s a little different when the execs from HBO are there and Judd is showing up. There is a lot of preparing to do to get it done, but at the same time that’s why you do more than one show. After the first show it felt so good that the second show was just fun.
How would you describe your comedy?
I think my stand-up is very me and the inside of my thought process and how I take in the world… this is me introducing myself to the world. I didn’t do a lot of current events, I explain who I am and that’s what I think this special is. I truly believe people are dying to connect. I think that’s what living is about, connecting with other people and understanding and not feeling alone. For a lot of standup comics, I think on stage is where we feel the most comfortable being able to do that.
Has the last year heightened that sense of a need of connection for you?
I definitely don’t take it for granted anymore, I’m just so happy to be back and do what I love to do on stage. Guitar players can play guitar, a painter can paint something and see what it looks like—we can’t do anything without the audience and that just means so much more.
The pandemic was the first time I actually ended up getting into therapy. I think for a long time, stand-up has been my therapy. It’s been where I’ve been able to connect with people. I’ve talked about the pain that I’ve had in my life and my frustrations and the anger and when I didn’t have the outlet of stand-up, I had to find something else.
Shifting gears just a bit, what was your experience like on the other side of comedy filming ‘The King of Staten Island’ with Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson?
It was the best summer camp I’ve ever been to in my entire life. Judd makes it such a great environment to be creative in. I’m very lucky and I’m just grateful to have worked with him in the capacity I have, and to have someone as talented and as kind as him as my No. 1 advocate. Working and filming and learning about writing and script format and his writing process and why it works that way is incredible. I’ve been lucky enough to shadow him for the last two and a half almost three years now, me and him have things moving forward and me and Pete have things moving forward with just some fun ways to be creative and do things I’ve never done before.
Back to your special coming out this Saturday, what do you hope audiences take away from it?
I just hope that people watch it and understand and see that it’s funny. It’s funny, it goes to the edge, it brings it back, it’s emotional. I’m just almost trying to explain who I am and explain myself to everyone else.
‘Ricky Velez: Here’s Everything’ premieres on HBO Oct. 23.