Ricky Velez hoped “Here’s Everything,” his new HBO special, would be a creative breakout. After extensive delays due to COVID-19, the project is still a professional milestone — only now, it feels more like a necessary return to an art form he loves.
Filmed before a vaccinated audience at New York’s Brooklyn Steel this summer, “Here’s Everything” finds Velez in stoner comedy mode, skewering politics and parenthood with acerbic irreverence. The lifelong New Yorker, who is Puerto Rican and Irish, also contrasts his early life in a working-class neighborhood in Queens with the privileges he now accesses as a rising star on the national stand-up circuit and in Hollywood.
“I’ve been on both sides of everything my entire life, and I think that’s more common than people realize,” said Velez, 32. “I just like to go to the line, and make people understand why it’s fun to dance on it.”
“Here’s Everything,” due out Oct. 23, could help establish Velez as his generation’s answer to John Leguizamo, another champion of Latino identity. Like Leguizamo, Velez was drawn to comedy at an early age and has also faced professional obstacles as a person of mixed heritage.
An early manager, for instance, suggested he change his last name to avoid being “pigeonholed” as a stand-up performer. More recently, Velez opted out of an audition for a forthcoming movie after he says he was asked to announce his citizenship before submitting a self-tape.
“I think there’s ceilings to this shit for Hispanics,” he said, “and I refuse to sit in those rooms.”
One person who identified Velez’s talent early on, however, was Pete Davidson. The two men met as teens on the New York comedy club circuit and experienced professional breaks at roughly the same time. Shortly after Davidson joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live” in 2014, Velez landed a role as a panelist and correspondent on Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore,” which aired for two seasons, and he appeared on “Master of None” in a guest spot.
Davidson and Velez got a chance to reunite onscreen as co-stars last year in “The King of Staten Island.” Davidson co-wrote the screenplay with comedian and writer Dave Sirus and director Judd Apatow, basing much of the film on his own life. Velez played Oscar, the drug-dealing and scene-stealing sidekick of Davidson’s Scott Carlin.
Like many movies released amid the COVID-19 pandemic, “The King of Staten Island” debuted to less-than-ideal fanfare after forgoing a planned theatrical run. Still, it laid the groundwork for Velez’s professional relationship with Apatow, a creative force behind “Knocked Up” and “Trainwreck,” among other touchstone films. The pair bonded over Mets games and a shared love of Bruce Springsteen, and they hatched the idea for “Here’s Everything” — which Apatow executive-produced — shortly afterward.
“I love that he finds a way to be brash and outlandish, but is also very kind and self-deprecating,” Apatow told HuffPost in an email. “He was making me laugh so much that I asked him to help me punch up the script [for ‘King of Staten Island’] on weekends, and his insights about Pete and joke ideas were invaluable. He’s a very deep, soulful writer.”
Joking that Apatow has become “like my dad,” Velez said he appreciated the fact that both “The King of Staten Island” and “Here’s Everything” allowed him to express both his Puerto Rican and Irish sides. “A lot of my auditions come in for one or the other, never both,” he said. “And Judd, at no point, was asking me to be anything other than Ricky. That was something very special.”
Following the release of “Here’s Everything,” Velez plans to continue working with both Apatow and Davidson on new film and television projects. He has no intention, however, of abandoning live comedy, noting, “Stand-up is instant gratification, and I live my life like that. I don’t have to wait for somebody to tell me if I’m good or not. I can hear the crowd.”
As for “Here’s Everything,” Velez is hopeful viewers will come away from the special with a better understanding that “whatever thoughts that they have that they don’t talk about, they’re not the only one having them.”
“Also, people need to stop taking themselves so seriously,” he said. “Drop the ego, and you’ll be in a better place.”
Read more of HuffPost’s Latinx Heritage Month content on Estamos Aquí.