Just after noon on a hot summer day, Casey Jost sips a wheat beer—courtesy of Staten Island's Flagship Brewing Company, natch—at renowned borough hangout 120 Bay Cafe.
“I don't encourage day drinking, but if it happens, it happens,” the comedian deadpans.
Besides being the occasional day drinker—who are we to judge?—the Staten Island funnyman is a musician, writer and actor, and he shows up in Staten Island Summer, one of this season's slapstick comedies. His brother, Colin (Saturday Night Live), wrote the film, a coming-of-age story about two high school grads who spend the summer following senior year working as lifeguards at a Staten Island pool. Loosely based on the Jost brothers' childhoods, the film features cameos by the two men as police officers who help fuel some unlawful activities. But Staten Island Summer, produced by Lorne Michaels, also stars a slew of SNL comedians, including Kate McKinnon, Fred Armisen and Cecily Strong. Jim Gaffigan, Ashley Greene and the Wu-Tang Clan's Method Man—as an ice cream vendor (wink, wink)—round out the cast.
The film may be his latest project, but Jost finds any number of ways to stay busy. He currently works with TruTV's Impractical Jokers, regularly performs comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and plays music with his band, Les Vinyl.
Shortly before the film's debut, we spoke to Jost about the inspiration behind Staten Island Summer, the importance of the Wu-Tang Clan to his native borough and his top three Staten Island pizza spots. Read on for more.
Tell us about Staten Island Summer. Casey Jost: My brother wrote it. It's the story of his going away to college, and how the summer before that, he was a lifeguard. He and I were both lifeguards for a few years. We grew up not far from St. George, down Victory Boulevard, close to the ferry, in walking distance of Silver Lake Park. The entire movie was filmed on Staten Island, like at Great Kills Swim Club—we grew up going there every summer.
The cast is impressive. CJ: The cast is insane—it has so many good SNL people. Cecily Strong plays a great female character, maybe the only normal character in the entire movie. Her name is Mary Ellen, based on a friend of my brother's growing up. Bobby Moynihan's role is based on a lot of people. Bobby has a character on SNL called Anthony Crispino, who is a friend of mine; we lifeguarded together. My brother loves to take people's names and put them in stuff. We cast Method Man as Konko, an ice cream man who sells weed. When I met him on set, he was so cool. I said, “Hey, my name is Casey!” The next day he was like, “Caseyyyyy.” When Method Man says hi to me, I want to ask, “How high?”
It's amazing how Method Man and the Wu-Tang Clan have stayed true to the borough. The entire world can love the Wu-Tang, but they belong to Staten Island. CJ: Growing up in Staten Island, it's kind of illegal to not listen to the Wu-Tang Clan. They were such a big part of how we grew up. There are two different styles on Staten Island: there's that cool hip-hop element, and there's the Italian club kid, which was like me and my friends growing up. But growing up I mingled with everyone. That's a big part of who I am now. Staten Island is a melting pot of cultures. We have the largest Sri Lankan population here outside of Sri Lanka. When I lived in Stapleton, it was very diverse.
So we're at 120 Bay Cafe. What do you love about this place? CJ: It's an institution. It's been around for years. Tons of people have come through here; it's very open to comedians, musicians and visual artists. I've done so many weird shows here—stand-up, hosted a karaoke night, played with my bands. I worked up a very high bill here, and then when it switched owners from Cargo to 120 Bay Cafe in 2012, my tab disappeared, which was great. My friend Sal Vulcano from Impractical Jokers used to bartend, and I had a tab going. I would just leave without paying because we were good friends.
What are some of your other favorite restaurants on Staten Island? CJ: For dinner I love Beso. Sit at the bar—you'll get a great conversation out of the bartender, Kevin Devlin. The tapas are incredible, both small and big plates. Go there and share. You can share with Kevin if you want—he'll probably eat some. He and I were on an improv team, like the only one on Staten Island, called Mancrush. There's also Enoteca Maria, this restaurant run by a bunch of grandmas. Every night it's open you can eat food cooked by a different grandma—isn't that incredible? It's all different Italian cuisines, so you get different parts of Italy, different parts of the boot. What a good idea for a restaurant. Another one of my favorites is Marie's Gourmet. I used to work there, and every time I'm on the island I think, Can I stop and eat something? I also love Adobe Blues. My favorite Italian restaurant is Trattoria Romana. I also love the beer from Flagship Brewing Company. Having a brewery is great for Staten Island. Microbreweries are very popular right now. It shows we're with it.
What would you say are your top three pizza places on the island? CJ: For pizza, I'm a Denino's guy. Growing up we would always go there. My number two pizza is from Marie's Gourmet. I love that place. My number three pizza is Pier 76.
How would you recommend visitors spend a day in Staten Island? CJ: Take the Staten Island Ferry. They sell beer on it. It's great. If it's around lunchtime, take a walk to 120 Bay Cafe for a bite to eat. Sometimes after you eat, you can still eat a little bit more, and that's when you go next door to Pier 76 for a slice of pizza. Then walk to the Staten Island Museum, which is awesome. It's not just about the history of Staten Island; you can learn about the different time periods in New York City through the filter of Staten Island. After that, walk to Snug Harbor or pick up some comics at Hypno-Tronic. Then get dinner. You can go anywhere: Beso, Ruddy & Dean, Enoteca Maria, 120 Bay Cafe. Another thing you can do while you're walking around St. George is go to Against Da' Grain, a barbershop. They'll take care of you—give you a little fade, you know, guy or girl. They can carve the Wu-Tang symbol into any part of your head if you want. I encourage that. St. George is friendly. It's for friends. Bring your friends. Get a bunch of people, jump on the boat and come here with them—you'll have a good time.
Staten Island Summer opened in theaters on July 24 and debuts on Netflix on July 30.