Categorized | Bronx Life, Southern Bronx

Yankee Stadium Has a New Wild Pitch: Standup Comedy

Davian Velez hosts the Championship Comedy Series at Yankee Stadium. Dan Fasteneberg / The Bronx Ink

Davian Velez hosts the Championship Comedy Series at Yankee Stadium. Dan Fasteneberg / The Bronx Ink

By Dan Fastenberg

Pitchers and catchers may have just begun reporting to spring training in Florida, but a lineup of heavy hitters was already looking to slam it out of the park at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night.

Their goal, however, was not to send a classic five-ounce, red-stitch baseball over the center field wall, but to deliver a killer joke.

On Feb. 17, four established comics from the New York comedy world descended on the least likely of venues – Yankee Stadium – to take part in the Championship Comedy Series.  Taking the stage at the NYY Steak restaurant located at Gate Six of the Yankees’ new home, Lynne Koplitz, Kenny Williams, Davian Velez and Mark Viera turned the house that Jeter built into a veritable comedy club – a feat unthinkable at the first Yankee Stadium. The new stadium became the official home of the Yankees last season.

“The old Yankee Stadium, that was just a ballpark,” said Joseph DeJesus, the manager of NYY Steak, referring to the empty building still standing on the other side of 161st Street that was the Yankees’ turf from 1923 to 2008. “This new one is a convention center,” he added.

The comedy night is in keeping with the concept of a multipurpose Yankee Stadium that is in use 12 months a year, even when the ballplayers are not taking the field. Indeed, on the very same day as the Championship Comedy Series, the stadium was busy trying to coordinate a scheduling conflict between a professional boxing event and a bar mitzvah, according to a report by The New York Times published on Feb. 17.

Last year the stadium even played host to New York University’s graduation ceremony.  And plans are already in the works for a college football Yankee Bowl. Local residents in attendance at the Championship Comedy Series see the retro-fitting of Yankee Stadium as a homerun.

“Things like this bring people to the area,” South Bronx resident Joe Bernard said. “It brings money, but it also builds self-esteem.”

But on the night of Feb. 17, the $1.5 billion stadium had only one marquee – the comedians.

The stand-up comics team performed before a crowd of about 120 people, and their material was largely geared to the local community in attendance. No group was spared.

“So my sister married a black guy,” Davian Velez, a Puerto Rican comic who hosts the comedy series, told the crowd.  “So she’s Puerto Rican and he’s black. So my grandmother says that will make my niece and nephew Dominican.”

The comic Mark Viera devoted much of his time on stage to his first-generation immigrant grandmother, who Viera said can only see the world through a Latin lens, referring even to Saddam Hussein as Saddam Miguel after the ousted Iraqi leader’s capture in 2003.

Viera, who has appeared on NBC’s “30 Rock,” has his own sitcom scheduled to premiere on Fox this summer.

“Being a Bronx native, it’s an absolute honor to perform at Yankee Stadium,” said Viera, who hails from the Castle Hill section of eastern Bronx. “I think the stadium could definitely become a regular cultural space, and it only shows that the future direction of the area is upwards.”

“The idea is to bring locals in; there’s a misconception that the new Yankee Stadium is too pricey,” said Joseph DeJesus from the NYY Steak restaurant.

Tickets to the Championship Comedy Series cost $20 when bought in advance, $25 at the door. The price is within the same range as New York’s most famous comedy clubs like Caroline’s and The Comedy Cellar, both of which require a two-drink minimum along with cover charge.

The NYY Steak restaurant, a low-lit bar and steakhouse with parquet red oak floors, will also host wine tasting and jazz nights. The next Championship Comedy Series will take place on March 10.

Lynne Koplitz, the co-host of Z-Rock on the IFC Channel, said the venue should have no trouble finding a place for itself in the New York comedy world.

“I absolutely think this could become a regular stop for comedians,” Koplitz said. “It’s really not too far out of the way if you live in Manhattan. And plus we’re comedians. If you pay well, we’ll come.”

Leave a Reply