SNL Star Colin Jost Takes a Spin on Ferryboat He Bought With Pete Davidson

Colin Jost, one of the stars of “Saturday Night Live,” has ridden the Staten Island Ferry across New York Harbor many times. But Monday he rode one for the first time as its owner.

Mr. Jost and his castmate Pete Davidson, both of whom grew up on Staten Island, have been co-owners of a hulking, orange ferryboat since they joined a group of investors who successfully bid on it in January. The group paid New York City more than $280,000 for the boat, named for John F. Kennedy, after winning a competitive auction.

Then they had to figure out what to do with it.

The partners are still working on their plan to turn it into a floating entertainment venue. While they do that, they needed to find a place to dock a 277-foot-long boat that weighs 2,100 tons.

They settled on a shipyard on the western edge of Staten Island, just a few miles from the terminal where Mr. Jost had boarded a ferry every weekday morning on his commute to Regis High School in Manhattan. Mr. Jost’s father, Daniel, had dropped Colin off at the ferry on all those school days, so it was only fitting that he came along for the ride.

Mr. Jost and his father Daniel Jost explored the boat on Monday. The younger Mr. Jost, who grew up on Staten Island, would ride the ferry to get to high school in Manhattan.Credit…Sara Messinger for The New York Times

Monday was moving day and Mr. Jost’s partners decided to make a production of it. Instead of having the ferry towed directly to the shipyard, they had two tugboats push it out into the middle of the busy harbor to take photos and video of it against the city’s most famous backdrops.

That’s how a comedic actor who delivers fake news on late-night television wound up standing on the roof of a 57-year-old ferry without working engines next to the Statue of Liberty while a helicopter and a camera drone buzzed overhead.

“I’m a cautious person by nature and this is definitely the riskiest thing that I’ve done,” Mr. Jost said, referring to the entire adventure.

He said that he wanted to get involved in the venture because of his nostalgic connection to the ferry, and he texted Mr. Davidson and asked, “Split it?” Mr. Davidson, who did not join the group on Monday, replied right away with enthusiasm, Mr. Jost recalled.

Daniel Jost, a former teacher at Staten Island Technical High School, was more circumspect, urging his son to do his “homework” on the idea before plunging in, Mr. Jost said. But aboard the boat, both father and son seemed pleased with the whole lark.

“Because it came from a pure place, it ended up being a smart decision,” Mr. Jost said. Though, he added, “Worst case, we just dock it somewhere and make it New York City’s biggest houseboat.”

The investors who bought the ferry say they plan to turn it into a floating entertainment venue. Credit…Sara Messinger for The New York Times

One of the partners, Paul Italia, explained that he wanted to try to maintain the positive energy that the initial news of the group’s purchase had generated. Mr. Italia, who owns The Stand, a comedy club near Union Square in Manhattan, said he had been inundated with ideas and offers since the news broke three months ago.

“The support’s incredible but there’s the haters out there too,” Mr. Italia said, referring to all of the people who considered it folly to try to repurpose such a big, old boat.

They acquired the ferry “as is,” complete with a dozens of wooden benches, a working popcorn maker in the concession stand and posters of the subway system on the walls. Mr. Jost pointed out that some of the posters advertised “Impractical Jokers,” a TV show for which his brother Casey was a writer and producer.

Mr. Italia said that in trying to find a final home for the ferry after its conversion he had studied a satellite image of New York Harbor and contacted everyone he could find who owned waterfront property in Brooklyn and Manhattan. He said city officials had been cooperative in his search.

The ideal spot would be at the end of its own pier because the ferry was built to load — both people and cars — from either end, said Ron Castellano, another of the partners, who is an architect and developer.

Wherever it ends up, “It instantly becomes one of the best entertainment venues in the world,” said Ed Burke, deputy borough president of Staten Island, who was along for the ride. “People are tickled by this,” Mr. Burke said. “It’s of great interest on Staten Island.”

After a few hours on the water, the tugs pushed the ferry into a slip at Caddell Dry Dock & Repair, where it will stay for repairs and renovation. Once it was docked, Caddell’s workers devised a way to get the passengers off the boat, but Mr. Jost did not wait for them.

He climbed out a window onto a pier, then smiled up at his partners and the rest of the passengers. “When you ride a ferry as much as I have, you learn a few tricks,” he said.

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