The city that never sleeps has been silenced by the coronavirus epidemic.
But inside their homes, a recent viral competition has made clear: New Yorkers and their accents lie in wait, eager to once again fill the void with dropped Rs and a tough attitude.
Filmmaker Nicolas Heller usually spends his days roving the boroughs in search of characters to profile on his Instagram feed, @NewYorkNico. So when the pandemic forced him to shelter in his Bed-Stuy apartment, the 31-year-old began brainstorming how to maintain his search from quarantine.
The Union Square native had the idea to host an online competition. First he held a general talent contest. Buoyed by its success and inspired by a list of the best 100 New York accents he’d made back in January, he put out a call for the best New York accent.
“I figured it would help lift spirits, and keep that New York pride alive,” Heller tells The Post.
Submissions were initially limited, so Heller got his friend, Garment District legend Wayne Diamond to post one, where he professed his love to “the best city in the fu – – ing world.” Soon, other local celebrities began submitting too, including “Jersey Shore” personality Vinny Guadagnino and rapper A$AP Twelvyy.
The contest was just beginning to go viral when actor Alec Baldwin submitted, performing a monologue from “Julius Caesar,” reciting the Elizabethan English script in an impeccably Long Island elocution.
It was a game changer.
“His daughter put him on,” Heller tells The Post. “It started as this underground thing to pass the time, but once that happened, it started becoming this mainstream thing.”
Other A listers soon followed.
“Kathrine Narducci submitted a video and was so into this idea she helped me get a bunch of celebrities,” says Heller, including Domenick Lombardozzi, Drea de Matteo, Debi Mazar and Chazz Palminteri.
“We got the toughest people and we will get through this. I love this city,” says Palminteri in his submission. “And we will be back.”
The Kid Mero, John Joseph, Nick Turturro and Alan Menken also threw their voices into the ring.
“New York, do not be afraid. First of all, they’re gonna make a movie, Pandemic 2020,” says comedian Chris Distefano in his submission. “And it’s gonna be directed by a New Yorker, Martin Scorsese’s gonna direct it, Joe Pesci’s gonna play Dr. Fauci, Alec Baldwin’s gonna play Trump, and you know who’s gonna play the coronavirus? Pedro Martinez.”
Heller says along the way, the contest fostered a morale boost at a time of dull dread.
“We’re New Yorkers, so of course it ended up getting pretty competitive,” he says.
In the end, he put it to his followers to pick a winner: “Williamsburg’s oldest bad boy,” a local character and profoundly-Brooklyn Italian individual nick-named Charlie da Wolf.
Meanwhile, Heller, Michael Rapaport and Princess Nokia picked their five favorites of the 1,000-some submissions for “Best of Boro” titles. Prizes were gift cards and merchandise from brands which support Heller — and, of course, what any decent New Yorker thrives on, respect.
As for how he picked his favorite submissions, “I wasn’t judging based on how thick someone’s accent was, I was just judging how it made me feel,” says Heller. “It’s very subjective. There’s no such thing as the best New York accent.”
While exhausting, being inundated with recordings of New York accents felt comforting in a time of so much eerie quiet on the borough streets.
“The chaos of the city soothes me, that accent is therapeutic to me, it makes me calm,” says Heller. “Especially in these times, when I’m not going to the store everyday and talking to my usual suspects, it’s nice to be reminded there are still New Yorkers out there, and we’re gonna get through this.”
Competitors felt similarly, with the second place winner penning a poem in appreciation.
“It helped us come together, it helped us rejoice, and this serves as proof that there’s power in voice,” recites contest silver medalist and actor Rob Agri. “I’m so proud that we’re all a rare breed and that we all come together when our city’s in need. We walk the walk and we sure talk the talk, and that was my love letter to the city of New York.”