'SNL's' Bobby Moynihan Discusses Working with Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, James Franco And More
Entire interview transcript with Saturday Night Live's Bobby Moynihan
Mike: You worked on Conan O'Brien's show, right?
Bobby: Yeah, yeah. A couple of years.
Mike: How would you describe the difference between doing a sketch on Conan -- the preparation involved -- or Upright Citizens Brigade, as opposed to SNL?
Bobby: I guess it's weirdly similar. [On] Conan, it was like: here's your bit and we're not going to tell you what it is until you get there (laughs). We're going to rehearse it once and then we're going to tape it live. It didn't go out on TV live but you only had one chance to do it so if you screwed up ... that was it. So, it was similar ... I guess it was actually the same exact thing except it's on a much bigger scale at SNL ... where it's in history forever so it's nerve racking (laughs). But, I did a lot weirder stuff on Conan; a lot of fat guy in his underwear stuff.
Just being in that building alone and doing Conan was the coolest thing in the world for me because I'd been such a fan of SNL for years. I remember a couple years ago doing a bit on Conan where we had to go upstairs to the floor where SNL's studio is and I couldn't even concentrate on doing the bit that I was doing because I couldn't believe I was on the floor that SNL tapes -- because I had been such a fan of it since I was a kid -- and I started taking pictures with my camera phone. So, to be working there now, is bizarre and awesome.
Mike: You mentioned Conan doing weirder skits; I hope that doesn't change when he goes west. I know on his last show he said, "that's just not going to happen"...
Bobby: That made me so happy ... I know a lot of the writers on Conan, as well, and I think a lot of them are going, too, so that's good. Hopefully it won't change that much.
I'm psyched about Jimmy Fallon's band, The Roots. I'm a big Roots fan so to see them in the building all the time is neat.
Mike: I saw that, too. He did well on his band selection.
Bobby: Yeah ... I got in the elevator one day and it was me and just all The Roots, it was pretty awesome (laughs).
Mike: Did you get your camera phone out again?
Bobby: I try not to (laughs). I always want to; I've trained myself not to. I'm still a fan-boy; I think the worst thing SNL could have done was hire a fan-boy (laughs).
Mike: What was your first meeting with Lorne [Michaels] like?
Bobby: It was so amazing. I felt so lucky, I left the building that day going: The chances of getting SNL are so minuscule but at least I got to have that experience. At least he thought of me enough to even bring me in. It was the coolest thing in the world.
I felt like I was lied to, a little bit ... I worked with a couple of guys from SNL at Upright Citizens Brigade before I got it and everyone was kid of prompting me like: Don't do bits, don't try to be funny ... it was essentially: be yourself but don't be yourself, because, I'm kind of an idiot (laughs). I went in there and weirdly enough it was like talking to an old friend; I felt like I was on a first date. I was nervous and he was just asking me about my family and he seemed really interested. And he was asking me a lot of old SNL questions -- and I'm a super nerd about it.
He was like, "Do you see anything in my office you like?" Which I thought was funny.
And I was like, "That mug over there is the 'Worlds Best Boss' mug that you used for the Rainn Wilson episode on The Office sketch.
He was like, "Oh that mug next to those Emmys," (laughs) so he's a funny dude.
Mike: That's funny that you mentioned how people tried to tell you "don't be funny" or "don't do a bit." I don't know if you read Tom Shales's "Live From New York"...
Bobby: Oh, of course. The Will Ferrell story?
Mike: Yeah, exactly! I think he left...
Bobby: The suitcase story ... [Will Ferrell brought] a suitcase full of fake money and he brought it in three times [to Lorne's office] and never handed it to him. I love that story.
When I first went in I had a huge beard and very long hair -- I looked like Hurley from Lost. I met with him about five times ... I went in two years ago and thought I was going to get it after meeting with him for so long, then the writers strike happened. Then, when the writers strike was over Maya Rudolph had left so I didn't get it because they needed to hire a girl.
Mike: Is that when Casey [Wilson] came on?
Bobby: Yeah. And she's a good friend of mine so I was so happy for her but I was kind of devastated...
Mike: I wonder: Is it harder to come on in the middle of the season -- like Casey did or like Michaela [Watkins] and Abby [Elliott] just did -- or start fresh at the beginning of a season.
Bobby: It's weird. I feel so lucky for the timing of everything ... I came in with all of the Sarah Palin stuff right at the beginning of the season. I think I came in at the best time but also the hardest time because we had ten shows in eight weeks.
I know a lot of the other cast-members were like: This is pretty crazy, it's never like this. Now that we are going into two weeks on/two weeks off for the rest of the season it's almost like it's not work. It was every single week ... plus the Thursday shows. You just start and the next thing you know you're in a moose costume with Sarah Palin ... I can't believe there's only six episodes left in this season.
Mike: Is that it? Really?
Bobby: It's stretched out over until May ... but I've been having so much fun I almost don't want it to end. And you can never be sure if you're coming back or not. I love it so much, we have off this week and I'm spending most of the day writing for whoever I know is hosting next because it's such a dream come true you don't want to take it for granted.
Mike: I imagine when one comes in as a featured player you come in with your own ideas like sketches you did at UCB. Is it intimidating to walk in as the new guy and say, "Hey, here are my ideas. This is how I think it should be done"?
Bobby: Completely. I feel so lucky Michael Phelps was the first host because I feel like there was low expectations for him; they don't expect Michael Phelps to be the best actor in the world. It's not like walking up to Steve Martin and going, "Hey Steve Martin, I'm a 32 year-old idiot who does comedy, here's a script for you that I would like me and you to do together."
Not only that, the read through for me is the most nerve-wracking part. We go in on Monday, we pitch ideas Tuesday night -- all night long is writing night -- and then Wednesday is the read through. I sat down at that table and I was like: These are the twelve comedians that I've been watching forever ... it was like being at the best comedy show ever ... And then it's your turn to do something that you wrote and you're just like: If they don't laugh I'm going to be devastated (laughs).
He doesn't make me feel this way, but you just want to make Seth [Meyers] laugh because he's such a genius when it comes to the show.
Mike: I have to say: I love Seth on "Weekend Update" but I kind of miss him in sketches, too.
Bobby: Of course! One of my favorite things to do, still, and I still do it, is ASSSSCAT at Upright Citizens Brigade, the Sunday show. That's how I met Seth, doing that. I wish everybody could see it because Rachel Dratch and Horatio [Sanz] and Seth and a lot of people do it. And that's their wheelhouse. Seth is so brilliant and so quick and such a good performer; you wish people could see them having a good time rather than the sketches they get to do on SNL. That's ten percent of their talent you're seeing.
Mike: I've kind of always wondered this: Is there any competition between coming from [UCB] and people that came from The Groundlings or Second City?
Bobby: We have West Side Story gang fights.
Mike: (Laughs) Now I'm going to imagine that every time I watch SNL and I'm going to be happy about that.
Bobby: (Laughs) Me and Michaela have switchblade fights before every sketch.
Mike: I've been guilty of this as a viewer: You get comfortable with the cast then, all of a sudden, someone else has been added and as a viewer you are like, "Well now, who is this?" Do you think it's more important, at first, to just get as much screen time as possible or to establish reoccurring characters like Mark Payne?
Bobby: Obviously it's good to get screen time and all that stuff ... The Mark Payne thing, I've been doing that for years and I can't believe that it got on in the first episode and that I've done more since then. I did one with Rosario Dawson that didn't make it to air. And then you get upset that this didn't make it to air but then you realize that Lorne Michaels is not an idiot and he's been doing this for many many years. I almost felt like he saved me; there's a reason why it didn't get on the air ... it's because he thought it wasn't up to par or he thought it would work better with someone else.
I'm a fan of quality over quantity but I've been super lucky with what I've got on the air. My second episode, one of the writers wrote that "Of Mice and Men" sketch I did with James Franco and I was petrified because it was just me and him. It was one of those sketches where it's not a bunch of fart sounds, it was like you had to think about it a tiny bit ... the last thing I want to do is screw up, at all. Half because I don't want to get fired and half because I respect the show so much.
Mike: did you read the Jay Mohr book ["Gasping for Airtime"]?
Bobby: I would go as far as saying that's my favorite SNL book for the sole reason...
Mike: It's so candid.
Bobby: It's so candid and ... I like Jay Mohr, I think he's great. But, I felt like that was a handbook on what NOT to do at SNL.
Mike: I think you're right. He openly admits he would pout and not show up for the goodbyes when his sketches were not in the show.
Bobby: If my sketch doesn't get on or if I get cut... you know, the Steve Martin episode was on my birthday and I'd been thinking about it for months. Like: What are the chances of my birthday falling on a Saturday and Steve Martin hosting? This is the greatest gift I've ever gotten in my entire life ... and I got completely shut out of the live show -- I was in one of the digital shorts.
And you're upset and devastated but it's just that thing of: Don't complain, don't hide and don't let anybody know that you're upset because it doesn't matter. It's about the show, it's not about you. If you pout and complain, you're going to look like an asshole.
I'm still a nerd. If I'm not in the show I go down the studio and just watch because I feel so lucky I'm even able to be in the building.
Mike: Trust me, as someone who has lived in New York for five years and has never been ... yes, I can confirm that, yes, even if you're not in the show it is very fortunate you even get to see it.
What episode was Anne Hathaway in?
Bobby: I think it was the fourth.
Mike: You had a big part in that one, the nightclub sketch.
Mike: Did you write that?
Bobby: Yeah, I did. I wrote it with another writer ... I believe it was James Anderson. I went up to him -- weirdly I took a lot of dance, I took tap for a very long time (laughs) -- and I enjoy dancing and I knew Anne Hathaway was a dancer as well ... and the chances of it getting in are slim, especially for a featured player. But, I think, Anne Hathaway was excited to show that side of her and to do some kind of dance. I one hundred percent believe the only reason that got on air is because Anne Hathaway was cool as shit and was like, "I'm going to get this on the air for you."
Anne Hathaway, Jon Hamm and Neil Patrick Harris, to me, have been the best; where you could really tell that they were honored to be there and that they were excited. Anne Hathaway was pitching ideas that were hilarious.
Mike: It's funny you mention the three hosts that you did because those were three of the best episodes of the season.
Bobby: I think because they were so jazzed about doing it and showing that side of them. I think each one of those people could be a cast member.
Mike: You don't think of Jon Hamm as a funny guy if you watch Mad Men...
Bobby: And he's one of the funniest dudes in the world. Even just talking to him he's so hilarious. You know, it's like ... the way he looks; he looks like he's from the 50's (laughs).
Mike: You know, when I first started watching Mad Men I was like, "Who is this guy, Jon Hamm?" So I look him up on Wikipedia and I noticed he went to the University of Missouri, which is where I went, and my freshman year was his senior year. So it blows my mind I could have been sitting next to Don Draper at the campus McDonald's.
Bobby: It's one of those things, too, where you go, "Oh my god, Don Draper's coming," and you meet him and it's like: Oh, he's just a dude. A really funny dude.
All these people are so normal and so wonderful but because they're on TV you assume that they're untouchable. We did that Beyoncé thing and Justin Timberlake was the coolest dude in the world -- and we have the same birthday. He was just super personable, super funny and he was pitching ideas. The two craziest sketches I was involved in so far was that Beyoncé sketch -- because I wrote that, I had that idea...
Mike: You wrote that?! That got a lot of attention.
Bobby: The story of that sketch is insane to me because I came in on Monday and went up to one of the writers, John Lutz ... who I think is a genius ... and I was like: Hey man, I've got this dumb idea for Beyoncé where me and Andy [Samberg] are the backup dancers. I just thought it would be funny to get in those outfits and do that. Essentially it was like: That's a great idea but she won't do it. When she's done the show before she likes to really focus on her performances...
But, we wrote it up anyway and handed it in and it didn't get picked and it was just, you know, she's not going to do it. On Thursday me and Andy saw her and went into her dressing room and we were just like, "hey," and she was super nice -- the most angelic creature you've ever seen -- and we told her the idea and she started laughing and she's like, "You're going to get in those outfits?" and we were like, "yeah, that's the plan." She was like, "That's amazing. I'll do it, but I'll do it if it's pre-taped because on the night I want to focus on the performances."
Lorne was like, "We're not going to do it, we don't to pre-tapes." So ,that was it. The next thing you know they're on the phone with Justin Timberlake and he's in town. An hour later he comes over and convinces Beyoncé to do it live ... if you look at the picture it's Paul Rudd, Beyoncé, me, Andy and Justin. I feel like it's one of those things where somebody superimposed me into that picture ... from the time I pitched the idea, exactly a week later, I'm sitting at my house looking at it in Entertainment Weekly and I was just like: What the hell have I done?
Mike: Is there an inspiration for Mark Payne?
Bobby: (Laughs) I was a bartender at a Pizzeria, Uno's, for nine years. The people I worked with were amazing but it was quite possibly the most miserable time of my life (laughs). Just being a bartender at a chain restaurant ... a lot of that stuff is real, people that I came in contact with, bits of information that I kept over the years. The last line of that sketch was, "Oh snap, I left my kid on the bus," and I actually heard somebody say that -- one of my co-workers. You write that down: so that just happened -- I'm going to remember that the rest of my life.
That's the way I wish I had acted towards customers; I wish I had just been a maniac and said whatever I wanted to and not care about the consequences. The Uno's that comes up a the very beginning of the sketch is the Uno's that I worked at; They went and shot the one I actually worked at.
Mike: Where is that one at?
Bobby: Yonkers, New York.
Mike: I was going to say: I live on the Upper East Side and there is an Uno's on 86th street. I've never been there but if it's that hilarious I was going to go hang out there...
Bobby: (Laughs) I've worked at that one before ... I worked at the one in Yonkers because I grew up in Westchester.
Mike: I do love your impression of Snagglepuss. Where did you come up with the idea that we really needed a parody of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon?
Bobby: The first time I auditioned you had to do some characters and some impressions and impressions terrify me. You look at people like Bill [Hader] and Darrell [Hammond] and Fred [Armisen] who are just mimics. They talk to you for two minutes, they get down to your essence and can do you perfectly. But, I'm not like that.
I did Turtle from Entourage and Hurley from Lost for my first audition. They weren't really impressions as much as they were just chubby dudes with beards that I resembled. For my second audition, when I went back a year later, I think I did Nathan Lane, Jack Black and I had to do something else ... and the only impression I think I do well is Snagglepuss and I've been doing it since I was a kid.
On the subway there to the audition I was like: I've got to throw in another impression. At least it will make them laugh that I did it; that I actually showed up in front of Lorne Michaels and did a Snagglepuss impression. Then it's one of those things where, like, that Prop 8 stuff was going on and I was like: Oh, who would be good to comment on this? Then you get that idea that it might be funny if it's Snagglepuss. Then it's like: This will never get on the air, but, at least it will get a laugh at the table. Then it ended up getting in ... be careful what you wish for.
Mike: You guys are off this week, right?
Mike: Have they announced the next hosts yet?
Bobby: It's The Rock, Dwayne Johnson [March 7] and then Tracy Morgan after that [March 14] which I'm super psyched for ... this is first time coming back since he was a cast member and he's super excited to do it but he's also, you know, I think he's a pretty legendary maniac. I just can't wait to see what's going to happen! And my dream of quite possibly being in an "Astronaut Jones" is ... I think that's one of the funniest sketches in the world. I want Tracy Morgan to be insane.
"Mike's Pulse" is a column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan. For any compliments or complaints -- preferably the former -- you may contact Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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