Editor’s note: Today we’ve learned that nine-year SNL vet is leaving the show. This is not a huge surprise considering a CBS show starring him, Me, Myself and I, is part of the network’s fall schedule. That said, we will miss his Chris Christie, Guy Fieri and Drunk Uncle characters, among others. Here, we revisit an interview from one year ago. Good luck, Bobby!
When I meet him in Newark, Bobby Moynihan is wearing a tuxedo.
He’s shorter than I expected. But also slimmer. Big eyes. Great hair. As thick and strong as an eight-year-old boy’s.
We’re at the Newark Symphony Hall, up in a women’s dressing room that has lots of bright light bulbs framing the mirrors, like an old-fashioned nook out of All About Eve or something. We don’t have much time because he’s got to get back to a commercial that he’s shooting downstairs. The commercial is for Pizza Hut. For their new Bacon Stuffed Crust Pizza. Bobby is quite underselling about the whole pizza thing, when I ask him about it.
But he is definitely “on.” Good energy. Not just having a conversation. Seems to be performing. SNL does that to you, probably. Keeps you amped up because that’s what works on live TV. I’m just guessing about all of this. What do I know? Maybe he was always like this and that’s why he got the SNL gig.
Anyway, he’s entertaining, which is the main thing. Laughs a lot. After things he says and things other people say. It’s like it’s his protection, almost.
Moynihan has been one of the best parts about Saturday Night Live for a while now. (He’s sneaky old: 39.) This is his eighth season. The show returns tomorrow for its first of three final shows of the year. (Host Brie Larson, musical guest Alicia Keys.) He’s in a lot of sketches each week. Playing senators and bar patrons and audience members. Whatever they need.
But he can also drive a scene as an over-the-top wacky character. He’s sort of like the team player who can also lead the squad in scoring on any given night. Andre Iguodala maybe. He’s absolutely hilarious in this space sketch where he raves about his “kitty cat.”
His characters also dominate the Weekend Update segment (which is probably the best part about SNL, week in and week out). He plays Anthony Crispino, the guy who gets all the gossip wrong and whose voice gets higher and higher as the bad information builds. He does Riblet, the Ali G-type wannabe punk who can deliver the news like Anderson Cooper, when called upon.
And of course he plays Drunk Uncle, the salt and pepper haired, Members Only jacket wearing inebriated relative that every family has, who inevitably drinks too much and starts railing against the government and the kids today. (And then starts to cry.) As he does with all of his recurring characters, Moynihan fully inhabits Drunk Uncle and it’s a pleasure to watch. You almost feel drunk while you’re watching him. It’s one of my favorite characters in the history of SNL and I’ve been watching since the mid-’80s.
So as you can imagine, it was really cool to sit down with Moynihan for 15 minutes and chat about a lot of different things. (He’s a fast talker so we covered a lot of ground.) Here’s essentially the entire conversation below. If you like SNL/Moynihan, you’ll probably enjoy it. If you don’t, you’ll probably be bored. But oh well.
“I don’t think I can play Snooki anymore. She looks completely different. Unless I drop 200 pounds and get all new teeth.”
How’s the shoot going?
Great. So far it’s been a blast.
What are you doing? You’re very dressed up.
I’m a drummer in an orchestra. I was just on a tiny roller coaster that they built. Just like a chair on a thing. I was playing the drums.
What is the main message that Pizza Hut is getting out with this commercial?
I think that just bacon tastes great? They’re spending a lot of money to let people know stuff that is pretty obvious. [Laughs]
Did you ever think you’d be doing something like this growing up?
Yeah, it’s my life’s dream.
I’ve worked at pizza places my entire life, so this is pretty apropos. I worked at a Pizzeria Uno for like 13 years. I was working at John’s Pizzeria on 44th when I found out I got SNL. Lot of pizza.
Where was the Pizzeria Uno?
Yonkers. I worked at the South Street Seaport Uno’s for a while too and on West 4th Street, but mostly the one on Central Avenue in Yonkers.
I did want to ask about your story of getting SNL. Is it a good story?
Yeah, it’s a crazy one. Well, that’s all I wanted to do. I started doing Upright Citizens Brigade in 2000. I saw a show there and was like, “I’m staying here for as long as I can.” I became a bartender at UCB and then, like six months after I started taking classes at UCB, Amy [Poehler] got SNL [in 2001]. So I just stayed there and did what she did and tried to follow that pattern, and I ended up getting SNL like six months before she left [in 2008]. So her whole time on the show was my whole time training to get on the show.
But I came in and I auditioned. I was doing improv – doing AssssCat with Seth [Meyers] and Amy and Horatio Sanz. And he brought me on his “Kings of Improv” tour. I think one of the guys from SNL came and saw that, and then they came and saw me in a sketch show, and I got an audition and I was like, “Well, I don’t want to mess this up, so I’m going to work on this for a while.” And then I auditioned.
And then I got called in, I met with Lorne. And then the writers strike happened two days later. So I thought, “I think I’m getting this!” And then just nine months of waiting for them to come back into production, thinking, like, “When it comes back, I’ll be on the show.” And then they came back and Maya Rudolph had had a baby so they hired a girl instead and I was devastated. [Laughs]
And then a couple months went by and I got a call to come back. I came back and within a week I was on the show. It was like 14 months of torture and then it all happened in like six days. Like, auditioned and then I was on the show. Crazy.
How were the auditions?
What did you do?
I forget. When I sent in my original tape, I did a lot of weird impressions that I did NOT do for my actual audition. Because I don’t think I’m very good at impressions.
I just don’t like doing them. I did Jack Black at a funeral, which was just me screaming. I did Silent Bob. I just smoked a cigarette. I did a lot of fake-out impressions. I did Snagglepuss at a swingers party. I did Johnny Cash on sleeping pills. I think I just brought out a guitar and started singing and then just fell over. And that was it. Like I never really did impressions. I just tried to go for bits. I did Hurley from Lost trying to open a jar of chili. That’s all I did was try and open the jar. I just looked like him. I was heavier at the time. But he’s the best. I love him. I met him and he was very nice to me.
I’m sure you’ve gone on a lot of auditions over the years, for commercials and things. Do you have an audition horror story?
I’m trying to think. I have a very distinct memory of auditioning for something, but it wasn’t me who it was happening to. I just witnessed it. I was auditioning for The Three Stooges movie. Going in for Curly, the bald guy. And I was like, “There’s no way I’m getting this. I SHOULDN’T be getting this.” But you know, the Three Stooges, you respect them and you go in for that.
And there was a guy who went in before me. He had seen me on SNL. He was very nice, very complimentary. He’s like, “I can’t believe I’m going in for this, I don’t even KNOW the Three Stooges.” Like, how do you not know the Three Stooges? And through the door, I just heard him go, “It’s always something! [deliberate] Ny-ack, ny-ack, ny-ack!” Instead of the “nyuk, nyuk, nyuk” like Curly does, because that’s the way it was spelled out. And I just went [cringes], “Oh…”
And he got it! No, I’m just kidding. But I just remember, like through the door thinking, “How do you NOT know the Three Stooges catchphrase?” I wasn’t even a huge fan and I know it. I don’t think I have any [personal] horror stories, thank god.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen backstage at SNL?
I think the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me backstage was being in a cop costume. It was the last sketch of the night, during the commercial break, and I’ve just changed into a full police officer’s costume. And they were like, “We’re not doing that sketch, we’re doing a different one!” And I had like 30 seconds to change out of that into something else, put on like a cream-colored suit, a beard and a turban. And as the sketch comes up, you can see them putting the wall up and you seem me sit down. Like it was the closest call I’ve ever had, and that was absolutely terrifying.
But then when I was getting done, I took off the suit and it said “J Belushi” on the inside of the suit, and I was just like, “Well that’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened.” It might be Jim Belushi. But it’s still pretty cool.
Was he your hero?
John Belushi? Of course. I mean, they’re all geniuses. It changes weekly, but Bill Murray and Chris Farley are my favorites. And, I mean, Will Ferr– you start to go, well, this person’s the best. No, this person’s the best. No, well, this person’s kind of the funniest person in the world. It never stops changing.
Do you get compared to Farley a lot?
Yeah, but not really. I think we’re very different. He’s a genius. [laughs] I’m very lucky.
I love your Drunk Uncle character. Are we ever going to see a Drunk Aunt?
She’s been in every one, but she’s super, super tiny. She’s in my pocket the whole time. No, I hope so. Someday. No one asks what his real name is, but I think I’ve figured it out, but I can’t say it yet.
Oh come on. I want a Made Man exclusive.
I can’t say it. I think that’s got to be the last thing you hear from Drunk Uncle is either he passes away or he says his name and passes away.
But you know his name?
I think I’ve figured it out.
Did you put it together or did you just invent it?
The jacket that I wear has a tag on it. There’s a name on the tag. And I read that name and I was like, “That’s his name!”
Members Only. His name is Members Only. [Laughs] His name is North Face.
Do you have a dream project that you want to do?
It’s a small thing to ask but like maybe the next couple Star Wars movies. I’m not asking much. I just want to be a gigantic CGI’d monster in the Star Wars movie. I would like to be a monster or a droid or some kind of robot. Some kind of weird thing that exists only in that universe. That would be pretty great. Or like a lazy Jedi. Either or.
Do you have a favorite character on SNL that you do?
I mean, Drunk Uncle is the best. I love doing that. It’s so much fun.
Is that the one that most people mention when they see you on the street?
Yeah, I get a lot of that. I get a lot of Anthony Crispino. I used to get Snooki all the time. Thank god I don’t get that much anymore. I don’t think I can play her anymore. She looks completely different. Unless I drop 200 pounds and get all new teeth. Then I could do it.
I love the new guy you do on Weekend Update, Riblet.
Yeah, that’s ridiculous. That’s just my buddy from college making fun of our show and me making fun of him making fun of our show.
How fun are the after-parties?
They’re the best. They’re notorious for a reason. They’re super fun. Now I’m an old man and I TRY to go. I TRY to go as much as I can, but…
Sometimes you don’t?
No. I’m getting old. I’m getting tired. It’s that “Am I going to miss the greatest thing that ever happened tonight?” That’s where I get at like 1 o’clock every Saturday night. I can either go home and go to bed, I’ve been working all day, or I can go to this party and maybe Prince will show up and play music. Like, that’s what happened one night and I’m glad I went that night.
I just watched that earlier today.
It’s just beautiful.
You were there?
That was one of the best nights of my life. Fortieth anniversary and it was the greatest. I was 15-year-old Bobby again. It was wonderful.
Did Prince just play the one song, or did he play more?
It was just a jam. A bunch of people just got onstage. It’s like the only time ever where you’re looking onstage and it’s like, Jimmy Fallon, Taylor Swift, Prince, Dan Aykroyd, and like the cue card guy Wally. And they’re all onstage going to town.
And Cuba Gooding Jr for a second, I think.
Oh, I’m sure of it. [Laughs]
Are they all in the same place?
Nope. No, they switch all the time. We go to the same places but they move all the time. It’s part of the mystery of it all.
You can get me in, right?
Probably not. I don’t know. Maybe? It’s hard. It’s hard to get people in.
If someone wanted to get into the SNL after-party, what would be your advice?
Lorne Michaels has to know who you are, I guess. Or be friends with Paul McCartney.
Was there a lesson that you learned very quickly being on SNL?
The first show was all magic. The first show was like fantasy camp. And then the second show was like, “OK, I have to do this again.” I remember getting very nervous about the technical side of it. And Kristen Wiig just came up and she was like, “It’s just reading. All you’re doing is reading.” And I was like, “Oh, that makes it so much easier.” And it didn’t help when I went on live television, but it’s true. I remember thinking, “That’s it, that’s all you have to do.” I repeat that a lot when they say “10 seconds.” I’m like, “It’s just reading. That’s it.” I guess that helps.
Do you get nervous?
I didn’t at first. Now it’s a job. So now I’m just like, “Alright, let’s do this.” The show is my favorite part. Doing the actual show is my favorite part. But if I’m in that cold open and I gotta be a politician and I’m saying stuff I don’t necessarily understand, it’s that “10 seconds!” and your heart starts pounding and you’re like, “Oh man, I’m really about to just do this in front of millions of people.” And you get like a little crazy. But then [cast member] Beck [Bennett] will do something stupid, you get distracted, and you’re like, “Eh, we’re good.”