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Photograph: Philippe Regard

Bobby Moynihan interview: ‘Drunk Uncle is going to die on Weekend Update’

Let’s give three (holiday) cheers to the man behind Saturday Night Live’s Drunk Uncle, Bobby Moynihan

For New York comedy fans, watching the loony, emotive comic Bobby Moynihan grow from Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre improviser to beloved Saturday Night Live-er was a thrill. Now in his seventh season on the show, Moynihan proves himself an adept mimic—we sometimes forget he’s not the real Chris Christie—and a compelling presence on “Weekend Update,” most notably for his role as Drunk Uncle. And who better to teach us what (not) to do this holiday season than the creator of SNL’s most sloppy yet weirdly lovable bigot?

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What’s your philosophy on gift giving?
When someone gives me a bottle of booze or an iPad, it’s nice. But I like giving people things that no one has. [SNL costar] Taran Killam and I worked on a movie together this summer, and I was like, What can I get Taran that he doesn’t have that he really wants? Oh, a full, working, movie-replica [Teenage Mutant] Ninja Turtle costume!

Because who can’t use that?
I’ll tell you one thing: We will. I’m waiting for it to come in the mail more than Taran is. It’s going to be beautiful.

Ever purposefully strand yourself in the city during the holidays rather than face your family?
My family lives 20 minutes away, so I always go home. It’s my favorite time of year. It used to be selfish, because I just wanted gifts. Now that I’m older, it’s not just about keeping myself occupied. It’s much more about being a family. My job was to preoccupy myself and now…eh, it still is, pretty much.

Does SNL have regrettable, end-of-year office parties like the rest of us?
Oh, we’ve had hundreds of those. Nothing too crazy, but after my first year, at one of our writers’ parties, people were falling down, there were cartwheels involved, and someone was in a tree at the end of the night.

Were you that someone in the tree?
No, I’m pretty tame. I’m getting too old now, turning into Drunk Uncle.

Speaking of, Drunk Uncle is not based on your drunk uncle, right?
Nope. I had just spent 17 hours writing this sketch about a crazy suit salesman. I saw Colin Jost on my way out at 5:30 in the morning, and he’s like, I need to write an “Update” [segment], do you have any ideas? And I was like, I don’t know, I can do this drunk guy pretty well. And then 15 minutes later, we wrote down a couple of jokes, and that was it.

When did you start to believe in Drunk Uncle’s potential?
That first night on “Update,” it felt different, like the audience was watching me. When I’d do Snooki or something, it was, Look at that idiot. I thought, This is what I do best, just being a weirdo and having a good time. We haven’t changed much since that first time, but it has progressively gotten weirder.

What are the rewards of playing a character for this long?
The first one, I was so calm, it’s almost like, What is wrong with me? It looks like I’m really drunk. The [most recent] one, I’d had way too much coffee, it was a hectic day, and I wrote something else that got on the show, so I was worried about that.

I watch it now, and there’s a couple of seconds when I think, I don’t remember doing that crazy thing, I don’t know who that is. But that’s when I feel I did a good job. I think I’ve done it about 10 or 11 times now. It’s getting to that territory of, How do you end it? Every time I do one, I think, At least it didn’t bomb, because I didn’t want to go out on a bad one.

What about ending with a big, strange event, like Stefon’s wedding?

Drunk Uncle is the opposite of Stefon. He’s so dark. The only way to finish it is just that he’s dead. He’s going to die on “Update,” and that’s it.

No paramedics?
He’s got a do not revive thing on his bracelet. He’s just done. He’s been done forever.

I've been waiting for Drunk Uncle to meet Dana Carvey's Grumpy Old Man. I think they'd have a lot to talk about.

You know, I think all of those characters on Update come from one family. I always call [Drunk Uncle's] wife Linda because I joke around that it's [Kristen Wiig’s character] Aunt Linda, and Stefon is their son. The Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation with at the Party is their daughter. And Jacob lives next door but Drunk Uncle doesn’t talk to him because he’s Jewish.

Tell us about a couple of ideas you haven’t been able to get on the show yet.
I have this old-man character named Glary Oldman. His apartment was on fire, but he was stubborn about leaving, because he didn’t want to leave all his stuff. I have a character called Berle, who lost 19 pounds and now he’s 600 pounds and very happy about it. It made it to dress rehearsal but got cut for time.

How much more leeway do you have now that you’re an SNL vet?
It’s weird, it’s different. In the beginning, there were such heavy hitters, like Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig; it felt like you were climbing through the ranks. Now there are so many new people, and we’re all the same again. I thought it would get easier to get stuff on. It’s still just as hard.

Well, in a couple of years you can make a redeeming holiday movie starring Drunk Uncle.
I used to think that idea was insane: It’s just two hours of racist non sequiturs. Now I don’t drink that often, but I’ll have a glass of whiskey, and 10 minutes in, I’m like, “We start off with a baby—he’s immediately drunk when he’s born. You just hear the sound of a bottle cap. We’ve established that he’s an exterminator.” Part of me wants him to find a time machine in a crawl space, where he has to go back in time and save the world.

And he ought to begrudgingly learn to love a small immigrant child from Mexico.
He’d never do it. The end would be him going, Nope. I’m not using a computer, I’m just going back to bed.
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