I first met Saturday Night Live star Kyle Mooney when he was a senior at USC, through a mutual friend I was interning with at Blumhouse. At the time, Kyle was part of the comedy troupe Good Neighbor along with Beck Bennett and Nick Rutherford, and the group was starting to get some attention for their short films. SNL was still a dream, albeit one within reach.
In fact, back in July 2013, I arrogantly suggested that Lorne Michaels cast the Good Neighbor trio on SNL, and just one month later, Mooney and Bennett were hired to join the show. Rutherford joined as a writer the following year. Mooney has had successes both shared and on his own since landing his big break, having written and starred in the acclaimed indie movie Brigsby Bear, which Sony Pictures Classics acquired out of Sundance.
Mooney then went on to appear in studio-sanctioned sequels such as Zoolander 2 and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, as well as well-reviewed indies like Hello, My Name Is Doris and Never Goin’ Back, but it’s his latest indie that afforded me the opportunity to catch up with the talented actor.
Mooney co-stars alongside his former SNL castmate Sasheer Zamata in the indie movie Spree, which stars Joe Keery (Stranger Things) as a fame-obsessed ride-share driver who begins murdering passengers to build his social media following. The provocative genre film is a strong calling card for its up-and-coming director, Eugene Kotlyarenko, not to mention a welcome VOD release in the midst of a pandemic that has thrown the theatrical landscape into complete disarray.
Mooney talked about Spree as well as the future of Saturday Night Live, his favorite old cartoons, and the show he binge-watched while in quarantine, so I hope you enjoy our chat below.
Where have you been laying low during the pandemic?
KYLE MOONEY: Mostly in L.A. I’ve taken a couple trips as safely as possible, but I’ve pretty much been in L.A. the whole time.
What convinced you to sign on for Spree and work with Eugene?
MOONEY: I’ve known for Eugene for a little while. He’s a friend, and he’s such a smart dude, with really cool ideas. Honestly, I was just super excited to see what was going to come out of it visually, the way it was pitched — shooting with phones and dashboard cams as this kind of like, found footage-type thing. Mostly, it was just like, I want to be a part of this just to kind of see how it ends up looking and feeling, because to me it was such a cool concept.
What do you make of the extremes that some people — mostly misguided young people like Kurt in this movie — are willing to go to on social media in order to build a following?
MOONEY: Oh, man. It’s a tough thing for me to get into, just because so many people, myself included, I’m sure, are desperate to make a name for themselves. It’s sad, but I think that’s partially what contemporary culture is, I guess, you know? I don’t think anybody is helping the situation, you know what I mean?
What’s the trick to going viral? You’ve made videos that have gone viral in the past, be it with Good Neighbor or on SNL, so what’s the secret sauce to it, if there is one?
MOONEY: You know, I don’t know that there is. I’ll say that in terms of my own work, which is what I can speak on, I’ll make something and I’ll feel like, ‘this is something that people will rally around’ and ‘this is something they’ll understand. This has broad appeal, this is something that’s gonna be passed around,’ and that almost never happens. It’s often sort of like, just a full guess as to what’s the thing that’s gonna pop off, so I don’t know. But in the case of the character in Spree, in theory, I guess, it’s going to extremities [that] could maybe make you go viral in that way. I don’t know. I’ve yet to find out myself, so I can’t give an answer as to how it really works, or what the secret sauce is.
I agree with you about the randomness of it all, because as a reporter, I never know which stories will go viral, or why.
MOONEY: It’s super surprising. I have no idea what people are into.
Do you have a preferred ride-share service, and after this movie, will you ever accept a bottle of water from a driver?
MOONEY: You know, I’m not gonna tell you my preferred ride-share service, I’m just gonna say that I do take advantage of them, or at least I did prior to the current state of things.
Well let me ask you this — have you ever had a bad experience or a scary experience while using a ride-share service?
MOONEY: I think the most common thing that’s a negative would just be like, drivers kind of going off on their own monologues, and maybe kind of spouting certain opinions or political thoughts, or whatever it is, and taking this as a platform to just kind of monologize toward me, and feeling stuck. It’s also an incredibly awkward situation. Like, if I engage then we’re having a conversation about this thing. I’m not a super confrontational person, so you just kind of feel like you’re stuck in there.
I imagine it’s tougher being a celebrity and getting recognized by the driver, or maybe they start pitching you ideas?
MOONEY: I get more of like, those situations where they ask, ‘what do you do?’ and I kind of never want to say I’m an actor, because that already means they don’t know who I am, and then I have to go through my credits until they’re like ‘no, I haven’t seen you in that, and no, I don’t watch that,’ so it’s always kind of embarrassing.
Fair enough. So Drake is an executive producer on Spree. Did you get to meet Drake for this project? I guess you’ve already worked with him on SNL…
MOONEY: He wasn’t on set, but I got to meet persons who work with him. But yeah, I met him on SNL and he’s always a delight — and obviously super talented.
Do you think your appearance in Spree could lead to a guest spot on Stranger Things? Couldn’t Joe put in a good word for you?
MOONEY: Uh, I hope so. I’ll take anything!
If you could guest star on any TV show, what would it be and why?
MOONEY: That’s currently on the air?
Yeah. I’ll let you have a throwback answer too.
MOONEY: Well, I watched all 11 seasons of Cheers this summer, so like, I’m definitely in awe of the performances of that. In terms of contemporary television, I might have to get back to you on that one. Truly, I’d be happy to do most things.
I’d love to see you on Fargo, Kyle. I’ve gotta call Noah Hawley on your behalf.
MOONEY: OK, we’ll say it’s Fargo then. It’s Fargo!
What does the future of comedy look like to you? Studios seem to be making fewer comedies than ever before, so have streaming services become a more natural home for comedies, or do you think people will be looking to laugh when they return to theaters after the pandemic?
MOONEY: I don’t know that I’m the person to answer that. Again, I can only really speak to my experience. I love making comedy, and I’ve been doing it for so long. Like you said, we’ve been making videos, and I’ve been very fortunate get some of the work I have gotten, so I think there are people out there like me who just want to keep making stuff in any capacity we can, and we’ll continue to do so. Obviously, the mediums might always change, but for some of us, we’ve just gotta make stuff, and if it’s for streaming or movie theaters or we’re just grinding on YouTube or whatever, people who love it will just continue to do it.
Are you planning to go back to theaters when they do reopen in Los Angeles, or are you going to keep a distance for now?
MOONEY: I’m not even thinking about it. I’m not even entertaining the idea yet. I’m truly taking it day by day.
When are you expected to go back to work on SNL for Season 46?
MOONEY: I don’t know if any of this has been publicized yet, so I don’t know what I can or can’t say, but it looks like things are going to be getting going in early fall.
Variety reported that SNL would return to Studio 8H, so do you anticipate being with the entire cast, or just a group of cast members at first?
MOONEY: I think we’re gonna try to do as close to the real thing as we can, in a safe way, so I think that means tests, and all that comes with it. I think they’re still figuring it out, and I think there’s a lot to figure out, but they have us all in their best interest. I’m assuming I’ll get to see everybody.
Would you prefer doing At Home episodes? Do you feel like those freed you up creatively to experiment a little bit more?
MOONEY: It was, at times, a cool change of pace, but you can’t take anything away from collaborating and just being near these people who inspire you and inspire fun ideas. I truly don’t know what the show will look like, as it is, so maybe we’ll still be able to do stuff kind of on our own. I don’t really know how it’ll work, but I’m excited, generally, just because as a fan, I think it’ll be an intriguing thing to see.
What do you think makes you and Beck Bennett a great comedy team, and do you even think of yourselves as one? As long as I’ve known you guys, I’ve thought of you as a package deal, but maybe you don’t think of yourselves in those terms?
MOONEY: I mean, we’ve worked together forever now. We went to USC together and did comedy together there. And then we were in a comedy group, Good Neighbor, that made videos and did shows, so I’ve known him since the fall of 2007. That’s 13 years. I don’t know that I could label exactly what it is that makes us work well together, and I feel funny even saying anything like ‘we’re a great team,’ because I feel silly saying anything like that. But he’s one of my very good friends, and there’s a comfort level there, and we’ve probably developed sensibilities together. When you’re going to college with somebody and kind of going through your 20s together, you develop ways of looking at the world and interacting, and you find rhythms, I guess, so I think that’s super helpful.
What do you love and hate the most about the normal SNL production process in general?
MOONEY: I love what I was getting at earlier — being around people that I think are really awesome and really funny, and I also love the challenge of, week after week, trying to come up with something, and if you failed last week, you have another week to bounce back. And balancing that goes both ways.
What do I hate about it? I think ‘hate’ is a strong word, but the frustrations that come with, like, kind of what I was getting at earlier, when you feel so confident in a piece or something like that on Wednesday, and maybe it gets good laughs at the table read, and you’re feeling like ‘this is something special,’ and come Saturday, it’s just a full ‘dead’ in front of a studio audience. That’s not my favorite part, I would say.
How’d it feel to be working with Sasheer Zamata again outside of SNL?
MOONEY: Oh, it was awesome. We spend so much time together at SNL and at the studio, but there’s still always things to learn about each other, and being in a different place with Sasheer and working on a movie, it’s similar, but it’s also new. We are collaborating in a different way, we’re not just doing straight-up sketch comedy, so it was awesome.
RLJE Films was kind enough to use my quote on the Spree poster. I called it “American Psycho for the digital age.” If you were a film critic walking out of this movie, what would be your pull quote?
MOONEY: Well, I want to say congrats, Jeff. That’s very exciting. I think I saw your Facebook post about that.
Yes, it’s the big time for me.
MOONEY: It’s called a pull quote? “Get ready for the ride of your life!”
Yes! Those are the kinds of lines that work, Kyle! Studios love that stuff. Speaking of loving stuff, I was a big fan of Brigsby Bear, and so were a lot of critics. It was such a breath of fresh air for indie cinema. Any plans to follow that up?
MOONEY: Thanks, Jeff. That was truly one of my favorite experiences of my life, especially working in the industry, and yeah, I’m always kind of hammering away at something. Dave [McCary] and I are working on stuff together right now, but until we’re producing it and we’re on set, or on location, it’s not a thing. But there’s definitely a lot of fun things in the works. I’m always trying to come up with something.
One of my colleagues loved your voice work as Michelangelo in the animated movie Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and they were wondering if there were any other iconic characters from your youth that you’d love to have a shot at playing or voicing.
MOONEY: Oh, that’s fun. Thank you to them. I love a lot of ’80s and ’90s animated shows, and that’s something I’m actually digging into for something I’m working on right now, so I have been watching quite a bit of them. Let me think… I guess being a Thundercat or a Masters of the Universe character, or a Transformer — any of those would be pretty sweet.
There you go, that’s my headline. “Kyle Mooney wants to be in the animated Transformers movie.” Anything else you wanted to mention that I didn’t get a chance to ask you about?
MOONEY: No, just check out Spree and stay safe, everybody!
Spree is currently available on VOD and digital platforms.