Before Kyle Mooney and Dave McCary were making odd shorts for “Saturday Night Live,” they were part of a sketch team called Good Neighbor, which also featured fellow SNL cast member Beck Bennett and writer Nick Rutherford. Although Mooney does he share of characters for SNL, he’s perhaps best known for the shorts (directed by McCary) that often spoof the heightened drama of ’90s television aimed at younger audiences (the TGIF crowd, for example). Over the last few years, Mooney has appeared in small roles in such films as HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS, ZOOLANDER 2, and NEIGHBORS 2.
Then a couple of years ago, Mooney and McCary came up with an idea that became BRIGSBY BEAR, the story of a young man (Mooney) has is addicted to a kids show that he later finds out was being made especially for him. By the time the ruse was discovered, several plot threads about Brigsby were left hanging, and the show’s number-one fan decides to make a movie that finally puts the storyline to rest, if for no other reason than he can move forward in his life and past him obsession. It’s a surprisingly moving work about a damaged kid, but it’s also about the current-day nature of fandom and the idea that fans should/shouldn’t have a say in the direction their favorite things go moving forward.
I had a chance to sit down with Mooney and McCary recently in Chicago, and I attempted to dig deep to discover Mooney’s love affair with certain types of entertainment and how he’s managed to weave those obsessions into a wonderful type of humor, with help from McCary behind the camera. Please enjoy my chat with Kyle Mooney and Dave McCary…
Capone: So my BRIGSBY BEAR story is that I didn’t see it at Sundance. I was there, but I did not see it, but I was in the same room when you guys were doing a lot of your press, in that big room where there were different movies doing press. You two were on a couch, and then Mark Hamill walked in, and the vibe in the room just completely changed.
Kyle Mooney: I feel like I remember that.
Capone: I didn’t even have the nerve to go up and say hello, but if I’d seen the movie, I might have said something, but it was just cool to be in the same room with him for like an hour and just watch him go. Other people certainly had no problem going up to him and saying hi.
KM: Yeah. He’s approachable, and I feel like in the same way people appreciate Mark and what he’s done and tend to have a love of pop culture, he does too, which I think is so fun. And interacting with him, he’s just an encyclopedia of like comics…
Dave McCary: And politics. He’s very politically aware.
KM: It’s either Laurel & Hardy or Abbott & Costello, one of those comedy teams, he’s just constantly referencing.
DM: And he’s watching SNL weekly. He’s very up to date.
Capone: When you you approached him to be in this, did he know who you were? Was he aware?
DM: He knew of Kyle from seeing him on SNL, but I don’t think he was really aware of how extensive our work had been over the years.
KM: Yeah, also, Lonely Island at that point were attached as producers, so he knew their work on SNL.
DM: And Lord & Miller [also producers on the film].
KM: Yeah, I’m sure through the STAR WARS process, he was aware of that.
Capone: I will always associate BRIGSBY BEAR with seeing Mark Hamill in the flesh the one and only time in my life.
KM: That’s something I associate with it as well.
Capone: Exactly. And he’s phenomenal in the film, too. I shouldn’t underplay that. This film pushed a lot of buttons for me in terms, we were the first family on our block to have a VCR and a camera, so my brother and I made things like this when we were not even teenagers yet, in the early ’80s. So seeing that aspect of it really hit home for me. But also this idea of a fan taking over something that you love, or thinking you should have a say in something that you love. I’ve read a few interviews with you guys, and you always have said you don’t exactly know where the idea for this movie came from. Was there a bigger-picture idea that you said, “Okay, let’s build a story around that”?
KM: I similarly grew up kind of obsessed with TV culture and movie culture, and we grew up with a camcorder as well. I was the youngest of three boys, and they would make videos and stuff. It was already so accessible. You just get it by watching. “We can just point this at anything and make something.” Generally speaking, I have a fondness for ’80s and ’90s children’s entertainment. I have a pretty big VHS collection. We’re definitely pulling from those type of references, and I’m an obsessive person; I guess that comes through. But generally, I just had the seed of this idea of somebody who watches the TV show that’s made just for him, in essence, as a way to brainwash him.
DM: I also wouldn’t be surprised, this is subconscious, but you do watch a lot of children’s programming of your VHS collection that most everyone in your life does not sit down and watch with you. You really are having a solitary experience. That being said, you’ve been in relationships where they’ve embraced it as well. I loved things that Kyle has showed me as well, but he curates it for me too. He’ll sit through a lot of the junk, both on VHS and these obscure bargain-bin finds and also on YouTube. Kyle will spend endless hours just watching such meaningless trash…
[Everybody laughs] [Kyle makes a wounded face]
DM: Not meaningless trash!
Capone: That look on your face.
KM: There’s nothing positive about that phrase, “Meaningless trash.” It could be trash with meaning.
DM: But what I said is it ends up being so meaningful in the process of getting through all the trash to get to those diamonds in the rough. It’s so awesome for people like me and our friends because it’s like, we would have never put in the time or done the work to go through this hour-and-a-half-long regional, Christian, children’s educational puppet show, but Kyle’s done it, and he’s found this one two-minute section that’s so surreal and bizarre that you would never sit through that first 40 minutes for.
KM: Part of my obsession with that sort of thing, besides just love for it was the connection of going to the video store as a kid and being obsessed with the covers and renting the same things over and over again, I also like that there are so many, for instance, kid videos out there, or videos like this, where they seem familiar where it’s like, I think I recognize this, but at the same time it’s like no, I have never seen this. There’s this weird nostalgic thing where you feel like you know it, and I gravitate towards that. It’s dreamy.
Capone: What is it about that era of kid’s television? What is it that you’re looking for? Are you looking for things that are just completely inappropriate? Are you looking for low-production value?
KM: I can certainly appreciate the low-production-value stuff. Definitely also, what Dave was getting into, I appreciate effort for messaging, whether it’s a religious thing or an educational thing, and the ways in which they attempt to do that. More broadly, I feel like it’s just reconnecting to those characters and those stories I liked as a child. I definitely like animatronics.
DM: I think we both gravitate towards, when you can tell that whoever is behind some creature world that has been created that they truly cared artistically about it. Even if it’s not that impressive, you feel the love that went into it. We tried to capture that with this. It’s not a brilliant show, and you can tell whoever’s making it really took the time
KM: There’s a mastery of art to it still. There’s like a psychedelia to so many of these kids shows as well, you know what I mean? Like a “Rainbow Bright” or a “Care Bears” or “Popples.” There are so many colors and it’s just, I don’t know, they’re truly trippy. I’m now at a point where I’m pretty busy, so I don’t get to sift through as many videos anymore, if ever, but I can, at the very least, have a few people over, put a video on silent, and those type of colors are just moving all over the place.
Capone: Play a Pink Floyd album over it?
DM: We’ve often ended up at your apartment late at night after a night of drinking, and we just want to have a nightcap and listen to music, and he’ll just put on…
KM: “Denver, the Last Dinosaur” or “Rude Dog [and the Dweeb].”
Capone: I think that’s funny that you have that obsession, but then clearly from the shorts you’ve made on SNL, there’s this other television you love that’s a little more grown up, the acting’s bad, and the laugh tracks are in weird places. I’ve analyzed those videos to death, to figure out why I think they’re so damn funny?
KM: Thank you so much. Definitely at the same time, I think Dave and I both were super into the the TGIF block and “Saved by the Bell.” If you watch those shows now, we went through a phase of watching a bunch of “Family Matters,” and I watched a bunch of “Step by Step” in the last few years, the shows similarly are trippy. They’re psychedelic—maybe psychedelic is the wrong word. But they’re set up for these setups, punches, these jokes, laugh lines, but it’s so stiff.
DM: It’s so spelled out that it’s like a dreamlike state that you’re in where everyone’s talking in a way that’s, like this is almost mechanical. It’s like no one speaks to one another.
KM: Exactly. Just when you finally can see the math behind the whole thing like “Maybe I could write one of these,” because it starts out with somebody putting together a sandwich, and then somebody walks in. It’s funny, also do you remember… this happened a few years ago, and I don’t know if this maintained, but I remember they started somewhere on YouTube, some network started releasing classic TV episodes, but they’re truncated versions of them, so it would be a five-minute, or maybe a seven-minute, episode of “MASH” or something like that. I think in the process of making these videos, we found out that you could pretty much tell the whole story of an episode in that time.
DM: We used to have to take all the filler stuff out. We actually removed the jokes.
KM: And only just the storyline. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Capone: Back to the movie for a second, I love that process that he goes through of making this film, and learning to make a film, and how it mirrors what you guys were doing in making your first film. Did you connect with him on that level?
DM: It was more about the memory of how that felt, because we definitely discovered our love of filmmaking and storytelling in our late teens and early 20s. Now, being on SNL for the past four years—and all of our work online—we’ve had so many repetitions that it never felt like we were mirroring as we were doing the moviemaking. It actually more felt like that as we were watching the film, like “Wow, this is incredibly meta that we are premiering our first movie while watching the main character premiere his first movie that he made with his best friend, and we made with our best friends.” That was trippy. As we were doing it, we were more like “This feels familiar and natural.”
KM: There’s like a montage in the film when they were getting into moviemaking, and you see James getting confident and having a good time with these new people in his life, but the scenes with them shooting in the woods as well, it did feel like that at times, because it was a small group of people working together and having fun making a movie. It was like a summer vacation or summer camp where we were trying to put something together.
Capone: The passion that he feels in making this reminds me of those kids that made that RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK shot-for-shot thing.
KM: We saw that.
DM: We saw that in Salt Lake City while we were shooting.
Capone: They’re not quite as broken as James is, but I think he actually needs to do this to move on, and we’re rooting for him to break through into the real world at some point. Tell me about your Sundance experience. Were you even able to enjoy the accolades and the standing ovations?
DM: I made the mistake of getting there three days prior to the premiere, so it was a nightmare, and I had lost all perspective on if the film was going to be even understandable. Everything had gone haywire in my mind. But as we were sitting down…we got an aisle seat because we were prepared if this didn’t feel good…
Capone: To run?
DM: I think it was in the first five or ten minutes, we started feeling like people were responding to little jokes, and I was like “Okay, I think people are on board.” By the end of the film, I was in like a tear state, not like crying, but it was such an emotionally full front-to-back experience. By the ovation and the Q&A, it was so relieving. From that point forward, I was soaking it in. It was just those first three days that it was unbearable.
KM: The fascinating thing about the movie, and obviously to me the only fascinating thing, and I don’t know if this will change. Hopefully we’ll get the opportunity to make another thing, but when I watched it for the first time at Sundance in that theater where it premiered at Eccles, I feel like I’m reliving the process—the summer of shooting it and hanging out—and I wonder if this movie is specific to tha. I don’t feel that way necessarily when we make an internet video. I’m not brought back to the moment of shooting that or being on set. In the same way this movie deals with nostalgia, maybe when watching it, I’m nostalgic for shooting the movie.
DM: And it was made in Utah, which as a state is such a special place. I’d never been to Utah in my life. I’d never been to Sundance. But both filming there and the Sundance experience, it became a special place.
KM: But with that being said, it was so wonderful and so nice that people enjoyed it, but there’s still that stress of “Are people going to buy it?” And now we’re at a place where “Are people going to go see it?”
DM: But luckily, I’m feeling less of that stress, because I think there’s not a huge expectation on this movie to financially succeed. I think I would feel more overwhelmed if it was like “We have to make $40 million at least to get our money back.” But luckily, it is such a small movie that I’m not going to pull my hair out over it. Are you going to be bummed out if it doesn’t bring in a lot of money?
KM: Well, I’m on the third season of “Entourage” right now. When those AQUAMAN numbers come out…
DM: Are they at a party or something?
KM: Yeah, they’re at a high school party.
DM: Well, listen, I’ll take you out to a high school party regardless of how the movie does.