MOVIES: Kyle Mooney of “Brigsby Bear” mines the awk­ward.

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - MOVIES BY MICHAEL O'SUL­LI­VAN Brigsby Bear (PG-13, 97 min­utes.) Opens Aug. 4 at area the­aters. michael.osul­li­van@wash­

Is Kyle Mooney cool? Even he doesn’t seem to know — or care.

Dur­ing an in­ter­view to pro­mote the film “Brigsby Bear,” which he co-wrote and stars in, the 32-yearold “Satur­day Night Live” ac­tor shows up in a T-shirt em­bla­zoned with the “Peanuts” char­ac­ter Snoopy as Joe Vice, bor­row­ing the laid-back, mid-1980s look of Don John­son in “Mi­ami Vice.”

“Is Joe Vice cool or not cool?” Mooney asks, rhetor­i­cally (and sound­ing more per­plexed than wor­ried). “I thought it wasn’t cool at first, which is why I liked it. But now I think it might be, so . . . ” His voice trails off with the in­flec­tion of a ques­tion, as though he’s be­gin­ning to doubt the very foun­da­tion of the uni­verse he in­hab­its.

That state of mind would be fa­mil­iar to the char­ac­ter Mooney plays in “Brigsby”: James, a man in his 20s who was ab­ducted as an in­fant and raised in a re­mote bunker by his cap­tors (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams). Not only did they lie to James, telling him that they were his par­ents — and that the out­side world was a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic waste­land — but they also raised him on a steady VHS diet of the cheesy chil­dren’s TV show that lends the film its ti­tle. The show was en­tirely fake, by the way, pro­duced by James’s “fa­ther,” in se­cret, for 25 years.

Near the be­gin­ning of the film, James is freed af­ter a po­lice raid, cast­ing him into a world that knows noth­ing of his life­long ob­ses­sion: a talk­ing ur­sine char­ac­ter that is two parts Teddy Rux­pin and one part Bar­ney the di­nosaur, with a dash of Tele­tub­bies thrown in for sur­re­al­ism.

The idea for the story came, partly, from Mooney’s fas­ci­na­tion with ob­scure video­tapes of old kids’ TV shows, which he col­lects from thrift stores and garage sales by the hun­dreds. That aes­thetic, which he says is fu­eled by both unironic love and the wry, de­tached ap­pre­ci­a­tion of a con­nois­seur of kitsch, feeds much of his un­usual sense of hu­mor. It’s one he has honed, for two decades, with his child­hood friend Dave McCary, who directed “Brigsby Bear” and works on SNL video seg­ments.

McCary, also 32, sat in on the in­ter­view, some­times com­plet­ing Mooney’s sen­tences, as when Mooney tried to ex­plain why his SNL ap­pear­ances tend not to in­clude the top­i­cal seg­ments the show is known for, but more of­ten skew to the odd, if not head-scratch­ing va­ri­ety. (Sev­eral of these off-kil­ter sketches can be found on the show’s YouTube chan­nel de­voted to skits that have been cut for time.)

“Per­son­ally,” Mooney be­gins, halt­ingly, as though search­ing for the right word, “I’m not very good at . . . ”

“. . . rel­e­vance?” McCary sug­gests.

Mooney is known for a brand of com­edy he calls “al­ter­na­tive” or “anti-com­edy” — a non-joke­based brand cul­ti­vated in the Los Angeles sketch-com­edy troupe Good Neigh­bor, which, in ad­di­tion to McCary, fea­tured Mooney’s Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia class­mates Beck Ben­nett, an SNL cast­mate, and Nick Ruther­ford, who wrote for SNL dur­ing its 20142015 sea­son.

Many of the char­ac­ters Mooney grav­i­tates to­ward ex­ist, like James, in the gap be­tween the world in­side one’s head and the real one out­side of it. These in­clude: a man who has never tried mar­i­juana but who tries to bluff and blus­ter his way through a mono­logue about smok­ing weed — a mono­logue that in­tro­duced the world to the vi­ral non­sense term “perp skerp” — and an in­com­pe­tent man-on-the-street in­ter­viewer who is clearly in over his head. “Please keep me on the show, Lorne,” Mooney’s char­ac­ter pleads, ad­dress­ing SNL pro­ducer Lorne Michaels af­ter com­plet­ing a botched seg­ment about SNL’s 40th an­niver­sary. “I could do bet­ter next time.”

He’s jok­ing, sort of, but Mooney is well aware that his pub­lic per­sona — or, rather, his var­i­ous pub­lic per­sonae — can be po­lar­iz­ing, thanks to one viewer in par­tic­u­lar who doesn’t let him for­get it. “My dad will of­ten re­fer to re­views of the show or to on­line com­ments about my skits: ‘Man, some peo­ple re­ally love you. And some peo­ple do not like you.’ ”

None of this In­ter­net chat­ter con­sumes him, any more than does the fear of los­ing his SNL gig, even though he ad­mits to feel­ings of in­se­cu­rity. “It’s hard to ever feel to­tally com­fort­able in that place,” he says of the show, which only last year sud­denly, and with­out ex­pla­na­tion, axed cast mem­bers Jay Pharoah and Taran Kil­lam, along with fea­tured player Jon Rud­nit­sky.

Mooney is known for a brand of com­edy he calls “al­ter­na­tive” or “anti-com­edy” — a non-joke-based brand.

Could that be by de­sign, to keep per­form­ers on their toes?

“Pos­si­bly,” Mooney says. “But what­ever it is that’s hap­pen­ing over there, it has worked for 40plus years. So why mess with it? Ev­ery­body over there is en­cour­ag­ing of what we do, even if they re­al­ize that we have a . . . spe­cific voice.”

His hes­i­ta­tion sounds like some­one search­ing for the right, or per­haps the most eu­phemistic, word for “weird.” And the voice of “Brigsby Bear” — the movie, not the bear it­self — is un­apolo­get­i­cally, if not de­fi­antly, weird. Mooney’s char­ac­ter, al­though he’s the vic­tim of decades of psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse, still har­bors af­fec­tion, not only for the in­stru­ment of his abuse — a talk­ing bear — but also the abuser who cre­ated him.

This com­edy of awk­ward­ness comes from a per­former and writer who says he mines his own emo­tions — feel­ings of be­ing a mis­fit and the recog­ni­tion of those feel­ings in oth­ers — for ma­te­rial.

“I’d like to think that I ap­pre­ci­ate — and love — a lot of the qual­i­ties of these types of per­sons that I at­tempt to em­body,” Mooney says. “I also think there was a time in my life when peo­ple would have re­ferred to me as ‘awk­ward’ in so­cial in­ter­ac­tions. I guess I still am. There was a pe­riod of time when I would con­stantly over­hear friends or peers say some­thing like, ‘I just don’t get Kyle.’ ”

McCary can vouch for that: “Friends are al­ways com­ing up to me and ask­ing, ‘Does Kyle hate me?’ ”

With the new film com­ing out, the feel­ing of be­ing out of place has re­turned, with a vengeance. “I’ve never been through this be­fore,” Mooney says of the press tour, which en­tails talk­ing to re­porters lined up out­side his ho­tel room to ask silly ques­tions. “It’s awk­ward, and it’s ex­haust­ing.”

But, he con­tin­ues, “I get frus­trated with the la­bel­ing of some­one or some­thing as awk­ward. To me, a sit­u­a­tion that is com­fort­able, or a per­son who is con­fi­dent, is awk­ward.”


Kyle Mooney of “Satur­day Night Live” stars in “Brigsby Bear,” which he also co-wrote. Mooney plays a man who was ab­ducted as an in­fant and raised in a re­mote bunker. Mooney says he mines his own emo­tions and his feel­ings of be­ing awk­ward and a mis­fit for ma­te­rial.


Kyle Mooney and di­rec­tor Dave McCary on the set of “Brigsby Bear.” McCary is a child­hood friend of Mooney’s who also works on video seg­ments for “Satur­day Night Live.”

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