For 'SNL' Cast Member, The Waiting Was The Hardest Part

For 'SNL' Cast Member, The Waiting Was The Hardest Part

6:20pm Jan 26, 2014
Bobby Moynihan (left) appears on Saturday Night Live as the character "Drunk Uncle."
Bobby Moynihan (left) appears on <em>Saturday Night Live</em> as the character "Drunk Uncle."
NBC / Dana Edelson/NBC

As part of a new series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click and people leap forward into their careers.

For about a decade, Bobby Moynihan lived a double life. By day, Moynihan says, he tended bar at a Pizzeria Uno in New York. By night, he performed improv comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.

But he says he always had one dream: to join the cast of Saturday Night Live.

After years of performing at the UCB Theatre, Moynihan caught the attention of producers at SNL, who invited him to audition.

"I was absolutely terrified," he tells All Things Considered, "but elated, because that's all that I've ever wanted to do."

Moynihan is now a cast member, known for his characters such as "Drunk Uncle" and his impressions of people like celebrity restaurateur Guy Fieri.

But Moynihan says the call to audition for SNL prompted a mix of emotions.

"It's like the equivalent of, 'Hey, you're gonna go to space,' " he says. "It's like, 'Yeah that's a great idea, I would love to go to space, but it's really dangerous and terrifying up there.' "

But the road to his big break involved a lot of waiting.

First, there was the four-hour wait in the dressing room ahead of the audition.

Then, after the audition, there was the nine-hour wait outside the office of Lorne Michaels, the creator and executive producer of SNL.

But after that promising meeting, in which Moynihan thought he had a good shot at the job, came the hardest wait of all.

In November 2007, the Writers Guild of America went on strike for several months, which put SNL production on hold, and left Moynihan on the hook.

When the strike finally ended in early 2008, Moynihan got a call from SNL. But it wasn't with good news.

"They told me that [then-cast member] Maya Rudolph had had a baby during the break, so they had to hire a woman instead [as a replacement]," says Moynihan.

"I was devastated."

Eventually, after a few movie roles, Moynihan had an opportunity to audition for a second time.

"When it was all over," he says, "I was more relieved, because it had been like a 14-month process."

During the long interim period, Moynihan says he had moved back to his hometown, into an apartment across the street from his mother's office. He was sleeping when he got the call he was waiting for from Lorne Michaels.

He would become a cast member on SNL.

Moynihan says he couldn't wait to tell his mom about his big break.

"I ran across the street [to his mother's office] in boxers and a T-shirt — didn't even think to put pants on — and ran across the street to my mom and told her that my life's dream had come true."

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Here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we've been collecting stories of triumph - big and small - those moments when people make great leaps forward in their careers. We call it My Big Break. And for our next guest, the hard part wasn't the audition. It was waiting for a call from the big boss - Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of "Saturday Night Live."

BOBBY MOYNIHAN: My name's Bobby Moynihan, and I'm a cast member on "Saturday Night Live."


MOYNIHAN: For many years, I was working all day as a bartender at a Pizzeria Uno, then going and doing improv at night, and then doing it all again the next day. I kind of just spent 10 years just doing improv, and kind of got on "SNL's" radar. They asked me to come audition, and I was absolutely terrified but elated because that's all I've ever wanted to do. It's like the equivalent of like, hey, you're going to go to space. It's like, yeah, that's a great idea. I would love to go to space, but it's really dangerous and terrifying up there.


MOYNIHAN: They put you in a dressing room, and then you sit there for four hours, panicking that your life is about to change in 10 minutes. They finally brought me into the studio, and you see that stage and you're like, oh, my God, I'm here. I think I - for my impressions, I did Nathan Lane. I did the dumbest bit in the world. I did Nathan Lane for the Hamburger Society. And I believe the only thing I said was (Singing) Something familiar, something peculiar. Something for everyone, eat a hamburger tonight...(LAUGHTER)

I did somebody that was based off of somebody I worked with at Pizzeria Uno; a character named Mark Payne, who constantly thought everything smelled like pepper. He just walked around, and he'd say, what - can you - do you smell that? It smells like pepper up in here. It smells like there's a pepper tornado, like we're in the movie "Twister." Someone call Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton, and tell them that we got a class five pepper twister on our hands - lots of that.


MOYNIHAN: I auditioned, and then I got called in to meet with Lorne relatively soon after, maybe the next day. Waited on his couch for about - I think that one was nine hours. Talked to Loren for about 40 minutes, and then he said very fleetingly: You know what? I think we'll start you in January, and - you know, we'll figure it out. And I didn't know what that meant. I didn't know if I had gotten the show or not. And then the writers' strike happened.


MOYNIHAN: So I spent, I think, nine months or whatever - however long it was just sitting in my apartment, waiting. And then the writers' strike ended, and I got a phone call from "SNL," and I was like, this is it. They're going to tell me to come to work on Monday. And they told me that Maya Rudolph had had a baby during the break, so they had to hire a woman instead. And I was devastated.


MOYNIHAN: Yeah, that was the worst ever.


MOYNIHAN: I ended up getting lucky and doing a couple movies. And then I got a phone call from Seth Myers. Seth said: Why don't you come back in and audition? We're having auditions this week.


MOYNIHAN: And when it was over, I was just more relieved because it had been like, a 14-month process. I went out that night. I'm not a big drinker. I polished off a bottle of wine. And I woke up at 1 o'clock in the afternoon to my phone ringing, with a very bad headache. And it was Lorne. All I remember was the very last thing he said was: So I think - you know - I think America will like you on the show and, you know, we'll see you next week.

And then I said, thank you so much. You made my day. And he said: Well, I hope it lasts longer than that. And - great, well, you sound tired. I'll let you go. And I thought I lost the job at that moment. And then I hung up the phone and had no idea what had happened. I wasn't sure if I had really gotten it. I didn't know what was happening. But then I got a text from Seth a couple minutes later saying, congratulations. And that was it.


MOYNIHAN: I had moved back home, at that point, for a little while. And I - my mother works at the town hall across the street from my apartment. And I ran across the street in boxers and a T-shirt - didn't even think to put pants on - and ran across the street to my mom, hysterically crying; and told her that my life's dream had come true, and sat on a bench and smoked about 70 cigarettes. (LAUGHTER) My big break was spent in my underwear smoking cigarettes, yes.


MCEVERS: Bobby Moynihan is still a cast member on "Saturday Night Live." You can also catch him on the new FX series "Chosen." And we want to hear about your big break. Send an email with your story to My Big Break, at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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