Kyle Mooney and Dave McCary on Brigsby Bear, 80s Pop Culture and Fandom

Over the last four seasons of Saturday Night Live, Kyle Mooney has been making a name for himself through his unique comedic perspective and his highly acclaimed pre-recorded shorts. When he decided to join the long list of SNL actors to move to film, Mooney chose a topic that is very near and dear to the 80’s pop culture-loving TV star: fandom. I sat down with Kyle Mooney, the co-writer and star of Brigsby Bear, as well as his director (and lifelong best friend) Dave McCary to discuss their movie, their personal relationships with fandom, and the potential enduring impact of Brigsby Bear on pop culture.

You two met in middle school?

Kyle Mooney: Fifth grade.

And then your co-writer, Kevin Costello, you met in middle school?

KM: Yeah, exactly.

Is this the first thing that all three of you have ever worked on together?

KM: Pretty much. Though I will say we made an internet short – we were in a sketch troupe, Good Neighbor – and one of the videos we made, Kevin had recently moved to Los Angeles and he held a boom mic for us.

Dave McCary: Kyle and I had been making videos for years at that point but Kevin just wanted to be helpful and he liked our work up to that point – so yeah, he was the only other person outside of the group that was involved in that shoot and he was just so gracious and helpful. But also we just didn’t know any other screenwriter friends when it came to Kyle putting together the idea for this film, and then we were hired by SNL and Kyle had the idea to try to get Kevin to rough out the first pass at the script. And then Kyle and Kevin went back and forth over summers throughout the years for fine tuning it.

So you never worked with him on anything when you were younger?

KM: I mean we knew him, we went to school with him in seventh and eighth grade. And I guess by the end of eighth grade I probably started to get creative and we probably started to write raps or something like that, but –

DMC: Who, Kevin?

KM: No, I’m just saying generally, myself and kind of including you maybe. But you know, we were at an age where I think we were just trying to be as cool as possible and trying to get our first kisses. I think that stuff was more important to us than any sort of creative outlet. So yeah – working with Kevin on the script was the first time we really truly collaborated.

DMC: And did you ever get that kiss?

KM: I got it but I just don’t know if it was meaningful and I’m still hoping for the next one.

DMC: Still hoping for your first meaningful kiss?

KM: Yes. Never Been Kissed, remember that Drew Barrymore movie?

A lot of people online or that I’ve spoken to have seen the film and seem confused, almost, that it’s not a straightforward comedy. Is that something you had a feeling would happen when you were writing it? Or did you not anticipate that reaction, considering that the trailer gives away that it’s got a little bit of an eerie tone?

DMC: I’m not concerned about confusion. I would hope that people would go in confused, not understanding what this tone is, what direction the movie is going in.

KM: We – Kevin and I – wrote a script that I think has funny parts in it, or there’s arguably inherent humor within it. But some of my favorite movies, and some of the funniest movies I think I’ve ever seen are ones that I think might not be considered straight comedies. And I think of movies… Like the kind of American new wave or the movies from the 70’s or even Martin Scorsese movies – they all have funny parts – not to say that this is what that is – but I think your movie can be a comedy without being a super broad one.

I think one of the things that people didn’t expect was how earnest the film is. James isn’t played for laughs at all, you’re on his side the whole time. With The Lonely Island producing this, I can’t help but think of their movie Hot Rod and how in that, Rod is very silly, everyone around him laughs at him, but he’s completely oblivious.

KM: I mean we just kind of honestly set out to make what we thought would be the best version of the script Kevin and I wrote. I think Dave – and I think most of us – felt like, let’s play this as earnest as possible, let’s play this as real as possible, because that would hypothetically do the story the most justice.

I was actually wondering that, if the idea to have everyone treat James with kindness and be so understanding towards him was to serve the story, or if you were also consciously hoping that people would walk away from the film thinking, “Hey, maybe I’m too judgmental sometimes.”

KM: I think… Generally, we always kind of operated from the idea of like, if we knew a James and we interacted with this person who had this intense backstory and had this enthusiasm for something and had video cassettes of this TV show, I, Kyle Mooney, would like to think that I would want to watch that TV show and in the process would want to become friends with him because his story is so incredible and insane.

DMC: And also you’re super into outsider art.

Brigsby Bear
Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classic

KM: I don’t know that we consciously went into the writing thinking like “Oh we want this moral to exist, we’ve got to treat people better and be open to persons who are different than us or outsiders in any way.” I think it’s a truly wonderful thing that’s kind of come out of the process and I think after making the movie and watching the movie and I guess at the end of the writing process it was like, that IS a good lesson and it’s something that we all could try to be better at.

DMC: But I think it may be also unconscious that Kyle and Kevin were kind of organically writing what they knew and what they know is that experience of collaborating with friends and embracing the oddities and vulnerabilities of people. It’s so rewarding.

KM: I will say also, like, for – and I’ve said this a couple times – as weird as James is, I share characteristics with him and he has this kind of insane backstory and he goes to a high school party and it’s an alienating experience but I’ve – we’ve all been there just as humans who have had wonderful childhoods. So in that regard I think like kind of, I think we can relate.

I watched that party scene and I was sitting there thinking, “please don’t be mean to him, please don’t be mean to him.” Because I know people – not with the same tragic backgrounds – but people who are just as passionate and weird and when they go to parties they get made fun of behind their back.

KM: Absolutely. You get glimpses of the kids who were looking at James as a weirdo, but I think… James kind of in a way that we all kind of would want to aspire to be, he’s kind of – he can kind of get over it quickly because he’s so passionate about what he loves and I don’t think he – whereas he wants to connect with people on that level about it, he just wears his emotions on his sleeves, he’s just into this thing in a way that so many of us are obsessed with the things we love.

Is there any one thing that you were obsessed with anywhere that level when you were younger?

KM: Yeah, there were lots. In my high school years there was a musician I was really obsessed with, J Dilla – he was a hip hop producer and it was the type of thing where he would produce a song every couple months or a new album would come out and I was always so excited just to see artistically whatever his next thing would be. And it really kind of influenced the way I think about how you put material out there and kind of how an artist or a person relates to the music that they put in the world. But growing up I was obsessed with just – Star Wars, Thundercats, Transformers, He-Man, I mean… Everything. And like every two or three months there would be a new thing that I would get really deep into.

Obviously it makes a lot of sense to have Mark Hamill in this film, because of his connection to Star Wars, or Batman – but I feel like a lot of people don’t know that he’s actually a really huge self-proclaimed fanboy himself. Did you get to talk to him about any of that?

KM: For sure. And I mean, he’s rather encyclopedic. I saw him last week and we were talking about how he has a pop culture show – I want to say, I might be wrong, it might be on Amazon or maybe that’s how I watched it, it might be on a cable channel – but he was a massive toy collector and comic book collector and all of that but apparently his wife encouraged him to do a show where he visits other peoples’ collections because she was kind of tired of dealing with his collection, and he’s now since put it all in storage. But he’s, in a lot of ways, so much like the persons who are obsessed with Star Wars and collectibles and things in that realm.

Is there anything that you bonded over in particular?

KM: Well he’s kind of a child of the 60’s, and 60’s rock. He’s really into the British Invasion and I really like The Beatles and The Kinks and stuff like that. But I kind of just let Mark do his own thing – I tried not to freak him out too much with my talking shop with him if that makes any sense.

Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classic

Of course. So, you were at Comic Con recently with Brigsby Bear.

KM: We were there and yet we didn’t come back with any comics. Yeah, we’re from San Diego so it was cool to go back there. I had gone when I was a kid. It was rad being in the big hall. To me the only disappointing thing was because we had to meet up with family and friends and all that, I didn’t get a chance to walk the hall at all and I was hoping to pick up some like, Italian He-Man figure or something like that and I didn’t get to do that.
What was Brigsby Bear’s presence there? You had a panel – did you screen the film?

We screened the first twelve minutes. And spoke about it. We kind of, throughout the process of promoting this film, had the difficulty of trying to talk about the movie without saying too much. So in this case we’re like, only talking about the first twelve minutes.
Dave: We mentioned a lot of thematic stuff and the experience that we both had around that, making videos and how there’s connective tissue there, that came across to the themes of collaboration and friendship in the movie.

And I saw that Brigsby was walking around?

DMC: They had him walking around all over the place. We got the original designers to come down and operate the animatronics because we have these – Sony made three walk around suits that were the heads – obviously not animatronic – but the original animatronic head, it was important for us to get that down to Comic Con, so that was a fun because all the mechanics of the eyelids and eyebrows and eyes and mouth are just so eerie and fun to watch.

I would love to see that in person.

KM: We can make it happen.

How was the response from fans at Comic Con? Not a lot of them know what the movie’s going to be.

KM: Yeah, exactly. I think it was pretty good, even though I feel like – at the very end of our panel, the announcer said something like “coming up next, get ready for Teen Wolf!” or something like that and everybody was like, “YEAH!” They got uproarious which made me feel like, ‘oh, maybe none of these people were here to see or hear us.’

I saw, Dave, that you posted a picture of a Brigsby Bear action figure on Instagram. Is that something that is going to be mass produced?

DMC: Well, we’re working that out. I just knew that I wanted it made so I reached out to the designers who have done stuff like that and paid for a prototype and now it’s kind of up to the financiers and the distributors if they want to mass produce it. But the most important thing to us was just to at least be able to show them what it would look like. And worst case scenario, we’ll make a handful for friends and family and cast and crew. But yeah – if there’s a demand, a lot of it is kind of dictated over time if the film is successful or if people are, you know, wanting to consume more elements of this film then if there’s somewhat of a demand I guess for it. But we have no expectations on it, that we’re going to capitalize on merchandise. It was more of an idea for us to have because it was like a fun – the movie has so much to do with nostalgia and fandom and the obsessions so we thought, we should have something.

Which is really cool that you were able to take that idea full circle – an idea for a story about a guy who was into this fake show and turn it into a real thing that people care about. If it succeeds there was demand for it, is giving Brigsby Bear a life beyond this one movie something you’ve considered?

KM: Well yeah, and I feel like it’s… I feel like even when we first started talking about the movie with producers, everybody was like “and you know, the merchandising…” I think people have always seen value in the bear and the iconography that goes along with it. But yeah, I mean we always – we especially like thinking within the world of Ted, the creator of Brigsby Bear in the movie, what are the types of things he would create? And this action figure for instance, the packaging is as if he is writing it and coming up with it.
So in theory we like the idea that everything is not just produced for the sake of being produced, maybe it could have been made specifically for James, the character in the movie. But I’ve always said, similar to what Dave was saying, if the movie were to become successful or if there was some sort of demand for it, I don’t doubt that someday there could be more Brigsby episodes produced or something like that.

–Melissa Jouben

Catch Kyle Mooney and Dave McCrary’s new film, Brigsby Bear in select theaters.

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