SNL’s Bobby Moynihan Says Trump Loved His Racist ‘Drunk Uncle’ Character
Bobby Moynihan tells The Last Laugh podcast about Trump’s reaction to SNL’s “Drunk Uncle” and bringing his latest lovable weirdo to life on Tina Fey’s “Mr. Mayor.”
Bobby Moynihan still has incredibly “vivid” memories of walking out onto the stage at Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center for his first episode as a cast member on Saturday Night Live. It was Sept. 13, 2008, and Tina Fey was making her debut as Sarah Palin opposite Amy Poehler’s Hillary Clinton in the cold open sketch.
“I remember being like, ‘Physically try to imprint this on your brain so you will remember it at all times,’” Moynihan recalls on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “I was aware that I had worked my entire life for that moment and then kind of forgot and went like, ‘Oh, that’s Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin!’”
“The first episode was a different experience than the other 192,” he admits. “It was just magical. And then from that moment on, it was sheer panic and terror every day.”
Moynihan spent the next nine seasons on SNL, impersonating celebrities like Guy Fieri and Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade and creating a long series of outsized original characters including, most memorably, Drunk Uncle. One of the last times he brought that character onto “Weekend Update” was the same night Donald Trump hosted during the early days of his presidential campaign in 2015.
During an episode that was otherwise strangely deferential to the candidate, Drunk Uncle came out and shouted, “It’s Trump time, baby!” before joking that someone was “finally saying” the things that he had been “thinking… and also saying.”
“I mean, it’s like I’m running for president!” the unabashedly racist character declared. As Moynihan found later that night, Trump completely missed the joke, loving every minute of it.
Now, the comedian has come full circle, co-starring opposite Ted Danson and Holly Hunter on the Tina Fey-created NBC sitcom Mr. Mayor. After nearly a decade of “panic,” he’s still getting used to the idea of slowing down and getting multiple attempts to nail a scene.
“With SNL, everything happens so fast and then it’s done,” Moynihan says. On Mr. Mayor, he would get “really frustrated” and “feel awful” if he didn’t deliver a perfect first take. “Because I’m so used to that,” he says, “But they were just like, ‘No, relax Bobby, it’s OK.”
Below is an excerpt from our conversation and you can listen to the whole thing—including Fox News host Brian Kilmeade’s reaction to his impression, what it’s like to spend all day in a car with Holly Hunter, and a lot more—right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
So I know one thing that you’ve talked about, especially after you left SNL, was how the whole Trump thing transformed the show in a lot of ways or at least changed it for you. I’m curious how much of that you think stemmed from him hosting in 2015. Was that a turning point at all for you or for the show itself?
Yeah. It just made everything different. It’s hard to make fun of something that is inherently a joke in the first place. It feels like we all knew that this was going to happen in some way. But yeah, he changed a lot of things for the worse.
Did you have any interaction with him that night that he hosted?
Yeah, unfortunately. I have this weird past with him. I've run into him a couple of times. The first time I did Conan, he was a guest and we spoke. I had jury duty with him and he remembered me, I don’t know why.
Wait, I have to hear about this. What was jury duty with Donald Trump like?
It was right when he announced that he was running for president. I had skipped jury duty twice. I had moved it two times. And then the last time I was like, I can’t change it, I have to go. And I showed up that morning and it was in New York and there were news trucks everywhere. And I was like, what is happening? Did I get on a murder trial? And I went in and I sat down, we were there for a couple hours and nothing was happening. And then he walks in and he points at a chair and he goes, I want to sit there. And they took a picture of him sitting there for a second. And then he got up and he walked out and he saw me and he was like, “Mr. Moynihan, how are you doing?” And I was like, oh no. And he was like, “Are you gonna play me on SNL this year? And I was like, “No, bye!” And then SNL, he was a nightmare.
Was he the worst host that you had to deal with the whole time?
I’ll say by far, no, he was not the worst host. He was just delusional. He did something completely wrong [in a taped sketch] and they were like, “Cut! Hey, you did that wrong.” And he was like, “No, I didn’t.” And, and they were like, “Yes, you did.” And he was like, “No, I didn’t, roll back the tape.” He tried to prove it. And they did, they showed it to him and he was like, “I like it better that way.”
You can’t tell him that he’s wrong.
No, the vibe felt like a bratty, rich child.
The episode that he hosted, I believe you did Drunk Uncle that night on “Weekend Update,” right?
Yeah. I think that was one of the last Drunk Uncles I did. And I remember thinking, this is one of the only things in the show that’s actually really bad-mouthing him and pointing out how racist and terrible he is. And he walked up to me afterwards and I'm like, oh no. And he shook my hand. And he was like, “Thank you so much. That was so nice to hear such nice things being said.” And I was like, you moron.
That’s so funny, because the whole bit is that you’re this horrible racist—
Yeah, I was saying he’s just like me, I love him. And he was just like, thank you. And I was like, no, you idiot, I thought you were going to be mad and you’re not. And now I’m mad that you're not mad.
That says a lot about how he took the praise from white supremacists and people over the past four years that followed.
Given that he liked it, did that make you feel any differently about doing it or did you feel like it still delivered what you wanted to the audience?
No, I mean, it didn’t change anything other than the fact that that dumb idiot didn’t get it.
It wasn’t too long after that that you left the show. You were there for the 2016 season and that’s when a lot of the celebrity cameos started happening with Alec Baldwin and everyone. From my perspective, and I think for a lot of fans of the show, it felt like the cast was getting sidelined somewhat. So did that have anything to do with your decision to leave the show?
No, no. It was my age and my need to sleep and want to start a family. No, I don’t think that had anything to do with it. I definitely saw that trend happening, but it was definitely more that I wanted to sleep again.
And it was your decision to leave, right? Obviously not everyone gets to make that decision to leave. So that must have felt good to leave on your own terms.
Yeah. I think I could have stayed forever. I think I could have put a bed next to Kenan [Thompson] and just set up shop. We could have had our SNL bunk beds. I love the show and I miss it greatly. But now that I’m a couple of years out, I go, “I made that decision to go and now I sleep at night.” And I miss it more than anything in the world. Meaning I miss coming up with a joke at five o’clock in the morning with my friends that means nothing and then seeing it on TV and talking to you about it years later. There’s nothing like it. It was magical. And for all the complaining you can do about “Oh, SNL was so hard” and all that stuff, I mean, I was on SNL for nine years. It’s still pretty stupid.