How ‘SNL’ Turned Bobby Moynihan Into A Voiceover Star
Bobby Moynihan has been a cast member of NBC's long-running sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live since 2008. But what his SNL fans may not know is that he also has a long-running voiceover career. From Sesame Street to Monsters University to The Simpsons to Inside Out, you may have heard Moynihan just as often as you've seen him. He recently hit the recording booth once again for The Secret Life of Pets , opening July 8, in which the actor plays, Mel, a canine character Moynihan describes as "a little less smart than even the dumbest dog." That may seem like a stretch from his characters on SNL, but the star tells Bustle that his voiceover work actually helps inform his SNL characters, and the improv training he uses so often for the series helps him out in the booth, too.
"That skill comes in extremely handy when you’re doing voiceover, because I’ve done some jobs where I’ve only had a couple of lines but then stuff I’ve improvised also made it in," Moynihan says. "So then your part gets bigger." Although getting to do improv is clearly a good perk, the star reveals that The Secret Life of Pets filmmakers didn't have to do much else than show him a photo of the goofy dog Mel to get him to sign on to the project. "They showed me a picture of the character and I just laughed and said, 'Yeah, I’m definitely doing that,'" Moynihan says. To build the character, he "went with a sort of Brooklyn-y-type, New Yorky kind of dog. He's also pretty dimwitted so I was trying to keep it somewhere in that realm."
Moynihan enjoyed the isolation of voice work, saying that being in the booth alone, recording his parts, was a big change from his regular work collaborating with castmates on TV. Says the star, "You’re alone, so you can kind of just go for it. You have the freedom to just feel silly and it’s OK. If you’re going to make a weird face, or make a certain sound or if you’re barking like an idiot, making dog sounds, it’s very freeing."
That said, it's clear that Moynihan loves his time performing with a group on Saturday Night Live, a goal he says he had for his whole life. "I was a big SNL nerd before I got on the show. It was my life’s dream to get on, so every day I feel extremely lucky," he says. "When I got to do Church Chat with Dana Carvey when he came back to host, that’s got to be in the top five moments of my life. This is something I grew up on and when you get to step into that world, it’s a little bizarre."
But being on the show doesn't come easy. Moynihan explains that everyone has different talents on SNL, and that can get overwhelming. "I’m not good at accents or impressions, they stress me out. I get nervous because there are people on the show like Jay Pharoah and Cecily Strong who are almost just mimics," he says. "Someone will walk into the room and say something and then they have that person’s essence down. My impressions are basically, 'Hey it’s Bobby, dressed up as that person trying to sound like them!'"
But, he says with a laugh, "I’m OK with that."
Typically, Moynihan opts to try and create new characters using his own life encounters as inspiration. But, he says, what works in your head may not always work on the SNL stage. "[Everyone has] that period on SNL where you have to have 'the greatest character in SNL history,'" he explains. "So you sit there and you work on it for 12 hours and you’ve got nothing, and then you get in a cab and your cab driver says something weird on the way home and you write that down and that’s your next character. It comes from nowhere."
Moynihan's most famous character, Drunk Uncle, was born just like that. "I had worked on a different character for like 12 hours that day," he recalls. "I thought, 'This is going to be the one, this is going to be the one that clicks and everyone’s going to love it.' It tanked immediately. And the 10 minutes I worked on the Drunk Uncle thing with Colin Jost, that hit."
"So," he continues, "you never know what people are going to respond to. Sometimes you’ll do the stupidest thing in the world and think it’s not funny, but the audience loves it and you’re doing it 12 times a season."
I think it's safe to say that Drunk Uncle is so enjoyable that SNL fans don't mind seeing Moynihan play the character over and over again. And though the star may juggle many jobs in Hollywood, there's no doubt that he's excelling at the most important one: making fans laugh, week after week.
Images: Universal, NBC, Giphy