My junior year of college, in what felt like a seismic life shift for me at the time, I changed my internet homepage from ESPN.Com to Kyle Mooney’s YouTube channel, making the world’s most lovable awkward-street-interviewer—a PG Sacha Baron Cohen—my electronic home base. Instead of starting my nightly homework procrastination on ESPN, with old, loud, white men debating whether it’s OK for players to kneel during the national anthem, I began my nightly homework procrastination by watching Kyle’s videos. (I’m also an 82-year-old lady at heart and wasn’t aware, then, that you could subscribe to a YouTube channel and get an email notification whenever that channel uploaded a new video. I didn’t want to miss anything, so, anytime I opened Safari, I’d see if there was a new Kyle video. And there often was. Because Kyle made lots of videos.)
I say Kyle and not Kyle Mooney or Mooney or Full Mooney because that’s what his lifelong pal and cameraman, Dave, always called him from behind the lens. It was Kyle, what are you doing? Or, Kyle, what ARE you doing? Or, Kyle, WHAT are you DOING? With Kyle, there was this established, friendly familiarity: we were already on a first-name basis. Kyle Mooney, we knew less about: we knew that he did sketch work with his pals, Beck Bennett (as in SNL’s Putin) and Nick Rutherford (a writer on SNL), after they all met at USC as theater and film dweebs. Their brilliant assclownery even got a response from Stevie Spielgs:
But, mostly, Kyle did performance art-quality, uncomfortable conversations with strangers. Was he a needy exhibitonist? Nope. Was he just a prankster on camera acting dumb? Not really. Was he a comedian perpetually doing a bit? Yes and no. Was he reacting instinctively and purely to whomever and whatever he encountered while supremely grounded in the present? Yes. Isn’t that loosely the definition of improv? Yes. I watched all his other videos, daily, and was hooked.
My junior spring, when I was too hurt to race, I rented cameras from the library and went full Kyle with guys from other schools.
Against the UVM Catamounts, I stumbled through questions about “all the kitty cats in the crawly scratchers?” Against the Bowdoin Polar Bears I stumbled through questions about whether “they were by the sinkin’—with the Polar Bears? Feel it?” I went hours being Kyle until one javelin thrower from Bowdoin threw it right back at me.
“Long balls away when they’re throwing it at ya? Or is it?”
I stopped, said KYLE, then gave him a hug.
* * *
Last week, I saw Kyle’s debut, feature-length film, Brigsby Bear. It’s the epitome of a Dram-Com/Dramedy. It’s truly weird and dorky, deeply human and sad, and laugh-out-loud funny. That is, I was laughing out loud harder than all eight other people in the theater (It was just me until three 20something bros, a mom with her two college-aged sons, and a 30something couple shuffled in during the opening credits.). For an outside, non-Kyle enthusiast, it might just be chuckle-out-loud or shake-your-head-and-feel-underwhelmed humor. It’s beyond quirky and often very dry. But for any Kyle lifer, it’s must-see. A host at Comic Con, from a video I watched on the YouTube, called James the “origin story” for Kyle’s interview persona, which is a perfect way to think about it. (And yes, I know what you’re thinking. You go to the movies by yourself? For the right movies, I love to.)
Without giving away any spoilers, it’s a movie about an obsessive dude named James, played by Kyle, who obsessively watches a TV show then obsessively makes a follow-up movie based on the show after the show ends. Both movies—Brigsby Bear as a whole and the movie James makes within Brigsby Bear—are love letters to storytelling and filmmaking. (Unsurprisingly, I resonated with James’ obsessiveness towards creativity, and I left the theater feeling more buoyant to make a movie than I have leaving a theater since…?)
It was also produced by The Lonely Island. If Kyle was my biggest creative hero from age 20 to 22, Andy Samberg and his weiner-joke buddies held that same title from 18 to 20. In that way—and a lot of ways—it felt a like a celebration.
A celebration of the artist who writes the book he’s dying to read but can’t seem to find on the shelves.
A celebration of the creative plugger, or, as my dad says, those who “stick to their knitting” —for years and years.
Creativity, to rephrase our definition, is the encounter of the intensively conscious human being with his or her world.—Rollo May