In a recent Saturday Night Live sketch that was cut for time, Kyle Mooney reprises one of his best and weirdest bits: interviewing random people in a crowd while playing the most earnest but socially maladroit human imaginable. This time, he targeted the hordes outside a Justin Bieber concert, and described the pop singer as “the handsome devil who came down from heaven to make some great songs and to dance forever.” Mooney’s bit can be brutally awkward, but it also borders on brilliant: It would have been easy for Mooney to mock the rain-soaked adults waiting for admission to the show, but it’s ultimately Mooney’s own good-natured enthusiasm that shines through as he fumbles his way through interviews with his bemused, and surprisingly patient, subjects.
Mooney’s man-on-the-street interview videos for Saturday Night Live are strange creations, somehow familiar and confusing at the same time. Here he is chatting up fans before the Super Bowl:
And interviewing people about SNL’s 40th anniversary:
His shtick works in part because it is genuinely well-acted, a fully rendered character. He’s been playing this part for years, long before he was cast on the show (here’s a video of him at it in 2009, for example), and in that time he’s turned his persona into something that feels like a real person—so earnestly attempting to connect with people but so crushingly bad at the task at hand that he seems to be mimicking the language and tics of man-on-the-street interviews like a robot ineptly processing human code. To one woman outside the Bieber concert, he offers the prompt: “He can sing and dance and I don’t think he’s that bad to look at either,” then waits silently for her reply. If we laugh—and these sketches probably aren’t for everyone; there’s a reason they are often cut for time—it’s always this character we’re laughing at rather than the real people he’s confronting.
That may be why Mooney’s best moments have nothing to do with his interviewees. Closing off the Bieber video, he addresses the camera directly: “By the way, he made this guy a true belie-ver,” Mooney says. Over-pronouncing that final V instead of the B we expect, he insistently gets it wrong in a way that feels entirely right, and his dopey delight as he does so is contagious.