Q & A: Bobby Moynihan Talks Saturday Night Live’, Writing and Being ‘Chozen’
Saturday Night Live star Bobby Moynihan stars as Chozen, a gay white rapper fresh out of prison, in FX’s new animated comedy, Chozen.
The show is ridiculous but in the absolute best of ways and Moynihan is hilarious in the part; the voice he uses for the character fits perfectly. When asked in a recent conference call to chat about the show and when someone asked how he came up with the voice, he was almost embarrassed. “I know it sounds weird to say, but it’s a voice I’ve been doing all my life,” he said.
In the interview, Moynihan, who was joined by series creator, executive producer, and writer Grant Dekernion, talks about voice work, SNL, writing and being Chozen!
Chozen airs on Mondays at 10:30 p.m. on FX.
Was it difficult trying to get someone to take a chance with something that’s kind of off-the-wall or not your standard TV show let’s say?
Grant Dekernion: I guess I can hit that real quick. Surprisingly, when it came to FX, it wasn’t difficult. I mean, that’s what they’re known for. They are known for taking chances, and they are known for doing programming that’s kind of unique and groundbreaking, and this is the place myself and the producers always pictured the show as having a chance to live.
So we went there with high hopes and our high hopes were met. They were very excited and very invested, and we were really fortunate in finding a home on the place where I think the show has the greatest chance to make an impact.
Bobby, did you have to audition or were you involved at the beginning with the process, or how did it come about for you?
Bobby Moynihan: I’m actually a gay white rapper cartoon in real life, so it just worked out really good. No, I got an email saying, “Would you like to put yourself on tape for this,” and they had one of the little character descriptions—the drawings of what they look like—and they said Method Man was involved and I said, “Yeah, I don’t want to do anything more in my life than this.”
Bobby, how did you come up with the voice for “Chozen”?
Bobby Moynihan: I know it sounds weird to say, but it’s a voice I’ve been doing all my life maybe. I feel like I know a lot of people that sound like “Chozen,” and when I saw the drawing and read Grant’s script—the character is so well-defined already that all I had to do was come in and talk and have a good time. So I felt like it was something I had inside me already.
There wasn’t anything about this character that you added? You just stuck with Grant’s script?
Bobby Moynihan: No. I mean, we do some improvising. Me and Grant will go back and forth, or he’ll have a line and I’ll add to it, or he’ll say, “No. Try this,” and I think it’s a good mix between the writing on the show is pretty wonderful, so I like to let them do that, but when we’re doing the recording sometimes something new will come up or something very dirty, and then I beg Grant not to put it in, and he does, and I was wrong, and it’s very funny.
Grant, how did you come up with the concept for the show?
Grant Dekernion: Well, I had always wanted to do a show—I knew I wanted to do a show involving music and the struggle to be a musician, and I’ve loved hip-hop my whole life, so I just started thinking about it. Then I also wanted to create a character that I’d never seen before on TV, and I think “Chozen” fits that bill.
I think there’s a lot of interesting things you have with “Chozen.” Here’s a guy who’s coming out of jail; here’s a guy who’s trying to take his life back. So to me it’s a different kind of—it’s like a delayed coming-of-age story a little bit, and I thought that would be a fun way to kind of get into a type of story that’s been told a few times but in a different way.
Both of you guys writing comedy—and the idea of parody versus original concepts, what’s the difference in writing these two types of characters and stories, and where does Chozen fall in that kind of area, range?
Grant Dekernion: Oh boy. I think Chozen in my mind and the way the writers work with him, he’s a very real person to me. I don’t think he’s a parody of anybody or a parody of any idea. I know people like him—maybe not exactly like him—but there are traits about him that are familiar to me and, I think, familiar to Bobby as well.
Within the show I do think we do have some fun with—there is some parody in our show of whether it’s famous people or ideas or things like that. It’s always a fun place to get jokes and kind of get a tentacle out into the real world because we’re in a cartoon world. So I think we do a little bit of both, but I think “Chozen” is wholly unique and in my mind wholly real and original to himself.
Bobby Moynihan: To be honest, it reminds me the most of “Kenny Powers” on Eastbound & Down. It’s like “Kenny Powers” is a real person. The way people talk about that is like he’s a real person, and hopefully they’ll do the same about “Chozen.” It’s like this guy is a loose cannon lunatic, but he’s actually a pretty good person with a good heart, and it’s an amazingly fun character to play because there is this—it’s so insane and so off-the-wall but there is this groundedness [sic] to him, and there is this kind of own life philosophy that he has that I will say since I’ve gotten the show I have actually had the thought in real life of like, “I need to act more like this “Chozen” dude,” because he gets what he wants, and he gets results. He may go about in a weird way, but it’s a very well fleshed-out character, and that’s one of my favorite parts about it.
How do you find that line, if I may ask, between the dark sides of him—I mean, he literally wants to rape men—and then the good side of him, you know?
Bobby Moynihan: Yeah, I think he just wants love from anywhere, and I think whatever he wants he’s going to take just because that’s how he’s learned how to do things. But that fine line, I don’t know. I think one of the best parts about it is that we can kind of dance on that line, and there are times when you can kind of take it over the line, and there are times where you don’t need to, and I think it’s a good balance between the two on Chozen.
There are some lines when I watch it I cringe because I can’t believe I said that, but then I go—but coming out of “Chozen’s” mouth it seems completely perfect.
Grant Dekernion: Yeah, I think it’s important to recognize too since “Chozen” in the real world—he is making an effort, albeit a backwards effort, to try to figure out how to relate to people. So you will see him try to develop a relationship, try to be in a relationship, and it isn’t all about some forced thing with them. It’s that mind trying to figure out, “Okay how do I participate in a give-and-take,” and that’s obviously a struggle for him a little bit.
Bobby Moynihan: Yeah, there’s a line in the second episode were “Chozen” wanders into an LGBT meeting and immediately screams, “Where’s the dick at?” I believe? It’s completely just out of—that’s just how he knows—that’s what he does, and that’s how he knows. They’re asking him questions about if he’s bisexual or not, and he just says, “Stop trying to label me. I’m just ‘Chozen.’ Like, I’m a sex person.” Like he just does what he wants to do and lives his life.
I heard you guys are still doing some recording. Bobby, you’re also on Saturday Night Live, can you talk a little bit about balancing your work on Chozen as well as kind of fronting Saturday Night Live as well?
Bobby Moynihan: Yeah, to be honest it’s not hard at all. Even during the show week it’s pretty easy. The recording studio is two blocks away from SNL. I’ll go run and do that and then run back to SNL. It’s not as hard as you would think.
The hours at SNL are pretty insane, but it’s nice to be able to run across the street and act like an idiot for an hour, and then run back and act like an idiot for seven hours.
Bobby, can you talk about SNL hiring its the first African-American comedian in seven years. Have you met her?
Bobby Moynihan: Yeah, I know Sasheer from Upright Citizens Brigade, so I was very happy. She’s a very, very—we’re very, very lucky to have her, and she’s a very talented girl. So I’m excited for her to be on the show and for America to see her. I think she’s great, and I think it’s a great addition.
So this is going to be a pretty exciting year for SNL.
Bobby Moynihan: Yeah. I mean, it’s funny. Yeah, I think so. With everyone leaving and stuff, it’s a whole new world. I’ve been on the show since Amy and Darrell Hammond were on there, and as a fan of the show since I was a kid to just kind of see it change internally alone has been fascinating. The act next year is the 40th anniversary. It’s very big times over at SNL, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
“Chozen” is such a walking contradiction, so he’s a real person. He can go off like a bomb in one scene and then tell someone very sincerely, “Respect yourself.” So how do you figure out the balance between all the various sides of his personality and how far you can push in any of the directions he gives you to play with?
Bobby Moynihan: I mean, I feel like the characters so well realized and so well written that—and I come from an improv background, so I kind of just come in—the one thing I know when I’m doing “Chozen” is that whatever “Chozen” is doing at that exact moment is the only thing he’s thinking about, and he will do it until he’s conquered it. So if that means one second trying to get a boyfriend and the next second trying to make his sister feel better about herself then that’s just how it is, and then he moves on to the next thing that he wants very badly.
It’s just such a real character to me and very—the way Grant wrote it and the way that the writers write it is just—it’s very easy to do. It’s very easy to play.
Bobby, when you’re writing for SNL — trying to get sketches that you’ve written on the air—and I’m also curious when Seth Meyers leaves who actually is going to be the head writer?
Bobby Moynihan: I’m glad you asked: It’s you. Congratulations. No, writing on SNL is a crazy process. As cast members we’re all expected to write. Sometimes it’s harder for the cast to get sketches on. If you see something where a cast member is talking a lot, it’s a good chance that they are probably the ones that wrote it. You have to kind of write for yourself on that show.
I’ve been lucky enough to get some stuff on that I’ve written, and you always feel much more in control of it, but also another amazing thing about SNL is walking in and some writer hands you some really brilliant piece of work that they’ve written, and then you get to perform it. So either way you win.
I think I’m more of a performer than I am a writer. I feel like SNL has taught me to be a much better writer, so that alone has helped. As far as what’s going to go on when Seth goes, they don’t tell me anything. I have no idea.
And why does Taran Killam get to play all the sexy-guy roles now and not you?
Bobby Moynihan: I let him do it because he needs it, you know? I mean, if I had a dollar for every sexy guy I’ve played in TVs and movies, I wouldn’t have a single dollar. But no, Taran is the perfect straight man. He’s kind of taken over for Jason, and he does it really well where he can—he’s so talented and can do anything. Taran gets to play all the sexy roles; I get the play all the weird looking ladies. So we all play our roles.