When Beck Bennett walked out onto the Saturday Night Live stage in May in a Vin Diesel skull cap, he knew it might be his last time there as a cast member. Bennett was there to anchor the season’s last skit: a spoof of Diesel’s recent AMC commercial, in which he listed an increasingly outlandish list of reasons to go to the movies in a husky growl (“The music … the heavy doors … the pre-show video where you’re on a rollercoaster”). As Bennett delivered his lines to raucous laughter, he saw his wife sitting in the front row and SNL creator Lorne Michaels grinning next to the cue cards—a moment that he says felt prescient.
“It really felt like the universe was telling me, ‘This is in fact time for you to leave. You’re not gonna do better than this,’” Bennett tells TIME in a phone interview on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, SNL announced that Bennett would not be a part of the cast of its 47th season, which begins on Saturday. Bennett, who was on the show for eight seasons, is now living in Los Angeles, where he says he plans to stay full time to focus on new projects and be near his wife and friends. “It’s been eight years of basically long distance with my wife, and if we are going to start a family at any point, I think we have to start that at some point soon,” he says.
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In his near-decade on SNL, Bennett became an integral member of the ensemble, a glue guy tasked with playing straight men and raging idiots alike. His characters have ranged from Vladimir Putin to Mitch McConnell to the Salt Bae; last season, he had the most screentime out of anyone in the cast, according to Vulture. Ahead of the show’s 47th season, Bennett spoke with TIME about some of his favorite SNL sketches and characters, and reminisced about how they came together. These are excerpts from the conversation.
A staple of Bennett’s early tenure on the show was his “Office Boss” character, a high-powered CEO with the body of a baby. He shared scenes with Louis C.K., Drake and Cameron Diaz, flailing his arms, spitting up on himself, and sitting in giant booster chairs.
Bennett: Right before my SNL showcase in L.A., I was on a plane, and there was a guy with a baby in his lap sitting next to me. The baby kept putting his headphone cord into his mouth, unplugging it and throwing it on the ground, then getting upset and crying that he didn’t have it anymore. I was like, ‘Oh, man, it would be fun to create like a fully functioning person like that.’
I must have watched a couple baby videos early on when I was developing the character. Really, it came down to the act of grabbing something, shaking it, getting overwhelmed by the shaking, shoving it in my mouth, throwing it away and finding it again. After that, I would watch baby videos for how they react to eating a lemon, or somebody shaking keys, or how they put their feet in their mouths.
With Cameron Diaz, I think we did a spit-kiss type thing that was absolutely disgusting—and she was fully game. And the giant chair was actually fun. I was like, ‘This is great. Why don’t people do this?’
“Brothers” is one of the many SNL sketches that Bennett shared with Kyle Mooney. The pair went to the University of Southern California together and were in the same sketch group, Good Neighbor; both were hired on SNL at the same time.
Bennett: From the moment we left our childhood homes, Kyle and I have been doing sketch comedy together. It kind of clicked right away—we always wrote together and had fun performing. For “Brothers,” we did a version of those characters in college in our sketch comedy group at USC. We were these brothers who were just wrestling, and their parents finally interrupt them and tell them that they’re getting divorced. It was not as well written as the one we ended up doing.
It’s rare for a sketch to do well at the table and during blocking, and there’s nothing that gets in the way. Especially because in this one, there are so many physical things that could have gone wrong. We’re getting sprayed, going through walls, breaking plates. It felt like a classic SNL sketch, like Chris Farley or Molly Shannon breaking things, falling through things—the things I watched and wanted to do on SNL if I ever got there.
But you learn that it’s really hard to do that because of the cue cards, the camera blocking. There’s so many restrictions to doing live sketch comedy on stage like that. So that experience was kind of a dream. The other people in the scene were having trouble not breaking, and it was so fun to do. It was like my best performing experience at the show, also because I got to do it with Kyle.
Take Me Back
In this pre-taped sketch, Bennett spoofs the climactic scene of a rom-com with Ego Nwodim.
Bennett: Manchildren, idiots: it’s what I love to do. I think it’s something about my instrument: My voice, my looks—it’s just what comes out, the idiot. It’s an extension of who I am, and is also what I saw around me growing up and wanted to make fun of. People who are confidently dumb are just really funny to me.
And being at SNL, I think writers are able to see something in you that you may not even fully see, and help bring that out of you. Over time, it was like, “Oh, people are writing me in this way.” And on SNL, where it’s very competitive and difficult to find your niche, you kind of go towards what works.
I also think some of the parts I play can be more nuanced on film as opposed to live: some of the angry idiots, or the out of control people freaking out, can be captured in a more disarming and funny way on film. When I got to SNL, I realized some of the things I found funny or wanted to write were maybe a little too not fun—a little too intense and scary.
In my second to last year, I did this sketch with Idris Elba where I was a competitive actor who was jealous of him. It was really big and over the top, and it did well enough to get on the show. But I look back at a similar one I did in my first year that never made it to air: it was like, much smaller and darker and intense and not fun. Film sketches can make some of those characters succeed a little bit more than in person.
Jules Who Sees Things A Little Differently
Bennett appeared several times on Weekend Update as the pig-headed contrarian Jules.
Bennett: There are some people out there in the world that Jules is based on. This is definitely an L.A. guy, although he definitely exists in New York, too. I think you see a lot of it on social media: someone on the internet thinking they have something to say, and trying to put a twist on it, but they actually aren’t saying anything at all. I sat down in Colin Jost’s office one night, like many nights, and would tell him stuff, and usually nothing would come of it. But he was always very good about finding something funny in what I’d pitched him, compile a bunch of stuff, and turn it into something a little different.
AMC Theatres Commercial
Bennett: It’s so fun to mimic Vin Diesel because he takes himself so seriously. He’s so tough, such a guy and has an incredible voice. It’s fun to step in those shoes: “I’m so cool, masculine, badass, anything I say is amazing.” I love playing confident characters, and those are often awful people. I’m not saying Vin Diesel is—but confidence is a very fun thing to play.
That sketch was written by Steven Castillo and Dan Bulla. It was something they came up with three in the morning on Wednesday, so I didn’t find out about it until right before the table read. That’s what happens a lot: it’s not an impression that you’re working on for weeks. It’s something that people hand you right before the table read.
That was one of my favorite things to perform on SNL, and it was the last thing I was in. That sketch should not have gone as well as it did, and almost should not have gotten onto air: the worry is that a long, rambling list would get old and the audience would stop laughing after a minute. But they found ways to keep it creative and interesting.
One of the reasons it was so fun is because I was the front of the audience; it was really fun and comfortable. And as soon as it ended, the band started playing the good night music, and I knew that was likely going to be my last sketch and show.
I just felt happy, relieved, grateful. With the ‘goodbye sketches,’ I don’t think it happens that often, and I’m not really one to want that. There are so many people that have been there so long and you never know who’s leaving. So it was nice to have what almost felt like a goodbye sketch.
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