“Quit talking about his body in that shirt, man. It’s not what we want to know about right now.” This is Mikey Day when I meet him at a restaurant located at the bottom of Rockefeller Center. Day is joking about this whole interview being written in an almost “ogling” tone, as you often see from gross male writers when doing an interview with an actor who happens to be a woman. I nixed the idea because, considering how much of an admirer I am of Day’s work, I’m afraid people might think I was serious. (Though, for the record: Day did look nice in the shirt he was wearing.)
Day has had an extraordinary run (his first as a cast member) on this pivotal season of Saturday Night Live. What’s unusual is that, in a season that’s been scoring insanely high ratings based on its political coverage (and, yes, Day plays both Donald Trump Jr. and Steve Bannon, as the Grim Reaper) Day’s breakthrough sketch work has been almost strangely non-political. We will see something like Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump in the cold open, and then maybe Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer – then all of a sudden there’s Day and Chris Pine dancing around with cotton candy and performing a backpack fashion show. Or he’s hosting a game show that consists of shoving pies into McCarthy’s face.
What Day is trading in — often with his writing partner, Streeter Seidell — are the ever-so-hard “evergreen sketches.” The kind of sketch that will still be funny ten years from as opposed to, say, maybe a sketch from 2005 about Tila Tequila. Day poo-poos this a bit, saying that he just writes what he finds funny. Which is fair, but what he finds funny has already found its way into the popular culture zeitgeist.
Everyone knows who David S. Pumpkins is now. We will be seeing David S. Pumpkins Halloween costumes for probably the rest of our lives. Last season, Day co-wrote two other sketches that are still quoted on a routine basis: Jonathan Comets singing “Space Pants” and Larry David as Kevin Roberts asking, “Can a bitch get a donut?” Or, as Day calls the trio, “A squad of loud people who derail people’s experiences.” And that’s not even mentioning the sketch when Kylo Ren shows up on Undercover Boss (which Day also discusses ahead).
This was Day’s first interview since joining SNL. I bring this up because I almost felt hesitant bringing up David S. Pumpkins (and it’s very far into what turned out to be a two and a half hour interview) in an almost, “I bet you get asked about this all the time” kind of way, before being reminded he’s never really spoken about it publicly. (After the sketch aired in October, SNL was flooded with media requests to get the story behind this sketch. They were all denied, instead taking the approach that it should speak for itself. At least until now.)
Warning: this is a very nerdy interview. Mikey Day is incredibly quick with a Star Wars or a Thundercats or a Ninja Turtles reference – and I could not resist taking the bait every time. (At one point we dissect the plot of The Phantom Menace.) But it should give you an idea what’s like to spend some time with Day, who is a whirlwind of popular culture knowledge. (Which, if you’ve ever seen his sketches, really shouldn’t surprise you at all.) I would love to end this intro by writing “Any questions?,” David S. Pumpkins’ signature line. Hopefully, though, you will have fewer questions now.
I never know what to do with lunch interviews. Am I actually supposed to eat?
I know, I’ll probably get something light.
Like a steak.
Well done. Were you at Star Wars Celebration?
No, I was at SNL that weekend.
You interviewed Hamill at Sundance? You’ve met them all, right?
I’ve interviewed Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford. I never met Carrie Fisher. With Harrison, I remember Mosquito Coast was a topic.
I’d love to talk to him about Mosquito Coast.
And how he came up with the “I know” line and shooting the swordsman in Raiders on set.
Wasn’t he like sick or something?
Yeah, he had dysentery.
“Can we just shoot the guy?”
I wondered if there were scenes he had changed but we didn’t know about. He said there were, but wouldn’t elaborate.
In Air Force One there’s usually a long monologue, and I was just like, “Get off my plane.” Or, “Get off my personal aircraft.”
“We’re going with ‘plane.’”
“Get off Air Force One, the personal aircraft of the President of the United States.” Did you ever make home movies of Indiana Jones?
No. Did you?
Definitely. Like using the garage door as the wall and doing the hat.
With a camcorder?
Oh, yeah, they were so bad too. I used my mom’s.
You should publish those as an SNL digital exclusive.
People would be like, “What is this?” We had like one leather jacket in the house. It belonged to my mom.
I’m guessing it doesn’t look anything like Indiana Jones’ jacket.
So I’m using the shoulder-padded leather jacket and a whip I got on like a field trip to Olvera Street, and a hat that’s too big for me.
At least you had a whip, because I don’t think those are easy to come by for a child.
I know, right? [The waiter comes to take our order.] “Mikey orders the soup.”
“‘What an interesting choice,’ I thought to myself.”
“The color offsets his eyes in an interesting way.”
What should the title of this piece be? Something like, “Mikey Day… Any Questions?”
That’s a pretty fantastic title. I don’t know if you can do better than that.
I was joking, but I actually might use that now.
Oh, man. I’m all for “Any Questions.”
What were we talking about before the soup?
We were talking about Indiana Jones and soup.
There was soup in Indiana Jones. It had the eyeballs, in Temple of Doom. Willie Scott didn’t want to eat it.
Willie Scott. The Last Crusade, though, that was the first one I saw in the theater. I think that was like ’89. It blew my mind.
That was a good movie year. We had Back to the Future II, Batman…
Oh, Batman was that summer. I had to sit in the front row. Were you into the ’90s Ninja Turtles? I was so into Ninja Turtles. That movie came out, I was like, oh, my God.
I only had one action figure, which means I had tepid interest. I had Leonardo.
The leader. Looking back, my parents spent so much money on Ninja Turtle toys.
The amount of action figures I had was how I can tell what I liked. I owned one ThunderCat.
Was it Lion-O?
It was Lion-O.
I just had Snarf. I was so into Turtles, it was crazy. That first movie just blew my mind.
I saw that movie because I was literally going on my first date ever.
And you took her to Turtles?
We tried going to Pretty Woman, but we were too young to buy tickets, so we had to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles instead.
She was like, “Are you taking me to a movie about a prostitute?’ And it was the romantic comedy.
You couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing like eight songs from that movie.
Was that R?
Oh, it was definitely R. That’s why I couldn’t get in.
Oh, that sucks. And you’re like, “It’s all good, baby. We’ll just go see Ninja Turtles.” [The waiter returns.] I want something that’s easy to eat, doesn’t take a lot of focus.
I don’t want anything I have to saw with a knife. I have a bad habit of ordering something that sounds “easy” then it comes and it’s this very complicated thing drenched in something I didn’t expect.
The whole interview is about the food and managing.
I can’t wait for this to go up and then the first comment is like, “Why didn’t you ask about David Pumpkins? You’d think that would be maybe the number one question.”
You went all in on food. I might be good with guacamole. “Summer garden signature guacamole.”
I’m going to get the grilled asparagus. It sounds like a meal even though it’s under appetizers.
Yeah, I bet that’s pretty easy. Then we use the restroom and both of our pee smells from the asparagus.
Speaking of David Pumpkins, you’ve teased the Avengers version of a sketch with Pumpkins, Kevin Roberts, and Jonathan Comets…
Oh, Kevin Roberts, David Pumpkins, Jonathan Comets form a squad of loud people who derail people’s experiences. Yeah, there’s something so fun about loud idiots.
The mob characters kind of liked Jonathan Comets, at least they seemed to be more engaged with him…
We thought about if Dinklage ever hosted again, possibly bringing him back.
There was an obvious fuck-up at the beginning of that sketch, and it still recovered.
Yeah, there was a little late entrance there.
Bobby Moynihan looked legitimately not happy.
Like, “Hey, you’re showing up now.” The only thing to make that not the focus would be Peter Dinklage in a blond wig yelling, “Space pants!”
Were you watching that going, “Oh, man. This is our masterpiece and it’s screwed up?”
I was with Streeter. We were on the floor and we were like, “Oh no, oh no!” So then Peter got there and it got back going, but luckily the song is so high energy and high octane that you don’t really have time anymore to think about anything else.
What came first, the song “Space Pants,” or actually finding pants with space on them?
The term, “space pants.” I was just in my office going, “Space pants!” And then Peter came in on Tuesday night for the meeting and I was like, “So it’s a high stakes, probably a mafia deal – something where someone’s life is at stake here. And you’re just like, ‘Space pants. These are my space pants. These…are…my space pants.’” And then in the meeting after read-through when you talk to the costume designers, they were just looking at various pants with space on them and they’re like, “You can go stars or more planets.” We’re like, “Probably a lot of planets.”
You’ve gotten a lot of Star Wars stuff on the air.
I love it. ‘Undercover Boss’ was one of my favorites. I just had this image of Kylo Ren in the Death Star bathroom at a urinal next to a dude. And I was like, what can we do that’s kind of mundane?
Did you have to talk Adam Driver into it or was he all in from the start?
He was in. He was totally great. He was so cool. And that was a Friday night shoot. After blocking, you go and shoot those Friday night ones. When he got there, maybe 9:30pm, we shot until 3:00am or 4:00am and he was like, “Are you sure you guys have what you need?” The Lucasfilm people brought his costume. I remember seeing him in the full Kylo Ren outfit and then doing his testimonial where he’s like, “I had a blast today.” And then he kind of crossed off. And I was standing there, he was like, “Was that good?” There’s Kylo Ren. Like, this, only on SNL.
It’s so weird seeing the costumes in person. Last summer I went to the set of Justice League in London and Ben Affleck walked by wearing a Batman suit.
My senior year of high school, I was on student government. And we made our homecoming theme Batman. So the dance was “A Party at Wayne Manor.” In hindsight, your homecoming theme is Batman? Usually, it’s like, ‘A Night Under the Stars.’ Or, “Old Hollywood.”
Is this 1997? It could have been Titanic.
I know. “Your Heart Will Go On.”
I guess Titanic wasn’t quite out yet. You could have done The English Patient.
Our theme is The English Patient, guys. Just bad themes. While You Were Sleeping.
I’ll defend While You Were Sleeping.
While You Were Sleeping? Pullman. I love Pullman. We had an assembly, so I was Batman and my best friend, who was vice president, was Robin. But we found a pretty legit leather costume with that big cowl, and it was hard to move. It’s a full-body turn. But my frame, I’m not exactly Batman, so it was pretty funny to see me walking around.
Neither was Michael Keaton.
True. And he was like the Batman. He hosted a couple years ago. It was awesome. Like, you’re Batman, dude.
Where did Kevin Roberts and “Can a bitch get a donut?” come from?
Kevin Roberts was based on a sketch I did at Groundlings a long time ago where I was Kevin Roberts, but it was different. We changed it for Larry David. There’s something about Larry David in that bright orange suit, yelling with that giant cell phone. That was added later. Lorne was like, “You should have something in his hand.”
When you did it at Groundlings, what was the catchphrase?
His name was Martin. He was just like, [in a high pitched annoying voice] “I’m Martin.” Not too cerebral. But, “Can a bitch get a donut,” came just for Kevin Roberts. That was new for Kevin Roberts.
Martin just said his name?
It was more confusing stuff like, “I’m going to kill someone” – pause, and then they’d shoot me – “if I can’t get a bite to eat soon.” Like, “Oh, man, he paused!” So it was more like that. Then I took out what looks like a knife and then he shoots me. And then they’re really scissors and I cut open a bag of pita chips. They’re like, “You can’t shoot civilians.” He’s like, “It looked like a knife and he just took it out and paused! And who opens a bag of pita chips in the middle of the street?”
[The waiter returns.] The grilled asparagus, it’s light, right? [I’m assured it’s light.]
Then you get it, “It’s not light enough!”
It will come in a bowl of heavy cream sauce or porridge.
Really hard to manage. [The waiter returns with bread sections. We decline. The waiter seems confused and takes our bread plates away.]
I feel like we just got shamed because we didn’t get bread.
Everyone’s so confused about the lightness of this meal.
When Chris Pine hosted, “SWAT Recon” was just a welcome break from politics.
That one was a lot of fun to do, although didn’t realize how tiring it was. We were both panting, bouncing on those bouncy balls. Let’s have a good old fashioned backpack fashion show. Yeah, that one was cool and Chris was really cool about it, because it’s inherently so dumb. There were originally lines in it. He was like, “This cotton candy is so fluffy-ass.” I was like, “Don’t forget tasty-ass.” He’s like, “This is the best.” And I’m like, “No, it’s not the best. The best ever.” After blocking, we took the dialogue out because it just felt kind of weird. Like, how can the SWAT team hear them?
They’d have to have one of those sound guns.
We would have to get sound guns. So I think it works better with no dialogue and them piecing everything together.
What hasn’t gotten on the show that you wished had?
We put one at the table the week of the Chris Pine show, which was on the deck of the Karpathia, the ship that rescued the Titanic. So Chris and I were like hospitality and entertainment directors, and we were talking to the Titanic passengers who were brought abroad. We’re just like, “We just want to answer any questions like, for instance, what about meals?” The whole thing was like, “We just want to balance you guys being comfortable, but also keep in mind there’s a lot of people, Karpathia passengers, who paid a lot of money for their cruise.”
I guarantee you there was at least one Karpathia passenger who was annoyed with the situation.
“These people paid a lot of money. So things like brunch with the captain, you know, these people paid thousands of dollars.” I had a sketch I wrote with Bryan Tucker that never went, but it was for Kevin Hart where it was like a Mortal Kombat, kind of a Kevin Roberts-esque. Where they’re going through the characters, “Scorpion! Raiden! Johnny Cage!” And then it got to him and it goes, “Crazy Cheese!” And the player says, “No, thank you.” And then of course, “You selected Crazy Cheese.”
Bring this one back.
And then it was like, “Little kick, little kick, little kick.”
You know who would love this sketch? The Rock. Bring it back.
The Rock. I can’t wait. With Vanessa Bayer, we wrote this interrogation one that was the last sketch of the show. We just made him say really stupid stuff.
I remember that. “Hot Ball.”
Yeah, it was, “Cool out, Hot Ball.” And, “That lie is so big it could fit in a box that could hold a million hats.” Making dudes like that say dumb things is so much fun. Yeah, it’s one of my favorites that Vanessa and I wrote.
[My asparagus arrives. There’s a giant poached egg on top of them.] This is a perfect example of what I was talking about. I think I’m just getting some asparagus. And, oh yeah, here’s a big wet messy egg on top.
Of course. You just wanted asparagus. Let’s top it with a full egg.
I should learn to read the fine print.
“Let me guess, you’re going to slap an egg on top of it?”
If you want an asparagus, please have one. Or if you want an egg…
“Mikey, rudely, takes one of my asparagus.”
“Then he just grabs the egg…”
“Rams it in his mouth and leaves, stiffs me with the bill.”
The pre-election part of this season feels like five years ago.
It’s so weird to look at those. It does feel so long ago, the first half of the season. Lorne’s like, “Well, we have Trump for a while.” Then it’s like, oh, he won. I remember Chappelle was hosting that week. That’s great that we had Chappelle that week. I went and watched his monologue on the floor. Like, this feels important.
Are you happy with your role in Steve Bannon losing a little bit of power at the White House?
With a mask on my face?
It’s still you. Then he got demoted.
That was really interesting to hear about it, because he was definitely portrayed as running the show – with Alec and his little thing, and sitting at his tiny desk. Because Trump was definitely coming at us and then he just stopped. They were probably like, “Dude, it’s not a good look.” He literally said, “The cast is terrible.” I was like, “Mom, the president of the United States indirectly insulted me personally.” It’s really funny to see just that visual of pre-election – and then you just see a snapshot of Alec as Donald at a tiny desk and the Grim Reaper in the Oval Office. You’re like, what? It went through a couple incarnations, too. It was Darth Vader at one point.
I’m glad it’s not Darth Vader.
I think Bannon talks about him?
Bannon mentioned Darth Vader is a hero of his. So he would have liked that.
He’s like, “I’m more of a Sebulba kind of guy.”
[Day breaks into a Watto impression.] “Annie? That is you, Annie! Annie!”
I love that Qui-Gon is a Jedi, but adheres to these rules that Watto owns slaves and doesn’t just free both Anakin and his mom.
This flying small business owner, it will be responsible for the galaxy being destroyed, but…
“I can’t do it. I can only take you. I negotiated for one of you.”
Then he even cheated when he negotiated with the chance cube.
What was your experience watching The Phantom Menace in the theater the first time?
The first time? I loved it.
So you were full blissed?
It was the third time I saw it in theaters where I’m like, “Hm, this is a little boring.”
“Are they talking about trade?”
But the Darth Maul fight is almost worth the price of admission.
Yeah, that’s kind of what you take away from it. And the podraces, they were fun and loud and kind of crazy. Did you see the behind the scenes, making of?
Where they have that screening and the lights come up and they’re like, “umm…”
And when Lucas is telling everyone about Jar Jar for the first time? He’s like, “This is going to be the funniest character we’ve ever had.”
Yeah, that’s exactly what he says, right? “We’ve never had a character fart before, so keep in mind, people are going to be screaming laughing.” I saw Empire was on TV, they changed Boba Fett’s voice. But it’s Jango Fett’s voice, right?
So why do that?
Because Boba Fett is a clone.
So his son was a baby clone? I hope someone hosts SNL when The Last Jedi comes out.
I bet Boyega would be great.
Boyega, he’d be dope. He did those Star Wars audition sketches.
We were almost to the point where I just don’t bring up David Pumpkins.
But The English Patient…
That will be my headline, “Mikey Day Finally Breaks His Silence on The English Patient.”
Did you know at dress rehearsal that people were going to love David Pumpkins?
[The waiter near us drops a tray of dishes, they all shatter.] How do we continue after that? He heard David Pumpkins. He needed to hear. “Finally, they’re not talking about The English Patient.” I mean, especially because it’s Tom Hanks. On Wednesday when we were telling him about it I was like, “Hopefully, if it goes, it would be great if people dressed up like David Pumpkins for Halloween.” I love Halloween.
Now that’s going to be a go-to Halloween costume.
It’s what I’ll tell my kids.
David Pumpkins will definitely be in the first paragraph of your obituary. That was morbid, but it will be.
I’ll take it. Any questions? I was definitely happy that it became a big deal and it wasn’t necessarily topical or tied to anything. It was just kind of its own thing.
A lot of your stuff’s like that. Is that a goal?
If you go back and watch an SNL from 10 years ago and they’re doing a Tila Tequila sketch, or whatever, it doesn’t really hold up.
It’s not necessarily a conscious directive, like “This is what I want to do.” But oftentimes, it’s just kind of what makes us laugh.
But something like David Pumpkins will have a long shelf life.
Someone sent me a picture of a David Pumpkins drink that someone wrote at a bar. Drink of the day: the David Pumpkins with pumpkin schnapps.
That doesn’t sound good. I’d be offended if I were you.
But if it were truly David Pumpkins, it wouldn’t have any pumpkins in it! And you’d be like, “Why is there no pumpkin in it?”
Where did David Pumpkins come from?
Bobby and I were working on it – it was just going to be a dance – it started with a couple who were staying in a creepy hotel and it’s sort of Haunted Mansion style. Like ghouls started coming out, “Ayyy!” Everyone came out and sang a verse and then we would come out of coffins and just dance and go back in. It wasn’t really working and then I remember Tower of Terror at Disneyland, that ride, thinking it’s a great setup because it’s just doors opening. It’s just such a great device for doors open, something dumb.
And before David Pumpkins shows up, Beck and Kate’s characters seem satisfied with their experience.
Yeah, “This is what we expected. This is good. There are going to be fun frights.” Then I’m like, because I’m obsessed with stupid suits, a dude with pumpkins on his suit. The door opens and it’s the dude David Pumpkins. And then we can get our skeletons and they’re dancing, and then Bobby added the “S.” David S. Pumpkins. Originally, he talked a lot more. Originally, there was a lot more dialogue. And originally it was set to like a beat, so it kind of had rhythm. And we were like, “Do you haunt?” And he’s like, “Maybe.” And then there was, “If you wake up in the morning and there’s a pumpkin in your hall closet, that means I hate you.” And it was like, “What?” And he had a little more attitude. He’d be like, “Get a life!”
He’s better with no attitude.
He’s more mysterious. This would have been like midichlorians.
Exactly. The less you know, the better. He’s his own thing. So then as the week went on, we pared it down. Yeah, so it was just pretty great to see. And Tom was playing with the character all the way up to air. He was like, “Trying to wrap my head around this guy, guys.”
Were you a Weird Al fan?
I was a big Weird Al fan as a kid. I had all those tapes. Even Worse, Dare to Be Stupid, 3-D. I remember Even Worse, “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long.”
Based off George Harrison’s “I’ve Got My Mind Set On You.” That might be his finest work.
I auditioned for my fourth grade talent show to “Addicted to Spuds,” just to lip-sync it. And I would wear it like a potato sack.
We did one to “Girls Just Want to Have Lunch” which no one knows.
Yeah, I don’t think “Girls Just Want to Have Lunch” got as big as “Eat It.” Do you remember “I Lost on Jeopardy”?
Of course. Art Fleming and Don Pardo were in the video.
[Singing] “Now tell me what I didn’t win.”
What was your SNL audition?
I did Donald Trump, Jr. He just has like a deep voice, cocky. I did a quick Kyle Mooney. [Day does his strangely great Kyle Mooney impression.]
Donald Trump Jr. reacted after you played him.
He Instagrammed after we did the Trump brothers.
He tried to be cool about it. Someone must have told him that would make him seem chill.
“Get on board.” But Eric’s just – there was an interview a little while back in GQ where Eric said, “We don’t talk about the business with our dad. We made a pact.” And then in the interview, two minutes later he said, “Probably quarterly, but just about profit.”
Or, “We got all our money from Russia for the golf courses.”
[As DonaldTrump Jr.] “Eric? Hey, bud? Maybe not say that?” Remember when they did that picture? Eric was kind of in the background. It looks like he’s saying, “And I’m Eric.”
So your Kyle Mooney impression got you on the show…
[Laughs.] “Stop right there. Welcome.”
What’s your favorite sketch from the past?
I’m just so mad I didn’t think of “Massive Head Wound Harry” and that already exists and we can’t do it. It’s so great.
I forget who the host was. I just remember a dog ripping off his head and him going, “I think he smells my dog.”
Melissa McCarthy hosted. You two were in the Groundlings together…
I was in Groundlings with Melissa in the main company. So it’s been fun to do, like when she’s Spicer and I’m the reporter. I mean, that podium, it’s got to like maybe fly or hover at this point. It would be great if it turned into a transformer. I remember I had Optimus. I had a few of the Go-Bots. There should be a Go-Bots movie.
I don’t think anyone knows what Go-Bots are anymore.
“Hey, Lorne, can you buy the rights to Go-Bots?”
I would love to know if Lorne Michaels knows what Go-Bots are.
I’d venture to say “no.”
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.