Jay Mohr on Burning SNL Bridges: All I Want Out of Life Is More At-Bats
In its quarter-century as a minor league ballpark, Hadlock Field, home to the Double-A affiliate Portland Sea Dogs, has seen its share of journeymen take the mound. In 2012, Rich Hill pitched an inning of relief at Hadlock as part of his six-year quest to land back on a major league starting rotation.
Dwight Gooden, once a teenage phenom, threw a few innings here in the final years of his career.
However, few of the stadiums hurlers can say theyve hosted a nationally televised comedy competition. Or been nominated for a Teen Choice Award.
During a drizzly Memorial Day weekend, former Saturday Night Live cast member Jay Mohr jogs to the mound for the ceremonial first pitch. Brad Paisley plays on the sound system as roughly 5,000 fans gingerly seek their seats before the start of todays doubleheader. Mohr pauses and retreats back to the first baseline. Hes forgotten the ball.
Mohr is on day two of a coastal New England comedy tour that began in Massachusetts, continuing to the Old Port before a final stop in Bar Harbor. Its his first visit to Portland, Maine, since he was 19 years old, when he appeared as a rising stand-up at the since-closed T-Birds nightclub.
In the almost 25 years since his debut on SNL, Mohr has quietly endured as one of the most dependable comic-turned-actors around. Outside his perch as a stand-up and podcaster, hes amassed an enviableand surprisingly versatilefilmography.
The history of comedians going serious is a prestigious list of whos who in comedy: Robin Williams, Steve Carell, Jim Carrey. Big names making occasionally exaggerated lunges for respectability. Mohrs track record in movies is less flashy, hewing closer to the beats of a character actor. Think George Carlin in Prince of Tides. Or maybe a post-Ghostbusters Bill Murray as Polonius.
Consider this: few actorslet alone stand-upscould credibly play opposite Jennifer Aniston in a romantic comedy (Picture Perfect), appear in a Clint Eastwood meditation on death (Hereafter), while also serving as a mainstay in 90s indie ensembles (Go, 200 Cigarettes). Channel surf sometime and you might catch him on an episode of Monk or Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Thats quite the tightrope.
Mohr is a specialist, of sorts, capable of shifting genre gears effortlessly while maintaining a distinct, identifiable persona: friendly and loquacious on the edge of smugness. Clearly white. Its a skill grounded in his approach to stand-up: You can be the Indian comedian, and get all of Asia in your pocket. You can just do commercials, and make millions of dollars. You can be the guy who never leaves the road, and be a road animaltheres so many pieces to the pie chart.
Im 47, and I meet people who have no idea I do stand-up comedy. And I meet people who say, Oh, youre an actor too? he says. Im still between worlds.
Mohrs relatable onscreen presence can be traced back to his 1993-1995 stint on Saturday Night Live, again falling into a weird categorical limbo. He is not one of the trivia card answer, blink-and-youll-miss-them cast members like Jenny Slate or Robert Downey Jr. But he also joined the show amidst an avalanche of catchphrases and recurring characters. (On his first episode as a featured player, he busted out his spot-on Christopher Walken impression.) Over the next two seasons, Mohr appeared in sketches revolved around some of that eras most iconic characters: Waynes World, Canteen Boy, Coffee Talk with Linda Richman, The Denise Show.
And Matt Foley: The motivational speaker sketch is like being on LSD in front of your parents. Chris Farley was such a genius.
To SNL fans of a certain agethe Comedy Central rerun generationthese are monumental sketches. To Mohr, they were small roles he stopped thinking about immediately once the sketch was over.
Mohrs struggles finding his own hit character eventually became the basis for his 2004 memoir, Gasping for Airtime, one of the definitive accounts of SNLs behind-the-scenes. In 2018, speaking so candidly about a revered, exclusive comedy institution seems extremely risky for a comedianor, at least, a sure bet at provoking the ire of the shows often mythologized, powerful creator, Lorne Michaels.
I dont think [Lorne] cares about anything negative and thats why hes so successful, shrugs Mohr, reflecting back. All the people who say, Lorne did this, Lorne did that, I got news for you: Lorne was most likely in the Hamptons, holding his child, not thinking about you at all. And you applied all this to an evil mastermind who doesnt exist. Hes just a dude.
In fact, several former cast members have told Mohr that they appreciated his openness about his growing pains on the show, including Rachel Dratch and Brooks Wheelan. The only blowback I got was at a Clippers game I was holding my son, a baby, and I went up to [Adam] Sandler and he said, I hear you took a shit on me in your book, no thanks, when I went to shake his hand. But I didnt take a shit on him so Im like, Alright. Meanwhile: Ive seen Rob Schneider and were genuinely friendlyI gut him in the book.
Following SNL, Mohr made the leap into film, eventually starring in the mobster spoof Jane Austens Mafia! Released on July 24, 1998, and helmed by Jim Abrahams (Airplane!), Mafia! is among the last classic ZAZ-style parodies before the genre was ruined by Friedberg-Seltzer. You cant out-kitten a kitten, says Mohr. Once the Wayans Brothers got involved, as good as they do it, its like, Alright, thats the end of that. We cant match this.
To this day, Mafia! remains the only movie Mohr has auditioned for where he was told he got the part on the spot. Its one of those films that lives on through TNT rebroadcasts, a chaser for TVs ubiquitous airings of Casino and The Godfather saga. History isnt very good to it… but its one of those movies, the longer I hang around, thats one people bring up more frequently.
Of course, Jerry Maguire remains the standard, the constant, the blockbuster. Andwhen prompted on how his character, the oily sports agent Bob Sugar, would react to the NFLs recent decision to fine players who do not stand for the National AnthemMohr is unequivocal: Bob Sugar would immediately think of the dollar signs, in the negative, then spin it. I can get you a contract for kneepads when youre welding. Sometimes you just gotta take a knee on the job. Hi, Im Ricky Bell and Im here for Anthem Kneepads.
Over the years, Mohr has balanced stand-up with work in TV and film. Working with the legendary Buddy Hackett on his FOX show Action remains a highlight: He was like a father to me I met him after I knew everything. Id been doing standup for 16 years. It was like the Buddhist story of the Master emptying the tea cup and starting over.
An appreciation of the Zen masters comes in handy in the mercurial world of Hollywood. Mohrs one word of advice to burgeoning comics looking to follow his lead as an actor: surrender.
A big moment for Mohr came during a quick appearance onstage at a Broadway performance of Martin Shorts one-man show. Short, dressed as his clueless Hollywood interviewer character Jiminy Glick, asked him: Arent you David Spade? (He also called him Julia Louis-Dreyfus twice.) I said, No, Im Jay Mohr. And he said, Oh, right. Theres big stars and you just hover along in show business middle class. And it bothered me, but it was reality. When I accepted that, the game became: how high can I push the ceiling? Because what I have is longevity. The middle class doesnt burn out, it just chugs along.
Back in Portland, Mohrs pitch is inside, but chest-high, definitely in the batters box. I rushed it, he says.
Mohrs unconventional professional trajectory (it would be interesting if I had any say in it whatsoever) continues after this mini tour. He has a new film, All About Nina, which recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Hes also planning a book of poetry, and currently moonlights as a high school wrestling coach in Beverly Hills. Both projects feel very much in-character for someone who has built a career matching hidden depth with his own brand of workmanship.
All I want out of life is more at-bats, he offers.
Following the first pitch, he shuttles off the field, and heads under the stadium toward the concession stand. A few minutes later, the game starts.
The Sea Dogs lost game one of the doubleheader in extras, 3-2.