Alex Moffat, a cast member on ‘‘Saturday Night Live,’’ will return to the United Center, otherwise known as the scene of the crime.
His crime? Stealing Benny the Bull’s girl.
A former gravity-defying dandy dunker for the Benny and the Elevators hype squad, Moffat has taken his basketball acumen and comedy skills — as well as his pass-first mentality — to the vaunted hallways of 30 Rock.
The man who brings Eric Trump to life on Saturday nights, the comedian who skewers Prince William with ruthless precision, the Guy Who Just Bought A Boat, was once a born-and-bred Chicago-area hoophead, as enamored with Michael Jordan as Eddie Murphy.
On Friday night for the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game, he’ll have his chance to shine.
“In the locker room before a game, he was loose and funny and joking around,” said longtime friend and one-time North Shore Country Day teammate Tom Doar. “Then he flips the switch, and he’s very, very competitive. There are no laughs on the court when Alex is playing.”
Watch out, Quavo and Ronnie 2K. Alex Moffat is coming down the lane.
And all of Chicago knows he can dunk, albeit with a little help.
Part of a small class of 42 at North Shore Country Day in Winnetka, Moffat played football, basketball and baseball and performed in a handful of plays. At NSCD, Moffat says, “It was all hands on deck.”
But hoops was certainly his primary passion, one he gained from playing for John Schneiter, a local prep coaching legend who won nearly 800 games in his career.
Moffat even played for a semester at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, though he never rose higher than the college JV squad. He appeared in just one game, the same day he came down with food poisoning. His story could make for an ‘‘SNL’’ sketch. Suffice it to say, final stats: 0-for-1 shooting, roughly five turnovers. It was the last game before Christmas break. He never rejoined the team.
“I realized I wasn’t going to be the superstar I thought I was,” he said.
At least not on the court.
Moffat took Acting 101 his senior year at Denison and “that lit a little fire,” he said. He graduated and his brother-in-law hooked him up with a job at his agency, but a post-college malaise settled in. This was not his path.
A friend suggested he take a class at Second City, just to do something, and Moffat found himself.
Soon he was all-in, performing all across Chicago in both improv and stand-up while trying to add side gigs to support his burgeoning career.
Scrolling across the Craigslist “talent gigs” section — “Most of which I don’t think I can even repeat in print,” he said — he saw an ad about Benny and the Elevators, the Bulls’ acrobatic dunk team.
This wasn’t just standing in front of a T-Mobile and flipping a sign. This was right up Moffat’s alley.
Gradually, Moffat became a bigger part of the act. The Bulls loved his comedy chops and sent him into the stands for fan bits. He detailed one such bit in an October appearance on ‘‘Late Night with Seth Meyers,’’ sharing his exploits as a fake Dallas Mavericks fanatic who played the comedic foil to Benny.
“One of the guests on his comedy [improv] show one time was Benny the Bull,” Doar said. “I’m talking with him offstage, and I ask, ‘What makes Alex good at this?’ He said, ‘Most people approach the trampoline and slow down, and Alex never did. Alex was all acceleration.’ He said, ‘When he hit it at full speed from the first time, I said we’ve got something here.”
Moffat kept the gig for three or four years, watching firsthand the rise of Derrick Rose and the Baby Bulls. He says, “My highlights are like flashbulb memories for me.” For a lifelong fan of the team, it was nirvana.
Behind-the-scenes access, favorite players in the real, sailing through the sky to entertain Bulls fans?
It was never better than when comedy and basketball collided, as it will on Friday for Moffat.
“One of my first games, I see [legendary comedy performer and film director] Harold Ramis sitting courtside,” Moffat says of his favorite story. “His kids went to my same school, and a woman in our alumni office had been nice enough to set us up for coffee, and a few months later, I’m running out to do this dunk show.
“I go, ‘Harold!’ and he looks up and looks utterly confused. I ran over to him, gave him high five, he was just like . . . ‘Good to see ya!’ ”
The gig even helped seal the deal with Moffat’s now wife.
They’d been dating for a month when she tried to make plans with him for a night date.
“Ah, sorry, can’t hang, have to be at dunk practice at the United Center, let me see if I can get you a credential if you want to swing by,” he said. “It helped pave the way.”
In so many ways, it was a dream gig.
Though nowhere near as vivid as his current one.
These were secret ambitions, at first.
He wasn’t on a lifetime path to 30 Rock, spending every ounce of energy to one day become the next Rob Schneider.
“Junior high, high school, I thought I can play sports, too, and I focused on that a lot, but in the back of my mind, I maybe always had a feeling I wouldn’t be a starter in the NBA,” Moffat said. “In a way, that was the pipe dream.”
‘‘SNL’’ was the real dream, realized in 2016, when he was added to the cast after facing years of the gauntlet that is impressing Lorne Michaels and the producers.
In 2013, Moffat showcased for the producers and impressed them, and the following summer sent in a highlight reel. Living in Los Angeles soon after, he did another showcase at the vaunted IO West on Hollywood Blvd., but that didn’t go anywhere. Back in Chicago the next year, his old hometown agent — with whom he remains close — said that ‘‘SNL’’ was coming to town later that week.
“I happened to be in town, the producers and Lorne were all there, and I had a pretty good show,” he said. “A couple weeks later, I got to fly to New York and do the screen test. A couple days later, got hired.”
The serendipity of it is not lost on Moffat. Nor is the enormity of his gig.
“The magic of the place is never lost on me,” he said. “I wouldn’t say my stomach is in my throat like it was my first episode, but any time I’m about to perform, I get that boost of butterflies and adrenaline. I really love what I do. I’m never blasé about it, ho-hum, we’re doing live TV. It feels really amazing to be out there on the floor performing.”
Like any good point guard, Moffat has taken a diplomatic approach to what can be a sometimes humbling gig.
There are times he’ll have his bald cap on going into the meeting between dress rehearsal and the live taping and find out two seconds before that the sketch was cut and he has the bald cap on for nothing. But, he says, “The great thing about it is there’s always another week, another game.”
“Alex doesn’t have to always be on,” Doar said. “He doesn’t have to always be performing. When he’s in a room, he’s the funniest guy in that room. Well, I’ve been to after-parties and Will Ferrell’s there, and is Will Ferrell funnier than Alex? Probably.”
Alex traces his egalitarianism to the hardwood, back to running the point.
“I remember even in my interviews before I got hired, talking to Bryan Tucker, a great writer on the show, and he asked me, ‘Do you prefer to always be the kooky character, or do you enjoy straight-manning?’ I love them both,” Moffat said, “I like passing for an assist, I like shooting. Whatever is going to be best for the scene, that’s what I want to do.”
On Friday, he’ll get the chance to share the floor with, yes, Chance the Rapper and Common, but also two of his local childhood favorite players. His wish isn’t to hit the game-winning three.
“Growing up in the burbs, my friends and I would go to the big high school tournaments in Chicago, and I watched Quentin Richardson play in person. I watched him as a pro, too. I would love to be able to throw one up to him to stuff it down. Darius Miles, I watched his East St. Louis team beat the New Trier Trevians. It’ll be pretty cool to play with both of those guys.”
Will he throw down a dunk himself, perhaps, then dap himself on the forehead twice?
“As long as there’s a trampoline there, I’ll be able to do it.”