When asked to describe the cinematic masterpiece that is Cocaine Bear, Scott Seiss ’16, media and communication studies, didn’t mince any words to deliver his thoughts on the hit film based on true events.
“I think ‘cocaine’ and ‘bear,’ just those two words pretty much sum it up. A wild rollercoaster ride of gore and jokes.”
What started as a Facebook message to then-agentless Seiss’ spam folder with the suspicious but apt subject line “COCAINE” has led to a debut on the silver screen and launched this Retriever from Dundalk onto the national comedy stage.
Bear for now, dog for life
Seiss, who plays the ill-fated paramedic Tom in Elizabeth Banks’ recent romp, Cocaine Bear, credits much of his comedic career to the opportunities and support he got while attending UMBC.
“There were a lot of things that came from UMBC that I think really just helped me along the comedy journey and gave me a lot of confidence and experience and skills that I might not have necessarily had going somewhere else,” says Seiss.
At this point in his career, there are a few places you may have seen Seiss—on stage performing with Dog-Collar Comedy Troupe (he was a part of the founding group at UMBC 10 years ago), on TikTok with his viral “Angry Ikea Guy” series, or opening for the likes of Patton Oswalt (on tour in 2022) or for Bo Burnham at UMBC in 2014. (At the time he thought, “Well, I’ve peaked. This is the coolest thing I’ll ever get to do in comedy.”)
Seiss got his start on UMBC’s Flat Tuesdays stage and then started bouncing around Baltimore to begin his stand-up journey. He eventually moved to New Jersey, pursued stand up in New York every night, and then the pandemic happened. That’s when he turned to TikTok. Drawing on his own experiences in customer service, Seiss soon amassed a massive following and, once a compilation video of his hits started making the rounds, Hollywood took notice.
Seiss explains, “Elizabeth Banks and her husband and producing partner Max Handelman saw the videos and loved them, thought they were funny, and they were like, ‘We got to see this guy screaming for his life.’”
Retriever skills on the silver screen
They got their money’s worth from Seiss’ shouts. On set, he says, “I had to do one day of all screaming, where I was just screaming and getting attacked.” He credits Lynn Watson, theatre, for his vocal technique. “I did all the stuff that she had taught me, the Fitzmaurice diaphragmatic breathing, tremors, all this kind of stuff, to be able to project and scream. I never lost my voice.”
In fact, Seiss often thought of advice he got from UMBC while filming. “Eve Muson, who is the best acting professor of all time, is also the best acting coach of all time. It was always her voice in my head when I was acting. I could just hear her saying, ‘Don’t pretend to be afraid of the bear, be afraid of the bear.’ That was one of her go-tos: don’t pretend, actually do it,” says Seiss. “So, every time I did a take on Cocaine Bear, I would just go back and I’d go, ‘Oh my God, would Eve have liked that?’ That was my barometer for if it was good.”
It’s a mutual admiration for Muson. “I loved working with Scott when he was a student here at UMBC. He was my assistant director for our epic production of Rhinoceros. Scott was our chief script doctor—every night I would send him home with notes to update this classic work of political theatre,” said Muson, who has been at UMBC since 2009. “Every day he’d come in with really funny gags and jokes for the actors to try out. I’m delighted (but hardly surprised) that Scott’s considerable comedic talents are being recognized by his TikTok following and now the film industry.”
The mentorship he received from the UMBC faculty played a huge part in his success. “Jason Loviglio from media and communications is just incredible. He really encouraged me when it came to comedy, specifically,” remembers Seiss.
Seiss also attributes some of his comedy prowess to his peers, including the other performers in UMBC’s Dog-Collar Comedy Troupe. “It was just nice being around such a creative and funny and supportive group of people who just wanted to push each other and try to be as funny as possible,” says Seiss.
Sitting down to write for stand up
Cocaine Bear may have wrapped, but fans looking for more can catch him in Randall Park’s directorial debut, Shortcomings, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year. He’s also working on new content for his stand-up tour.
“My writing style is pretty chaotic. Sometimes I’ll sit down and try to go through some sort of free-write exercise to pull an idea out, and then sometimes it’s just like you’re walking around, you get an idea,” says Seiss.
For any budding creatives looking to break into the business, Seiss says, “The most important thing is that you have to make your own stuff and you have to show people that you can do it before they will start letting you.”
Well, that and always check your spam messages on Facebook (proceed with caution).