The Culture Report: ‘Cocaine Bear’ hidden gem is a TikTok comic from Dundalk

Published 3/5/2023 5:30 a.m. EST, Updated 3/8/2023 3:23 p.m. EST

Baaltimore local, Scott Seiss , stars in the movie "Cocaine Bear."

TikTok comedian Scott Seiss promoted his new feature film across social media with the bluntness people have come to expect: “Here’s what you need to know before you see ‘Cocaine Bear’: Nothing. You don’t need to read a comic book from 1978. The bear wasn’t introduced at the end of ‘The Eternals.’ If you’ve ever heard the words ‘cocaine’ or ‘bear’ before, you’re completely up to speed.”

He’s right. In director Elizabeth Banks’ new, outrageous horror comedy, “Cocaine Bear,” a drug dealer’s plane wrecks in Georgia, where duffel bags filled with kilos of coke are discovered and devoured by a menacing black bear in the state’s Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. For the next 90 minutes, the film takes you on a chaotic ride as the dealers try to recover their product, a geeked-up bear psychotically pursues the trail of powder, and park visitors are caught in the crossfire.

“The casting director’s assistant found my Facebook and sent me a message on there. It went to my spam folder and sat there for a week,” Seiss said in a phone interview. “One day, I said, ‘Let me check everything,’ and saw a message with a subject that just said, in all caps, ‘COCAINE’. I click it open and see the details and I was like, ‘Please don’t tell me I missed it.’”

Seiss, a Dundalk native and University of Maryland, Baltimore County alum, didn’t miss his chance. He plays an overzealous EMT responding to a 911 call at Chattahoochee, which ends up being one of the film’s most anxiety-inducing scenes. He is only in the movie, which also features Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Margo Martindale and the late Ray Liotta, for a few minutes, but it’s a notable turn for the nascent actor.

“I was pumped about the idea of the movie because it’s very crowded right now with movies,” he said of the opportunity. “A lot of movies end up feeling like commercials for other movies. But just that title is so wild that it felt like something that could cut through the noise. So I was all in.”

Seiss worked his way to the big screen through his viral “Angry Retail Guy” TikToks, performed from the perspective of a jaded IKEA employee and drawn from his own experiences working for the company near their White Marsh location. In the videos, Seiss plays both the employee and the customer asking the annoying questions: “Do you have any coupons? You’re open for 10 more minutes? Do you work here?” Seiss, to that, answers in typically deadpan fashion, “Obviously, yes. How many people you know wear a name tag recreationally?”

These routines have won him the admiration of many, which isn’t a shock. Most people, at some stage of their lives, work in customer service and can relate to the agony of being pulled away from downtime to help someone find obvious answers to questions. For that, Seiss can name celebrities such as LeBron James, Ben Stiller and Josh Charles among fans of his work.

Seiss’s popularity across all socials — he has more than 3 million followers (with 1.7 million on TikTok alone) — likely helped him land the role: Banks tweeted one of Seiss’s IKEA videos on Twitter when welcoming him to the cast in 2021. And the “Cocaine Bear” trailer, which quickly went viral and inspired memes across the internet, featured Seiss prominently, a marketing move that Deadline box office editor Anthony D’Alessandro wrote “accentuat[ed] the pic’s sell in trailers and digital bits.”

You can also find Seiss beyond the digital world. The stand-up comic — who improvised many of the lines from the already infamous ambulance scene, Banks told Vulture — has opened for the likes of comedians Patton Oswalt and Roy Wood Jr., and is currently on his own comedy tour across the country. But “Angry Retail Guy” will always follow him.

You won’t experience Seiss’s regional specificity in “Cocaine Bear,” as he’s playing someone from 1980s Georgia. But what you will still find detectable is his ability to capture the particular eccentricities, gripes and outlooks of people trying to, somewhat, do their jobs correctly. And for movies that seek to illuminate the ridiculousness of everyday people, Seiss will likely find himself on more screens, channeling those folks with keen, hilarious familiarity.

“If I had imagined what movie I could be in, I never thought it would be action and comedy. But it was amazing. It set the bar high,” he said. “I only want to fight drugged-out animals now.”

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