By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Feb 15, 2023 at 5:31 PM

If you've ever had the distinct delight of working in retail or customer service, then you probably nodded your head and laughed too hard at some recent TikTok clips making the rounds, starring a mustachioed IKEA employee having quite enough.  

The hilariously dramatic and deeply cathartic comedy rage-fits – saying everything a retail employee's ever wanted to snap at customers but couldn't unless they work at Ed Debevic's – are the brainchild of Scott Seiss. The Baltimore-born comedian scored a pop culture breakthrough – and probably a lifetime ban from IKEA – with these all-too-sympathetic viral videos, the first installment nabbing almost 10 million views on TikTok and its many sequels regularly landing a few million as well.

Now, after getting his name out there as "The Angry Retail Guy" on social media, Seiss is making the leap from the phone screen to the big screen. His feature film debut role, however, deals with a situation just slightly less relatable than battling ornery customers: battling an ornery bear high on cocaine. 

No, not "A Man Called Otto." It's "Cocaine Bear," a tantalizing title that hilariously explains everything and nothing. Coming out Feb. 24, the horror-comedy easily ranks as one of the most anticipated – and certainly most memed – movies of the year, inspired by the actual story of a black bear in the South that stumbled upon a bunch of smuggled coke lost in the woods. And from there, well, it's safe to say some creative liberties were taken with the true story – ones that have turned the horror-comedy into "Snakes on a Plane" for a new generation before it's even hit a single screen. And ones that, judging by the trailer, involve Seiss' paramedic character fleeing from a lot of drug-fueled bear-related danger.

"'Cocaine Bear': It's just one of those things where you hear, you go, 'What the hell could that even be?'" Seiss said. "When I saw the trailer ... obviously I liked it because I'm in it a lot, but even if I wasn't in it, I'd still be so excited to see the movie. It just looks like a really fun night at the movies."

When he's not dealing with crabby customers or crabby coked-up grizzlies, Seiss is also on the road doing stand-up – with his latest stop bringing him to the Improv Milwaukee on Thursday, Feb. 16. Before he takes the stage and the screen, though, I got a chance to chat with the rising comedy star about his TikTok breakthrough, his real-life retail experiences and his unusual on-screen co-star. 

OnMilwaukee: When you got the script for “Cocaine Bear,” were you excited or were you like, “Oh, well, this could be the beginning and the end of my film career in one foul swoop?” What was your first reaction?

Scott Seiss: It’s funny, man. So the way I got it was, when the “Angry Retail Guy” videos were first going viral, I was just checking any message that came through – people reaching out about stand-up shows and all that. And literally the casting director’s assistant messaged me on Facebook, and it went to my spam folder. So I saw this message that just had the subject line – COCAINE – in all caps. I was like, well, that’s definitely not a real thing – so I didn’t look at it for weeks. But then, on a whim, I was like, “Well, I guess I should check everything and not miss out on anything.” So I opened the message and I saw it’s a movie directed by Elizabeth Banks, produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – and they want me to audition for it. And I was like, “Oh my god, please tell me I didn’t miss this!” So now I just answer any spam message that comes in, thinking it might be a movie.

You’ve donated to so many fake Nigerian princes now.

Exactly. I’m like, “So when I can I expect the script in the mail? Here’s another $1,000.”

So I did the audition and, a month later, heard that I got the part. I’ve always wanted to be in movies – never thinking that that was, like, possible. I didn’t care what the name of the movie was; I was like, “I’m in.” But I’m lucky as hell that my first one was something so fun. It’s an action movie, it’s a horror movie, it’s a comedy – I got to do stunt work. Never in a million years did I think I would be doing that much stuff in a film. I always thought, coming from the TikTok world or whatever, that I could’ve easily been slotted into a movie where I’m getting attacked by a bear and I look at the camera and go, “Well, it’s still better than customer service!” Like doing a bit thing. But they were super collaborative and I was treated just like any other actor on the set doing work. It wasn’t just like a joke part. I mean, it’s a comedy, but I felt like a part of the team.

You didn’t feel like it was shtick – “Look, it's that guy from TikTok.”


TikTok is this gift in so many ways where it’s such an incredible outlet to get material out there or your name out there. But there’s also this perception amongst some people, where it’s just TikTok or just a fad. How do you feel about making your name on TikTok and what that means?

Dude, I’m just happy that anybody knows my name. (Laughs) I’m not going to complain about it. Truthfully, it’s one of those things where comedians and performers have to adapt to what people are watching. And especially during the pandemic, everybody was watching TikTok – and that’s why every other social media platform now has their own version of it now with Shorts and Reels. I’d go into comedy clubs, and I can tell sometimes that there are other comics or club owners that have this perception of “this person’s from TikTok; they might not know what they’re doing for an hour on stage.” Before I went viral, I’d been doing stand-up for about nine years – so I had a background in it. So I was always quick to walk in and go, “No, no, no, no, I was a comedian before TikTok!” 

But I look at these club schedules, and I recognize the faces as the people that I watch on my phone. A lot of headliners are coming from these places now, and it’s just what you have to do now. It’s all a part of the game now. You have to be making content and building a following online if you want to get more opportunities. 

My buddy Lyle Drescher, me and him did open mics together in Baltimore. He's another comedian I knew when I was starting out and who also built this huge following online, where he dresses up like a gecko and has people call in and tell him whatever insane sh*t they want to. But I was talking with him about this, and he said something very smart: TikTok is essentially the new Johnny Carson. It’s the thing that people watch right before they go to bed. They’re in bed, scrolling through, and if you have a big enough hit on that, it can launch you into a more public sphere.

So for your stand-up then – without spoiling anything – do you leave the “Angry Retail Guy” stuff for TikTok separate from your stand-up, or do you try to work that into the set?

No, I weave it in. If you like the angry guy screaming at the phone, that’s definitely a part of the show. I like to do both. The majority of the set is just me talking and doing bits about my life and my background and general observational stuff. Then I have a section where I talk to the crowd, and I have the music that comes from my videos playing on stage and yelling about work. It’s all combined into one show.

Before TikTok, obviously, I wasn’t doing any of that. But once those went viral, I had to write and really work that into the act, because it was like, “Oh my god, people are actually going to come to see me for a specific reason now.” This isn’t just me showing up to an open mic trying to do five minutes of random sh*t at a bar; I’ve got to have an act now.

Where did the “Angry Retail Guy” come from? I assume from a terrible job in your past?

Well, I did work at IKEA. I worked in the call center.

So that first video was ripped from the headlines?

Yeah, the first couple were things I just heard working there. I had jokes written them that I wanted to do on stage, but then COVID happened, and I didn’t get to be on stage for quite a while. So I started making TikToks with them. Before I did the first “Angry Retail Guy,” I did a few other videos that didn’t take as well but I was just having fun and experimenting. And then I saw the trend going around with the music, and I was like, “OK, OK, OK …  I think this could work as a customer service person losing their mind, going over the edge and mask-off going, ‘What the f*ck is your problem?!’” 

I did the first one, and then the next day it had over a million views on TikTok overnight. I was like, “Oh my god, I finally got something.” (Laughs) After years of doing comedy, I was looking at it going, “Holy crap, is this real?” So I sat down and made, like, 40 more of them, just kept making them, and it kept getting a response. And then it led me to a movie called “Cocaine Bear,” which was obvious from the beginning. 

Natural progression. So would you say IKEA customer service was the worst job you ever had, or was there a worse one?

It’s just like … every job is bad. (Laughs) You know what I mean? I loved the people I worked with at IKEA. I would say most days were good. But you’d just have certain customers that would make you mad or something going on with the company where it’s like you get tired of it after a certain point. But IKEA wasn’t that bad. I worked at Domino’s before that; that was probably worse. But for some reason I just chose to do an IKEA background instead of a Domino’s one, and now my archnemesis is IKEA. (Laughs)

Did they reach out to you about it and were like, “Hey. What’s the deal.”

You know, there was an article when the videos were first taking off in the Baltimore Sun, and they reached out to IKEA for a statement. And IKEA said something like, “Scott does not work for us” – which was true at the time – “and he does not represent the feelings of our employees.” Which I think some people disagreed with. (Laughs)

Your co-star in “Cocaine Bear” is a cocaine-addicted bear. What was that like, on your first film, to be working with such a CGI-intensive situation? Did they have the fake green bear to guide you, or just the director yelling, “The bear is there!”

It was a little bit of both! There was a guy playing the bear; his name is Allan (Henry), and he’s from New Zealand. He was incredibly nice, and he trained with Andy Serkis to do these CGI or motion capture characters. It was pretty incredible, man; he had these triangular foam pieces that he would put on his arms and legs so he could stand on all fours and be as tall as a bear, and he could even run and sprint with these things on. It was pretty scary. He was very good.

There were some shots where it would be him. Like, you can see in the trailer the bear jumps out and is on top of a door that I’m under. Sometimes it would be him standing on top of the door. Sometimes it would be just someone holding a bear head on top of the door and putting it near my face. And sometimes it would be Elizabeth Banks just shouting, “The bear’s on top of you! The bear’s smelling you! The bear’s drooling on you!” It was a combination of all of those.

So what’s next for you?

Still touring around with stand-up. I’ve got a couple of other irons in the fire – nothing I can say for right now. But I’m also in Randall Park’s directorial debut called “Shortcomings.” It’s this really great movie – kind of a romantic comedy, grounded, cynical, really funny – that just premiered at Sundance. I’m in that with a bunch of other really great people – Jacob Batalon, Debby Ryan – and it’s really good. 

I’ve been very lucky and I’m very grateful for all the people who continue to watch and share the videos. It’s been a wild ride these past couple of years, man. I hope it continues – but I’m totally ready also for whatever comes next. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.