A conversation with Bill Hader

Unlike some of the guests on Saturday Night Live, Bill Hader didn’t have a crowd of managers and press agents surrounding him. It was just him and a red T-shirt.

Before he spoke with an audience of 1,700 in the Metropolitan Complex, he took a few minutes to speak with The Sunflower about his career in comedy.

When did you first realize you wanted to go into comedy?

It was more of wanting to be creative, saying ‘Man, I came out here (to L.A.) for a reason, and I’m not doing the reason. The thing I came out here to do was do creative things, and I’m not doing it.’ So I was like … ‘There’s this class I can take every Saturday … now in my schedule I have this creative thing. That’s great.’ Where for four years it was talking about it.

You would sit at coffee shops and talk about shooting a movie, talk about a script you were writing that you weren’t really writing because you were afraid of failing, in my case. What if I write this thing and it’s not, you know, ‘The Godfather’? You know? You put all this pressure on yourself and then just don’t do it. So it was like just go do it and see what happens.

What was your SNL audition like?

The day of my audition they called and said they’d like to see a political impression, but it can’t be George Bush, who was the president at the time. So I turned on C-SPAN. They were showing Parliament and Tony Blair was on. I called my friend from London and I did it and he said, “Is that supposed to be Tony Blair?” And I was like, ‘Dah! I’ll call you right back.’ I hung up, worked on it some more, called back, and he was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, alright.’

So I just wrote some stupid thing as I was walking to my audition and trying to memorize that. It was fully on purpose just to keep you off base. Which is what you’re constantly doing at SNL. You’re constantly getting stuff thrown at you.

What was it like to leave the SNL set for the last time?

It wasn’t as emotional as you’d think. You’ve been in it for eight years; it’s just like this constant forward motion. Even the last week — I knew it was my last week. There was the Stefon video, and I was focused on that, and there was…just constant insanity that you have to keep moving toward.

It wasn’t until the Stefon show was playing at the stage show that it finally hit me… and then the minute it was over, they took the wig and the shirt away, and my dresser was like, ‘Well I guess that’s that.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I guess that’s that.’

What is it like to be so well known for a character like Stefon?

It’s very flattering. It’s so funny because when I started on SNL, I was known as the impressions guy, and I was trying so hard to get an original character on…Stefon actually was this sketch that no one liked. Then we tried it again as a sketch, and it got cut. Then this guy Doug Abeles, who was running ‘Update’ at the time, said, ‘Why don’t you try him on ‘Update?’

It was just this irony of banging your head against a wall, and then you get the thing that you’re not expecting that goes phoooooosh when you’re really focusing on this sketch. I had always wanted a character that would have its own sketch, and then it was this thing I did on ‘Update’ that was the big thing.

How do you deal with failure as a comedian?

You’ve gotta get up and bomb a bunch. And you still bomb. I just watched a friend, and he’s one of the best stand ups in history, at least in the country, and I just saw him bomb last Saturday for like an hour. It just happens.

But yeah, I would say getting up and failing and trying not working and trying some more and banging your head against the wall, you just kind of move in increments and go, ‘OK, I won’t make that mistake again … ’

You just keep doing it, but you can’t be afraid of failure. It’s going to happen. No matter how well you strategize, it’s going to happen. It’s just how you deal with it. That’s what matters.