Bill Hader is one of Saturday Night Live's best breakout stars. After eight years of sketches he's making his mark on movies with breakout roles is Superbad, Skeleton Twins, Inside Out, and now as a romantic lead in Trainwreck.
I think something people don’t know about you is that when you first went out to Hollywood it wasn’t to do comedy; you ended up doing assistant editing. What was the original plan?
The original plan was to move to LA and become a filmmaker. From a young age that’s what I was interested in - being a filmmaker and not so much performing. I performed in little plays here and there. What happened was – and this happens a lot – you spend six years in Los Angeles just trying to pay the bills doing jobs like being a production assistant or assistant editor or a post-production PA or a runner and you don’t have time to be creative. You don’t have time to do your own thing because you have no money, you’re broke.
You mean your time working on the Playboy Channel wasn’t creative?
It wasn’t creative at all! Are you familiar with the show?
Familiar in the sense that we’ll definitely put clips in…
Night Calls was a phone-sex talk show and people would call in live – it was my first live TV experience - people called in live with fantasies. It was hosted by two porn stars. And my job was to sit with a dozen porn stars off to the right, and they’d say, ‘all right Bill, get Cynthia and Candy ready’. And I’d go, ‘Cynthia! You’re a cowboy’. They had all these costumes there, and they’d go and do their thing. All my roomates were like ‘that must be really awesome’, and I’d say, ‘no, it’s actually the saddest thing on earth. I felt so embarrassed all the time’.
So that being your first live TV experience was there any useable lesson from that you could port over to Saturday Night Live?
None at all.
When do you did land on SNL, I’ve heard you were really nervous, that it was five seasons before you felt comfortable. Why so long?
It was really rough! You’re always on shaky ground there. Each week you just want to get airtime, you want to get on air and prove yourself. I’m not by nature a very competitive person. I shy away when I feel like people are being competitive. It’s like they’re throwing a ball at me and I never catch it and throw it back. I let it bounce off my chest and roll over there and walk off.
Competition is like the DNA of SNL…
Seth Myers and Amy Poehler taught me that you’re right, competitiveness is the DNA of SNL but we don’t have to be competitive with each other. We are an ensemble. So yeah, my thing didn’t get picked, but I’m a fan of Kristen Wiig and I’m a fan of Kenan Thompson, and their thing is getting picked and I’m in that sketch, so do your best job. And that’s what I always tell new people when they’re new - that your whole job on that show is to bring two funny things to the table every Wednesday and committing to every sketch on that show. That’s all you can do.
Good lesson for life really.
That’s all you can do. Everything else is out of your control. So just do that. And do the best job you can. So once I felt comfortable in that and you go over the whole thing of ‘this person hit, and I didn’t’ - it was a great lesson in how showbiz works. There’s no reason for why things work and don’t work. What I was happy with is that everybody was [up and down] but we all stayed friends. Everybody was cool with each other. And that took four years to understand that. We’re all good with each other.
The first time I did Vinni Veducci, the Italian talk show host, everyone applauded because they knew I needed that. I’d been going for seven or eight shows with nothing. Everything original thing I brought up to the table died, nothing was working. So when Julia Louis Dreyfus was hosting and I did Vinni Veducci everyone applauded and I felt like I belonged here.
But not everyone on SNL had such an august comedic streak in their family. I understand your dad did stand up at one point?
He did stand up while I was growing up. I never saw his act, but he would tell me later about it. But he stopped because it was me and my two sisters and we were really young, so my mom was like, ‘go back to being a truck driver’. So he went back to being a truck driver.
Does that give you an indication of how good he actually was?
I don’t know. He’s hilarious. And I think the thing that my dad helped me with is that he introduced me to great comedy at a young age. I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing if he hadn’t done that. My friends liked certain things, butwhat he showed me was never the popular stuff – it was Monty Python, Spinal Tap, and early Woody Allen movies.
The stuff that you take into your heart as a young comedy fan.
Yeah, I was seeing that as age six. That was comedy. If asked to define comedy I’d think Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It wasn’t a sitcom.
And it’s not like now when everything exists on Youtube and everything’s searchable. When you find stuff like that you think, this is mine. There’s a sense of ownership.
The reason I gravitate towards that is it reminds me of the stuff my dad used to like.
Bill Hader, you’ve been a pleasure to talk to.
Thanks buddy. You too.