Between "Saturday Night Live," "South Park," Adult Swim and his various film roles, chances are Bill Hader had a hand in almost every comedy thing you've liked in recent years. This week on Bill Simmons' B.S. Report podcast, he dished on all of that plus his first encounter with Bill Murray, Jon Hamm's knockout "SNL" debut, and Stefon's secret to success.
Hader, now in his seventh season on "SNL" (his contract is up after next year) revealed a lot about how the show has shaped his comedic style throughout his life. When he was nine years old, he honed his timing by quoting Phil Hartman's Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer sketches and other bits, like a kid who plays "Stairway To Heaven" over and over again to learn guitar. The John Lovitz and Dana Carvey years were "his cast" but it was really Hartman, the show's best straight-man, who inspired him the most comedically.
Hader also praised the "SNL" hosts like Justin Timberlake who understand the notion that you don't really "act" on "SNL," you perform. He went on at length about Jon Hamm, who has only hosted three times but has become "Like A Baldwin" on the show. Hader cited his first time hosting on Halloween in 2010 as, "one of the best times I've ever had on the show."
And Hamm wasn't just fun to work with. According to Hader he was thrown a big curveball between dress rehearsal and showtime when Lorne Michaels was less than pleased with his Dean Martin impression in "Vincent Price's Halloween Special" featuring with Hader. Lorne asked Hamm what other characters he could do, and Hamm said he could do James Mason. That's why in the version that aired, below, Hamm ends up telling Dean Martin jokes with a James Mason accent. The costume and writing stayed the same. Simmons and Hader joked that Mason, who isn't exactly known for being a misogynistic drunk who wets his pants, was probably pretty confused and/or offended by the sketch:
Hader also offered some insight into his most popular "SNL" character, Stefon, who kids apparently love (go to 34:00 minutes in to hear Hader's hilarious impression of a Stefon-lover's parent). He then explained why the character works so well in the "Weekend Update" format and not a traditional sketch:
"The nice thing about 'Update' is, I've learned over the years that you can be loose," Hader said, after previously explaining how "big" you have to play your characters in regular sketches. "You can be little bit more nuanced with the performance. I figured that out when I did James Carville -- I did all this weird stuff during it and was like, 'Oh wow, I can get away with that!'"
Hader briefly went into how he and writer John Mulaney come up with the clubs Stefon advertises, like how they start with a bizarre location or sound, say, an exploding blimp or a mom saying, "Kevin?" (one idea that never made it to air was a club that's written and directed by James L. Brooks).
Apparently, Mulaney will also change the cue cards after dress rehearsal so that Hader can actually crack up when he gets to the end of a club description and reads something he didn't see coming.
Since "The B.S. Report" is a sports podcast, Hader had to touch on this season's Jeremy "Linsanity" cold open. He admitted that he and the writers had to keep reminding themselves to make their point of view very clear, something he thinks "South Park" has mastered over the years when dealing with controversial and topical jokes such as that.
"You dont want to be called out," Hader explained. "If that sketch is muddy then it looks like we're being racist."
Hader, who has voiced characters and served as a creative consultant and producer on "South Park," says the animation gives them more freedom to make tougher topics funny. "I learn a lot from those guys," Hader said about Trey Parker and Matt Stone. "They're at the top of their game."
He also pointed out that "SNL" and "South Park" are two of the few shows that make new topical episodes in less than a week. But unlike "South Park," when Hader is finished with five long nights of writing and rehearsing, he has to do a live performance.
"When you're at your absolute, most exhausted... That's when you have to be at the top of your game," Hader said, adding that a surge of adrenaline is what gets him through it. His description of the first time he did a cold opening and said the "Live From New York" line sounds incredible, from waiting on a quiet set while the crew counts down, to screaming "...It's Saturday night!" at the end and having the rest of the cast greet you backstage like the kid in "Goodfellas" after his first time in court.
Last but not least, Hader also told his very own Bill Murray story. Veteran "SNL" writer Jim Downey called him up and told him to come to a bar and go to the back room. When he got there Downey and Bill Murray were sitting there alone watching a Yankees vs. Angels playoffs game.
"And I just sat there with Bill Murray and watched the baseball game. And it was awesome," Hader recounted, adding that after chatting with Murray about "SNL," he realized nothing has really changed in the past 30 years on the show. He said they have the same problems with sketches getting cut, characters being too weird and the general politics of the show. But Hader was quick not to compare himself to the living legend, who he also mentioned was the only person he'd ever seen Matt Stone and Trey Parker become starstruck by when they all met backstage at the 2011 Comedy Awards.
Listen to the full podcast to hear more insight into "SNL" and "South Park," as well as Hader and Simmons' shared ghost story experiences and a detailed explanation as to why "Jaws" is the greatest movie ever made. At the end Hader also mentions that he and Paul Rudd spend time together at Rudd's private bar, drinking scotch and watching "SCTV" episodes on YouTube before discussing them at length.
If that isn't a comedy nerd's wet dream, I don't know what is.