Saturday Night Live says goodbye to veteran cast members and hello to new faces each season. The revolving door at Studio 8H is part of the show’s tradition and one if its biggest appeals. That doesn’t mean that when Bill Hader announced his departure from the series last season we weren’t secretly hoping for that revolving door to jam.
Hader spent eight very strong years on Saturday Night Live, proving himself to be a comedic chameleon as capable of disappearing into spot-on celebrity impressions (nailing everyone from Franklin Roosevelt to Phil Spector and Clint Eastwood) as he was crafting some of the sketch show’s most original, not to mention most hilarious, characters. The rush of joy viewers felt, for example, as Hader slid behind the “Weekend Update” desk in his rolling chair dressed as crazed party promoter Stefon is a Belushi/Ferrell/Wiig kind of rarity.
So as difficult as it is to come to terms with Hader’s exit from SNL, there is at least some solace to be had in the knowledge that he scored his second consecutive Emmy nomination for best supporting actor in a comedy for his swan-song season. With the Emmys coming up and SNL heading back into production imminently—for the first time in almost a decade without Hader—we chatted with the star about his fondest memories from his time on the show, what he’ll miss most (and least) about it, and what it is that makes Stefon so funny.
And to paraphrase the flamboyant city correspondent himself, this chat has everything: Jewish Dracula, the coffee at the Playboy Mansion, Clint Eastwood’s RNC chair, Kanye West ...
So all your eggs are in this past season’s premiere, the Seth MacFarlane episode you chose as your submission. Why that one?
I didn’t put too much thought into it, but I do remember that the Seth MacFarlane episode was the first one of the season, and Lorne Michaels said at the after party, “I think you had a perfect episode.” There was the puppet sketch with Seth MacFarlane, and I also did Clint Eastwood going on the road with the chair from the Republican National Convention. And Lorne just said I had the perfect show. I didn’t even remember what was in it when it came time to submit for the Emmys, I just remembered, well, Lorne said I had a good show! I guess that one. It was only later that I realized that Stefon’s not in that episode.
It is surprising that your Emmy tape doesn’t have Stefon in it!
Stefon is such a popular character. So I think that’s probably why I got nominated in the first place.
What is it about Stefon that delights everyone so much?
I think everyone knows someone like that in real life. That’s the thing that I get from people. Strangers on the street will say, “You know, I work with a guy like that.” Or “My co-worker’s like that.” Or “My boyfriend’s like that.” John Mulaney, who writes this with me, and I never set out to make this character so big. Any time I consciously thought, oh, this is good, it goes bad. Or audiences shrug. At the time we were just kind of going with it. It’s more instinctual. It’s the same thing with that puppet sketch that people seem to like. I have people come up and quote that to me. And I never remember what they’re quoting, because I never watch back show.
So you’re the one person in the world who has never actually seen your Stefon sketch?
I’ve seen, like, clips when they’re played at talk shows before my appearance. But I don’t watch them. My wife does, and I’ll hear them in the other room. And I’m just like, can we just fast-forward, please?
Why is it so hard for you to keep a straight face during the Stefon sketches?
John Mulaney would change stuff on the cards right before we go live. Or he would tell me when we’re walking out, “Oh, we changed the club promoter’s name to Gay Liota.” Always really simple things. Very rarely was it a whole joke—that happened maybe twice, where a whole one, two, three setup was new. Jewish Dracula, that was one that was a full joke that was new. Usually he’ll just change a detail, like when he wrote in that Spud Webb was at one of the clubs. He would just change a line or just even the wording of things and I knew why he thought that was funny, so I would start laughing at the idea of John finding it funny. It was super-inside jokes between John and I. It’s like a whole country watching John and I laugh at our sense of humor. Even members of the writing staff are like, “Why did you laugh at that?”
The Jewish Dracula named Sidney Applebaum made me laugh really hard, not because that’s such a funny joke of that name, but that name is from one of our favorite jokes in the Woody Allen movie Love and Death, where a guy is talking about how history will mark his name, Sidney Applebaum, and it’s just the lamest name. It just made us laugh. So it was all very personal.
Did any of the clubs sound like anything you’d ever want to go to?
None of them. No way. Going to any loud place is terrible for me. I’m bad at loud restaurants. One time I was a PA on a movie called Collateral Damage, an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, and I was like 21. We were shooting it in Mexico, and a bunch of PAs and crew guys—I’m a little a neurotic—talked me into going to a club that was like in a basement in Mexico. That’s the closest I’ve ever been to going to one of Stefon’s clubs. I was terrified. I thought I was going to die. I stood in the corner like the kid at the end of The Blair Witch Project, just terrified. I got invited to the Playboy Mansion with the Lonely Island guys after their first season on SNL, and I sat in the corner drinking coffee and talking to Akiva Schaffer about what aspect ratio he was going to shoot Hot Rod in. Like, that’s what we talk about. Andy will be like, “You’re at the Playboy Mansion!” Like, I’m married, A. And B, there are naked people around. It’s weird.
So one of Stefon’s clubs is something from your worst nightmares?
Yes, it is completely ironic that I play a character anything like that. But no one’s ever come to me and been like, “Hey, do you want to go to this club?” They see me and are like, “Oh, you look like a dad.”
Now is about when you’d report back for a new season of SNL. How are you feeling, now that your body clock is telling you it’s time to go back, but you’re not actually going?
You know, it’s just different. I think the fact that we’re in California makes it a little better. It’s just been a crazy move, and this summer has been so insane. Our family relocated to California. My wife had a movie coming out. I was working on promoting four different movies, actually, and working on South Park stuff. And in California suddenly you have cars, and you can’t order food the way you would in New York, you know? It’s just a different lifestyle. I think that happening made it more real that our life is different. Maybe that’s made it a little easier. I mean, I say that now. But come that Saturday, premiere night, that will be really weird.
Will you watch?
Oh yeah. And that’s the cool thing. Now I’m going to be one of those dickheads who’s like, “Oh, I like that sketch!” You always knew when someone fast-forwarded through one of your sketches on TiVo. Like, “Oh, I loved that sketch in the school where you wore a red shirt.” It’s like, “Oh, you fast-forwarded through the sketch on TiVo, didn’t you?” Now I get to do that to them. “Oh, Taran, that was a great sketch. That one with you and Bobby. You were ... piano players?”
What part of the grind of putting on the show are you going to miss most?
I loved rehearsing. I’ll particularly miss what Kristen Wiig and I would call the “Friday-night crazy.” I don’t know if we coined that term. It might have been there forever. But by Friday night you’ve been working like crazy all week and shooting pretapes, and rehearsal can go past midnight that night, and you just go crazy and get really punchy. So that was really fun, because we all just laugh a lot. Fred Armisen, especially, will get like that.
What part are you glad to be done with?
I hated pitch meetings. Pitch meetings were my least favorite part of the week. I just gave up. I was so terrible at them. You sit down and have to pitch an idea to a host. Some people are fantastic at it and have a lot fun with it. I was not very good at it. I disliked it because I was not very good it. Some people have really funny, inventive pitches, and mine are just like, “Uhh ... so we go to Starbucks together ...” My pitches always brought the room down. There were so many funny ones, and then it would come to me, and I’d be like, “I don’t know. We’re astronauts, maybe?”
What’s the story from your years on the show that’s the one big, great story that you’re going to be telling your grandkids over and over again decades from now?
There are so many of them. There was a moment when we would go out ice skating for the Christmas show. We did twice when I was there, once with Jimmy Fallon and once with Jack Black. For some reason just being out there with the cast and having the whole 30 Rock ice-skating rink to ourselves was really cool. I always like that. It was very special, to be there with those people you genuinely cared about and who always made you laugh. That’s one of those moments when it really hit home: I’m really lucky I’m here.
Do you still remember the day you found out you were cast on the show?
Oh yes. I was at the Newsroom Café in L.A. on Robertson and Beverly. I was with my manager. I went to the restroom, and when I came back, she had his cellphone and was standing up at the table. She handed me the phone and said, “Take this and go outside.” I said, “Hello!” And it was Marci Klein. She said, “You know you got hired, right?” I was like, “No, I didn’t know that.” She said, “Oh! Well, you got hired! Congratulations. We need you here in like two days.”
Who was the host on your first show?
Steve Carell was the first host, and the musical guest was Kanye West. Kanye West was the musical guest on my last show, too. He was very nice at the after-party. I’ve never really spoken to him that much, but he came over to me and said, “So I understand I was the musical guest for both your first show and last show.” I was like, “Yeah.” And he was like, “Oh, wow, congratulations!” It was very sweet. He was so normal. I was like, oh, this is Kanye West here congratulating me. It was great.