'SNL' Star Bill Hader Talks the New Season, Jon Hamm's Return and His 'Surreal Life' Experience with Corey Feldman
by Kim Potts, posted Sep 24th 2010 2:30PM
'Saturday Night Live' begins its 36th season this week (Sept. 25, 11:30PM ET, NBC), and one of the highlights of the venerable sketch comedy series for the last five seasons has been the hilarious Bill Hader, whose dead-on impressions of Vincent Price and Al Pacino, plus original characters like chain-smoking Italian talk show host Vinny Vedicci and excited 'Weekend Update' City Correspondent Stefon, have made him a fan favorite.
The Oklahoma native's big break came when 'Will & Grace' star Megan Mullally saw him perform in Los Angeles and recommended that 'SNL' producer Lorne Michaels fly him to New York for an audition. He's also a frequent big-screen presence in movies like 'Superbad,' 'Tropic Thunder,' 'Hot Rod,' 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs' and 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.'
As he enjoyed his last week of summer vacay last week, he talked to AOL TV about the new season, the potential of a Stefon movie, his favorite 'SNL' guest hosts, the inspiration behind 'SNL's kissing family, the comedic skills of Tom Cruise and his reality TV past.
So, not to get all second-grade teacher on you, but what did you do on your summer vacation this year?
I had a very ... well, a summer vacation. It was the first time since I've been on the show that I wasn't working on a movie or something else. I kind of, you can hear, I have a daughter that turns one next month. So we decided to hang out and make it a family summer, which was really great.
Did you spend it in the city, in New York, hanging out?
Partially in New York, and partially in Idaho, where my wife (Maggie Carey, creator and star of 'The Jeannie Tate Show') is from. Kind of paddled around for a little bit. It was nice. We got out of New York once it hit like 110 degrees outside. You know, it was time to go someplace. 'Let's go to the mountains!'
Now that you're going into your sixth season on 'Saturday Night Live,' is it still tough at this point to get back into it after you've been off for a while?
Oh, yeah. I mean, you know kind of what to expect a little better, but at the same time you have no idea what to expect. Each week there's a new challenge or there's a new thing that you're like, 'I have to do what?!' (Laughing) It's like, 'OK, I can figure this out.' I think it's also healthy to never have the attitude of like, 'Yeah, I got this.' That's what's so nice when new people show up ... You see their energy, and for me at least, it brings my energy up, because it's like, 'Oh, yeah! We're on 'SNL'! This is awesome!'
Were there any stories, news, or pop culture happenings, that happened during the summer that made you go, 'Oh, I wish we were on the air right now!'?
I'm sure there was, and then I immediately cancel those things out. I tend to, during the summer, just totally check out in that area, you know? I spent the majority of the summer catching up on 'Breaking Bad.' And I'm so excited that Bryan Cranston's going to be hosting our second show back. And I met Aaron Paul at a party and just totally freaked out, much in a similar way that I freaked out, we all freaked out, when Jon Hamm came in. We were just all like, 'Oooooh!,' because we're all huge 'Mad Men' nerds. So, you know, summer was mostly spent catching up on 'Breaking Bad,' seeing a couple of movies, and then watching our daughter (Hannah) try to walk.
So thinking about the show and what we'll see this season, I have to ask: Will we see Stefon again? He's the best new character on the show.
Oh, yeah, I hope so. I mean, it seems like Stefon will, you know, have to come back in, doing, talking about something. There's always stuff going on in the city, so, Stefon definitely needs to be there. That's been an interesting thing for me, doing that character at the end of the season, and then this summer just realizing like I have a whole new fan base. (Laughing) It's just great. I really appreciated this one person, this guy who came up to me and said, 'You know, I'm gay, and I love Stefon, but I appreciate Stefon because the joke isn't that he's gay.' That made me feel really good, because we were very conscious of that, you know. That he's a gay guy is just kind of part of his character, but it's really about him being, you know, probably on a lot of drugs (laughing) and seeing stuff that wasn't there.
What was the inspiration for Stefon?
Partially someone I know. And ('SNL' writer) John Mulaney, who's one of the best stand-ups in the city.
He and I write those together. And John had met, I don't even know who it was -- a friend of a friend or whatever -- said, 'You've got to go to this party. It's got everything: groups, drinks ...' Somebody said that to him once, and he would walk around the office going, 'It's got everything. It's ...' -- you know, like that was his thing. And then I went to a coffee shop, in my neighborhood [and] a guy working there looked like Stefon and talked like that. And I would wait for my coffee every morning and just try to engage him in conversation, because I thought he was really funny. And I remember one time he was freaked out, because his mom was in town and his mom was staying with him. And I go, 'Oh, where do you live?' And he goes, (adopting the Stefon voice) 'I live on the Lower, Lower East Side.' And I just was like, 'Oh my God!' So I walked into work, and I started doing his voice, and then John had his list guy, and we just kind of put them together.
So Stefon was built from the ground up.
Yeah, he really was. I mean, sometimes you don't know where things come from, but then certain things, you totally know. John and I also write the kissing family sketches, the family that's overly affectionate with each other. And that came definitely from me being at my friend's wedding. I was the best man at my friend's wedding. And his parents and his family, we all, the night before, we all went out. I was the only non-family member there. And they were all kissing each other, on the mouth. And I was just like, 'What the hell is going on?' And it's just a very affectionate family. 'Oh, I love you. Oh, I love you so much. Oh, gosh, I love you' (Makes kissing noises). Like, all that. And I was just telling Fred (Armisen) and John about that one day, and John was smart enough to go, 'We should write that.' (Laughing)
Do you think Stefon would make a good character for a movie? Could you do a whole movie around him?
I don't know. I mean, yeah, he would be pretty funny as the character in a movie. He could definitely carry a movie, I think. You know, it's interesting, he never worked in a sketch. We did him once in a sketch with Ben Affleck, where we were pitching a movie, and, just the idea of Stefon pitching something with somebody else was like, it was like such a long walk to get to the jokes, you know? And Doug Abeles, who runs 'Weekend Update,' was like ... 'You know, you should try it on Update, just get him talking.' (He was saying) simplify it, basically, which always tends to be the problem with my stuff. It's like three moves. Just make it one move: him talking about this. And it was like, 'Oh, yeah, you're right.' So, a movie, you know, maybe he could work as a movie. Just that guy, because people seem to have connected to him in such a crazy way.
I mean, we did it for the first time in April. And then I did the, beginning of June, less than two months later, I did the Conan O'Brien live show at Radio City Music Hall. And I came out, and I came out to pull the 'Walker, Texas Ranger' lever, and Conan said, 'What impression would you like Bill to do to pull the lever?' And, (people shouted) 'Al Pacino' or whatever, and then someone said, 'Stefon!' And I went, 'Oh, did you say Stefon?' And the whole place, Radio City Music Hall, the whole place went insane. And I did it as Stefon, and then I got home and called John Mulaney, and I was like, 'Dude, you won't believe what just happened!' (Laughing)
He was like, 'What?!' It's just so weird to us, because it was an inside joke between us forever, and now it's like people are coming up and quoting it, which is nice.
He's hilarious, but also endearing. You want to hug him. Plus, everything is so perfect, the hair, the shirt ...
And the rings. Yeah, the Ed Hardy shirts. Maybe he can talk about Fashion Week. Maybe we can get him talking about Fashion Week.
That would be perfect for the season premiere, right? Are you guys working on it yet?
No, we don't really start until Monday. I mean, ideas are kicking around, but no one starts writing anything until Tuesday. That's just the way the show's always been. (But), you know, you sit there and you look at our board, and we have some pretty frickin' awesome hosts coming up, (so) we're just like, 'Oh, I could do that with him' or 'Oh, with Bryan Cranston, we could try this thing.' And Jon Hamm's hosting again.
And so you're thinking, 'Oooh, I could maybe do this with him.' I saw Jon Hamm two nights ago, and was like, 'Hey man, you want to maybe think of this, like think of something about this' ... You kind of try to plant seeds in advance, if you can, which is always nice. But you never know what the mood of the office is, you know? I mean, it's like, you might think you have a really funny idea for somebody, and then you pitch it or you write it or whatever, something you've been holding onto for a while, and it just kind of dies. It's so much better when you get in the room with all these people, for me personally, like the writers on the show, like John Mulaney, Colin Jost, Simon Rich, Marika Sawyer, James Anderson, all these great, phenomenal people, insanely funny people, that, you know, you get in a room with them, and then you feed off each other, and it makes the thing come to life.
Who's your dream 'SNL' host?
I would love it if any of the Monty Python guys came on and did a bit. That would be, for me personally, that would be a huge, huge highlight. And ... I would love to see Robert Downey, Jr. come and host. I think he would be amazing. I think Ben Stiller would be a lot of fun. When Sacha Baron Cohen came and did Borat, that was a lot of fun. I think he should come back and host.
You're doing a movie, or maybe you've already finished filming 'Paul,' with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost ... would they be good hosts?
Yeah! Oh, my God! There you go. They should host. They should host together, like when 'Paul' comes out. That would be the coolest thing ever if those two guys hosted together. I've been fans of theirs from like, 'Big Train,' the sketch show they did in the late '90s, and 'Spaced' and everything. I think they're just unbelievably funny people.
How was that movie experience, 'Paul'?
It was amazing. Again, it's like, 'Oh, my God! I'm working with people who I so admire and love.' It's like when I got to be on 'SNL' or I got to work with Judd Apatow or Ben Stiller in 'Tropic Thunder' ... it was the same thing, where I can't believe I get to work with these people who I admire so much. But, yeah, those guys, I'm just ... they were so gracious and so kind. It was the perfect working experience, those guys, and (director) Greg Mottola, who I've worked with twice before, and who's a good friend of mine. It was just being surrounded by friends, Pegg, Joe Lo Truglio, who I've been a fan of since The State. He completely steals the movie. And David Koechner ... it was just awesome.
You've worked with so many other funny people, pretty much every other really funny person in Hollywood at this point, between the movies and 'SNL.' You could probably replace Kevin Bacon and do your own Six Degrees of Bill Hader.
(Laughing). I could maybe, yeah. Vanity Fair did this grid thing a couple years ago, connecting people who've worked together, and I had the most branches on it or whatever, because I'd worked with so-and-so and so-and-so worked with so-and-so, and I was kind of in the middle. Andy Samberg was like, 'You've worked with everyone!'
It's true. Speaking of all the people you've worked with, the Les Grossman performances with Tom Cruise, and you as his studio cohort, Rob Slolom ... the sketch at the MTV Movie Awards kind of stole the show, and then there was a lot of talk after that of a Les Grossman movie. Is that something that's really going to happen, and will you be a part of it?
Yeah! I mean, I know that they're writing it. Mike Bacall, who wrote 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' -- and he's writing a '21 Jump Street' movie right now, and he was in 'Inglorious Bastards' -- he is writing it, and he'll call me every once in a while and be like, 'Yeah, man, you're in it. You guys do some crazy stuff' (Laughing). And I'm like, 'That's awesome.' And I mean, Tom Cruise, like when we were shooting the MTV skit, he was like 'This movie, man. We're doing the movie.' He seemed very enthused about it. So, yeah, we'll see.
He's just so good and so committed to that character, you know what I mean? And he's just so funny. Like, a lot of the stuff is him riffing. Like when he was yelling at Jaden Smith, and Will Smith goes, 'Come on, relax. He's only 11 years old.' And Tom Cruise improvised, 'I don't care if he's 10!' which I thought was so funny. I just remember I was sitting in on the scene when he said that, and it was like, 'That's f**kin' great!' (Laughing)
Okay, I have to fact check one of those IMDB rumors with you ... is it true that you were a production assistant on 'The Surreal Life'?
Yeah, that is true. I was a production assistant in the post department on 'The Surreal Life.' And it's been reported before that I was an assistant editor on 'The Surreal Life.' That is not true. I was a, and no offense to the assistant editors who worked on the show, I was a measly post-production assistant, running around, like, labeling tapes all day, and I had to dub stuff all day, and, like, watch Corey Feldman crying for, you know ... that was most of my day, like, watching Corey Feldman crying.
Did you have to interact with the cast at all?
I had one run-in with Corey where ... it was at a party, the premiere party. The whole cast was there, and he was really nervous, because, I think, he kind of knew that he wasn't going to come off very good in the show. So he came up to me and said, 'You work in post production, right?' And I was like, 'Yeah!' And he said, 'I'll give you $2,000 if I can get copies of every episode so me and my lawyer can look over it.' And I was drunk, and I said, 'Corey, you don't have $2,000.' (Laughing) And everybody started laughing. He started laughing. He said, 'Come on!' and I was like, 'I can't do that. I'll lose my job.' (Laughing). But I think he was concerned in a very real way that he wasn't going to come off well in the show, but then he actually was the star of that first season of 'Surreal Life.' It was his wedding that the whole show was based around.
You're also an Emmy-winning producer on 'South Park' ... how involved are you with the show now?
Well, I'm really good friends with ('South Park' co-creator) Matt Stone, and he brought me into the fold. And they had these writer retreats ... and you go and riff on 'South Park' episodes, which was a dream come true. And then I had three weeks off during the 'SNL' season and went to L.A., so I would go and work with them in the mornings. It's very chill ... I'm in the room pitching ideas and stuff, and some ideas they take, some they don't. But for the most part, it's like, you know, it's those guys. I'm not taking any real credit for it, but they're just very nice to include me in it. And I won an Emmy for it, which is crazy!
Like, I won an Emmy for this, and I won a Peabody Award because Tina Fey does an amazing Sarah Palin impression.
And where do you keep your Emmy and your Peabody?
I think on a bookshelf. Let me look ... yep, they're on top of my bookshelf.