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Armisen, Hader, Samberg, and Sudeikis on Meeting the People They Impersonate

One of the hazards of impersonating famous people on Saturday Night Live is that you may, at some fancy gala, happen to run into said famous person. That exact scenario played out for Bill Hader as he wandered the pre-parties for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. “Someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned around and it’s Eliot Spitzer,” Hader told us. “And my first thought was like, ‘Aw, please don’t hit me.’ There are a couple of people I do impressions of that make me nervous, where in the back of my mind I’m like, ‘I wonder if I’m ever going to meet that person someday?’ Spitzer is the first of that group that I’ve actually met. Can you imagine meeting him and [James] Carville in the same night?”

Hader declared Spitzer very nice. And Spitzer, too, was psyched to have met Hader. “That was pretty cool,” Spitzer said. “I told him he had too much hair to play me. He said it was a good thing I took it all in good humor. I said, ‘Why do you presume that?’” Spitzer laughed, but does he actually take the impression in good humor? “The short answer is yes. The long answer is, ‘What choice do you have?’ Right? You know, this is life. There are peaks and valleys, and you just keep going.”

Andy Samberg, who came over to talk to Hader, said he’d already met the politico he plays. “Rahm Emanuel called me at the show and said that he was amused but that he was going to kick my ass. I said I was pleased with both,” he said. Now they’re friends. “I hung out with him and then I went down and campaigned for him in Chicago one day. I feel like the stuff we do on Rahm is maybe a little therapeutic for him.” Jason Sudeikis was hoping for a run-in with Joe Biden. “I mean, our souls have communicated in a dream state, but I’ve never met him on this earthly plane,” he said. The closest Sudeikis has gotten to meeting someone he’s impersonated was when he played Todd Palin when Sarah Palin came on the show. “She fixed my hair to make it more like Todd Palin,” he said. “It was a very intense, sultry moment.”

But if there were a prize for most run-ins with celebrity doppelgängers, it would go to Fred Armisen, whom we talked to at the Vanity Fair/Bloomberg after-party. He met Barack Obama before he started to do his impersonation, and he’s not likely to meet Qaddafi, Ahmadinejad, or Mubarak, but he has met a variety of others. “I met [David] Paterson at SNL,” Armisen said. Despite Armisen getting some flack in the media for his impression making fun of blind people, the two men got along great. “All the people around him were saying how much we really do look alike,” he said. “And there’s this weird thing that happens when you impersonate someone. I felt immediately close to him. It was like we went through this thing together.” Paterson wrote jokes for their bit and wanted to join Armisen in the gag where he pretends to be lost, wandering blindly through the foreground of the camera. “But since Paterson is visually impaired, he couldn’t do the visual cue to come up,” said Armisen. “So for us to do it at the same time, I held his hand and crouched down. It was really sweet because it was just two guys, without a million people, no handlers, just two guys out in the world.”

David Byrne just happened to be in the audience at the Mercury Lounge a week ago when Armisen did a musical impression of him. Armisen also met Steve Jobs after doing a "Weekend Update" segment where Jobs announces the iPod Invisa, a device so small he has to hold it between the tips of his fingers. “He saw me and he did the thing!” says Armisen. “He held up his fingers like he was holding this little tiny thing, and I knew he’d be cool if I wanted to talk to him. We were dorks and just talked about computers and design or something.” Armisen also met Prince when he played on the show. Earlier in the evening, when Armisen had asked Prince if he was okay with the impression, Prince had rubbed his arm and said, “It’s cool.” Then later that night, Prince held a private after-party. “It was really not fancy,” said Armisen. “Just a buffet and a D.J. He was sitting alone at a table and eating macaroni and cheese, and I went up to him and sort of was like, ‘I think you’re the greatest.’ And I did it in the way that people say things when they want to hear a compliment back. And he turns to me and goes, ‘You know what else is the greatest? This macaroni and cheese.’

Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for the New Yorker