Few SNL cast members have matched the supreme mimicry talents of Bill Hader, whose repertoire of dead-on impersonations clocks in at over eighty. When he joined the cast in 2005, Hader instantly transformed from an unknown film and TV production assistant to late night’s newest sketch comedy chameleon and force behind the Manhattan club-hopper Stefon, and he made such an impression that he earned two Emmy nominations for his work on SNL in 2012 and 2013, making him the first male cast member to receive the double Emmy honor in the show’s history.
The oldest of three children, Hader grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma then studied film at Scottsdale Community College. After school, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film and scored low-level production jobs in the early 2000s starting with films Critical Mass, Collateral Damage, and The Scorpion King as well as MTV’s series The Surreal Life. Five years after moving to Los Angeles, Hader began to spend his nights at improv institutions Second City and iO West, where he cofounded the four-man troupe Animals from the Future in 2004 and was tapped to play a field agent on Ashton Kutcher’s hit MTV prank show Punk’d in 2005. It was during a backyard Animals from the Future performance where Bill was spotted by Will & Grace star Megan Mullally, who was impressed enough to arrange a meeting between the young Hader and SNL creator Lorne Michaels. Just a few months later, Hader became a featured player at the start of SNL’s 31st season joined by fellow newcomer Andy Samberg. “It was a complete whirlwind,” Hader says. “I felt like I went from Kindergarten to Harvard in the span of a year.”
Hader quickly made himself indispensable by delivering consistently accurate impersonations of Vincent Price, Al Pacino, John Malkovich, Alan Alda, Richard Branson, Peter O’Toole, Dave Matthews, Elliot Spitzer, James Carville, Tim Gunn, and many others. His tall frame, nerdy appeal, and voice versatility made him the perfect game or talk show host (see the increasingly frustrated “Secret Word” host Lyle Round or the fake-interested “Hollywood Dish” cohost Brady Trunk), and he eventually struck gold with recurring characters like the senile street reporter Herb Welch, chain smoking Italian talk show host Vinny Vedecci, and the shy yet wild NYC party boy Stefon Volesky, a character Hader created with SNL writer John Mulaney inspired by an interaction with a Chelsea Starbucks barista (who often insists that little person/object mashups like “human traffic cones,” “human suitcases,” “human R2-D2s,” and “human roombas” are a “thing” in the party scene). Hader also appeared as Nitro in the “Laser Cats” shorts with Andy Samberg, Devin in “The Californians,” and the voice-immodulated alien sports show cohost Greg in “Game Time With Dave And Greg.” On developing his impersonations, Hader says: “I usually figure out the voice and then try to find some nuance in their personality. It’s better to study someone you’re trying to impersonate being interviewed than to watch them in a movie or something. You pick up more.”
During his time on SNL, Hader’s career as a supporting player in films began to bud starting with a role in 2006’s You, Me and Dupree and in a wave of comedies from 2007-2008 including Hot Rod, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, Adventureland, and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian in 2009, where he played Civil War Army officer George Armstrong Custer. He’s also appeared in television shows (Human Giant, 30 Rock, Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!, The Mindy Project) and found mainstream success as a voice actor in films (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Scott Pilgrim vs the World), video games (as a radio show host in Grand Theft Auto IV), and television shows (Ugly Americans and South Park, where he’s also a writer, consultant, and producer).
After the 38th season finale, Hader left SNL after eight years alongside fellow veterans Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis. While the film and television credits keep coming, Hader’s lifetime love of classic film has influenced his aspirations to one day work behind the scenes as well. “I’d love to direct a movie,” he says. “Same way that I approached SNL, I’d probably approach it slowly, incrementally. I’ve written a couple of scripts during my time at the show and that’s taught me a lot about directing. I don’t see myself performing in a movie that I direct…I think my head would explode.” Looking back on his lengthy stint as an in-demand impressionist and utility player, Hader outlines his lessons learned: “SNL has taught me: How to fail. How to work out creative differences with people. How to write. That all comedy needs some type of logic. The best kind of comedy comes from an ensemble. The best pieces I was involved in were the ones where everyone scored.”
Photo credit: Jeremy Freeman TM & (C) Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.