Talking with Bill Hader about ‘SNL’, Impressions, Breaking, Lorne Michaels, and More

On October 1, 2005 Bill Hader debuted on SNL, feeling lucky and surprised to be there. Now, seven years later, it seems like not much has changed. Hader might be entering his eighth season as the first male cast member since Eddie Murphy to be nominated for an Emmy for his performance on the show, but his attitude is still of the humble guy who was shocked even to be asked to audition for SNL in the first place. With the new season set to start this Saturday, September 15, Hader is not thinking if this will be his last year on the show or if the Emmy nomination and the departure of Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig means more eyes will be on him; he’s just trying to remember his lines and avoid breaking. I got a chance to speak with him as he was just getting back to work at the job he feels lucky and surprised to have.

So how was your summer? 

It was pretty good. I did this gala at the Montreal Comedy Festival, which was a blast. And just working. Doing some animated stuff and, working on this movie The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, which is a drama. It’s the first drama I’ve done, so it’s been interesting. And been getting to work with some great people like James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain and, just great actors, so it’s been cool.

Did you find doing drama easy, or much harder?

It’s just different. You don’t finish a take and go, “Oh was that funny?” [laughs] Or, “How do we make it funny?” You just end.

Yeah, there’s less of a tangible reaction.

Yeah, you just kinda trust the director and you tend to talk out the scenes a little more and rehearse. But it was really great. It’s a different muscle, basically. And you have to have that confidence to say, “All right! So… I think that was good…” [laughs] And then just walk away from it.

Yeah. So at this point in your SNL career, do you look forward to the summer for the time off? Or do you look forward to time so you can do other work?

It’s a little bit of both. Two years ago, I consciously said, “Oh, I’m not going to do anything.” We just had our first child. But I was taking the summer off and hanging out with my daughter and writing everyday. My wife’s from Idaho, so we went to Idaho for the majority of the summer. Hung out with cousins, and… you know what I mean, it was just very nice and relaxing. But at the same point you start to get a little antsy going like, “Uh, man, maybe I should get to work.” I’m one of those people who always thinks I want a lot of time off, and then after about two or three weeks, I start to go crazy. [laughs] I start to feel like, “Oh man I really need to get to work.” But it’s good. I really enjoy doing animated stuff. It’s been a really nice way to still have a full day of doing what you want to do, but then you go in for a couple hours and record and leave. It’s kind of nice.

Are you working on the Meatball sequel?

Yeah. The Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs sequel and this movie Turbo and this movie Me and My Shadow. And I have a part on Bob’s Burgers and Venture Bros. So, yeah that’s pretty nice.

So did you see Clint Eastwood the other night at the Republican Convention?

It was funny. Seth Meyers sent me an email saying, “Are you watching this?” And I said, “No, I’m watching Rolling Thunder with William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones. What are you watching?” [laughs] And he said, “Well, I’m watching the Republican National Convention and Clint Eastwood is doing this Bob Newhart thing.” So yeah, I watched it online and, yeah, it was pretty, pretty interesting.

Do you watch it and think, “Oh, too bad the show isn’t this Saturday?”

No, I don’t. I mean we’re going to start back in about two weeks. And that’s one of those things that we could do… If it was in June – even if it was in June and it was so cemented in people’s minds, we could just make it a character trait or just a part of something. But I think it’s close enough to the season where I could see us possibly doing something. Maybe not. I don’t know.

So you said in your Fresh Air interview that you’ve learned not to come in with new characters because the writers write what they want. You just got back, have you had conversations with the writers about what they’ve written for you already?

Nope. I don’t usually know what the writers have written for me until the Wednesday table read. That’s just kind of how it goes every week. They’ll come up and say, “Oh, you know, we’re doing this.” Or for an impression Update thing like James Carville sometimes I won’t find out about that until the day of the show. I’ll come in on Saturday and they’ll be like, “Oh, we stayed up last night writing a Carville for you.” And I go, “Oh cool.” I’ll get it at midday and work on it a little bit.

Yeah, the more you think over the summer, “Yeah, I’m going to try this. This is a great idea,” it never – for some reason, it might just be me – but it never flies. Everything I’ve done, it’s always the week of or the week before you’re messing around and you come up with an idea. It has to have that immediacy to it. Like we were rehearsing this sketch with Emma Stone the first time she hosted. I don’t know if you remember the sketch that was a news casting about teenagers, and it was called “doing souping.” And it was like, [newscaster voice] “They call it Souping…” and, “They call it Trampolining…” There were all these different things. We were blocking that and I kept pretending to hit Kristen and Emma in the face with a microphone. And that’s how we came up with Herb Welch. So we wrote Herb Welch into it the next week. It happens that way or whatever’s in the moment tends to be the funniest thing.

I think one time John texted me a Stefon line in July once. I think that’s the closest we ever came.

Do you know what the line was?

It was a Pakistani family in line at Universal Studios, I think.

Have you worked on a Paul Ryan impression? I know that’s going to be a big one coming up.

I don’t know if I’m doing it. I’ll probably find out on Tuesday or Wednesday if I’m doing it or not.

But it’s not like you all show up in front of Lorne and do your version of something…

No, no. I’ve learned anytime I come in like, “Hey, I’ve got a take on this person…” that also never works. [laughs] It really is better when they go “Ah, we can use you better in this aspect.” Or they might go, “Yeah, Bill can play Paul Ryan but then he couldn’t play Shepard Smith… or we could have Taran play Paul Ryan but then, gosh, he couldn’t do this…” You know what I mean? There’s so much stuff that I don’t even want to think about, so I just let them tell me. Like Rick Perry last year. Baldwin played him in the first show of the season. And that let me play Shepard Smith but then they were like, “Oh, Rick Perry’s still doing stuff so, oh well, Bill, do you want to play Rick Perry?” Or more like, “Bill, you’re going to play Rick Perry.”

So it all just starts with something they write and then they just pick the players, afterward?

Yeah, Seth and the writers and Lorne and Steve Higgins have a weird hive mind of how things are supposed to work. And I’ve learned over my eight years there now or whatever it is to just let them do it. And, “Where do you want me?” [laughs]

How do you balance having an impression be 100% accurate, and also having it be a character and someone who’s funny?

Dana Carvey was really good at that and we talked about that. He hosted and I got to talk to him a little bit about how he approached those things. It’s got to be funny. You can be really accurate, and I’ve done that before, where I’ve gotten someone and they went, “That’s really accurate, but it’s low energy and not very funny.” Or it’s accurate but, you know, the caricature version of him is actually kind of better. Or James Carville, where it’s okay, it’s a fine impression, but him acting insane is what makes it funny. You know what I mean? Him saying he’s raised by eels and stuff. Which is the kind of thing I’m more interested in. I’m more interested in weirder things.

Or the Rick Perry Update we did where he was drunk and he had the little hula toy with him. You know, just weird shit. It’s just more fun to play at times. Which is why I’m not the head writer of the show, because if I was the writer of the show, it would go under within three – the middle of that first show, they would just take it off the air. [laughs, a lot] In the middle of SNL they’d be like, “You know what? This is bad. [laughs] Let’s not do this anymore.”

But to answer your question, you try to hook it. [Carvey] and Jim Downey have a term, “handles.” Like a certain person has certain handles. George Bush Sr. had big handles, like [as Dana Carvery, as G.H.W. Bush] “Not gonna do it.” It was like, “Oh my gosh this is great. I can figure something out on this guy.” The reason why I like doing old movie actors and stuff is because they have big handles. Vincent Price, it’s like oh my gosh c’mon, you know. Some people, don’t have any handles and you just go, “I don’t know what to do,” so you just don’t sound like them…

Like Dave Matthews. I did Dave Matthews last year, and the way he actually talks isn’t anything like my impression. The impression was kind of like how he sings sometimes? But not all the time, do you know what I mean? Because Dave Matthews actually talks like a very normal person and, for purposes of the sketch, it’s not very funny if I just go [in “normal” voice] “Hey, I’m Dave Matthews.” So I lie. And say he talks like this. [laughs]

In your Fresh Air interview you talk about how, early on, you explicitly sought to do voiceover stuff, to kind of guarantee a role on the show. Now in your eighth season, do you feel a little bit more comfortable in that you can keep your job?

Oh yeah. Yeah, I feel more comfortable. I think it was my fourth season at an after-party, Lorne Michaels said, “You know you can work here as long as you want.” And I was like, “Oh, really?” And he went, “Yeah.” It was just his way of saying, “Relax you got the job.” Four years in. Because I was very stressed out all the time. And I get real nervous before shows, so it was just his way of being like, “Breathe. You got the job. You’re fine.” [laughs]

It’s funny I was telling a friend, who actually interned at SNL a few years ago, that I was doing this interview and she told me about how you’re the only cast member who would walk around the hall before sketches, rehearsing lines in character. Do you still do that?

Yeah. Yeah, I have zero confidence in myself to just bring it in the moment. I just have to read the lines. Every sketch you’ve seen me in I’ve probably read the lines to myself out loud maybe 50 times. And I’m reading my lines out loud to myself, leading up to going out there. And some people… like Kristen Wiig would just walk out there and just do it. I am not a very good cold reader. I think I’m probably dyslexic in some ways. I will get thrown. So I have to know it.

Your friend’s 100% right. I pace around and have my head down in a script. And sometimes I have this weird tic where I kind of throw my arms down to get tension out of my body. I do this violent arm twitch thing that makes everyone kind of concerned. Jenna, our stage manager, has been working on the show for around 20 years and she’s told me, “I’ve never seen a cast member get more nervous than you.” She’s like, “You’re by far the most nervous cast member. Ever.” [laughs] But yeah, she started I think with Ferrell and them, and she was like, “God you’re the most nervous, nervous person.” 

Kind of a nice honor to have.

Yeah, it’s a feather in my cap.

Do you have any pre-show rituals, other than pacing?

Yeah, I pace around and read and generally make people nervous. No, I go in and after the meeting before air, I eat a Cliff Bar, and I have a couple sips of coffee. And then I drink a lot of water during the show. And then I just sit and run my lines. And then I try to remind myself to have fun and don’t think too much. I have to say that out loud to myself: “Just have fun. Don’t think too much.” And then I walk out there. [laughs] 

It’s like you’re your own little league baseball coach, being like, “Go get ‘em, kid!”

Yeah, my own little Burgess Meredith, [as Meredith] “Come on, Bill!” But in my brain. But you know what tends to happen: once you get your first line out, you calm down. “Okay we’re out here. We’re doing it.” And then it’s fine.

Growing up you weren’t the kid who was like, “My goal is to be on SNL. I’m going to work only to that end.” It kind of came a little later. But when did it actually become a goal? When were you like, “Actually SNL is the be-all-end-all?”

It never was because I never considered it a possibility ever. Not once. It didn’t become a goal until I was auditioning. Until they were like, “Hey, do you want to audition for SNL?” And I was like, “Are you serious?” It never even considered it to be a possibility. I never was one of those people in improv class going, “Someday I’m going to be on SNL.” I never dreamed of it. I thought the best-case scenario was I would have a cool once-a-week show at iO West. I’m serious. And then maybe my friends and I could do videos and put them online.

I’ve heard Lorne talk about how he tries to build people on SNL very deliberately and very gradually. Like, not throwing them in the lead of four sketches when they first start. Only put new people in gradually, so eventually the audience is like, “Oh I want to see more of that guy.” Has it felt that way for you?

Yeah. Totally. Without a doubt. It feels very much that way. And I think that’s a really good way of doing it. I can understand people going, “What the hell? Why am I not in more?” I understand that because you’re hungry and you’re thinking, “Gosh, I’m on SNL and I really want to show my stuff.” I, personally, had a really good first show. And then I had a really good fifth or sixth show with Eva Longoria. I was in a lot of stuff and I did Vincent Price. And the first show I did Al Pacino, and it went really well. And I consciously went, “I’m going to pull back because I don’t want people to get sick of me.” And, to be totally honest, I wasn’t very confident in what I was doing. I felt like I went from being in elementary school to being in Harvard, in like a year.

And that’s when I was like, “Okay, where do I fit in here? Okay, I’ll do voice-over stuff. I’ll be the game show host. I’ll figure that stuff out, so I can be a part of the ensemble.” I’m just part of the A-Team – I’m only the explosives guy – as opposed to really trying to break out. I was like, “I just want to be here for a while.” And I also want to feel like every year I’m discovering new things and figuring out new things. So I was like, “Just take your time and don’t compare yourself to other people.” Because there are those people who say: “Well, gosh that person over there’s really killing it…” But you’re your own person. It sounds cliché but it’s true. Everyone’s different and everybody has a different thing. And especially if you’re an ensemble, you should be frickin’ stoked that someone on the cast is killing it because that means people are watching your show. [laughs]

For me, it really was that thing I learned at Second City, which was to just make the other person look good and the other person will try and make you look good. So if someone’s killing it in a sketch, you try your best just to react and it’ll make them funnier.

The past season I think I was breaking a little too much, but that’s because we’re all really relaxed. Despite being really nervous before a show, once a show gets going, I get relaxed. You just get to know people better. And Fred Armisen makes me laugh. And Kate, the new cast member Kate McKinnon, really makes me laugh, too. And in blocking I can’t look at Kate. She’s always making me laugh. And Vanessa Bayer makes me laugh. Vanessa Bayer does this smile thing where I can’t look at her or I’ll start laughing.

So when you’re breaking and it’s live, what goes through your head?

“Ah, shit. Fuck.” In the “Stefons” and other stuff it legitimately is “Fuck.” And now, people tell me, “Aw, you’re doing that on purpose, right?” I’ll have people stop me on the street and go, “You’re laughing on purpose.” And I’m like, “No. Why? Why would I do that? [laughs] Why would I do that to myself?” I think some people think me breaking is actually doing the character of Stefon, in how I’ll put my hands over my mouth. That’s kind of part of the character. It’s not me not trying to laugh. But usually I start to break towards the end and that’s because John [Mulaney] has changed the words or people are just laughing around me. Everyone’s laughing and I just can’t keep it together. But usually, if the camera followed me back to my dressing booth after Stefon, the majority of the time I’m pissed. I’m thinking, “Fuck.” And John’s going, “Bill that was great.” And people are going, “That was hilarious.” And I get mad.

I did the same thing in “Californians.” I apologized to Lorne after “Californians.” I was like, “I’m so sorry.” Because I laughed during dress, too. And I was like, “I’m so sorry. I just can’t do it.” And he was like, “Who fuckin’ cares?” His attitude is if what you’re saying and what’s happening isn’t funny and you’re laughing, then we have a problem. But what Fred was doing was hilarious. And what Stefon says sometimes is really hilarious.

I’m a soft touch. If you were at the table reads on Wednesday, you’d see I break constantly. John Solomon and, I think, Mike O’Brien wrote a sketch with this eagle-head guy? It was with Will Ferrell and Jason Sudekis and I were in it. He was this guy who owned a manor and there was basically a mannequin’s body but the head was an eagle. And there was a drawing of it in the sketch, and I just couldn’t – I was laughing so hard. Will Ferrell was making me laugh so hard. We were saying, “Well we want to come to you to get some money for a hospital.” Because he’s this really rich man, with an eagle. [laughs] And Will Ferrell was doing this thing where he was like, [as Will Ferrell, as the rich eagle man] “Mister Pennyworth would love to – Oh, what’s that sir? I’m sorry, he he’s a… he sees a rat that’s actually 500 yards outside the window.” And I would cry laughing every time. Because he would keep interrupting us going “Ah, I’m sorry, he thought he, he heard a herring about…” Because eagles have really good perception. And so I was just losing my mind and I apologized to the writers afterward. I was like, “Um, I totally ruined that.” I was just laughing through the whole thing.

When it’s live, what do you say to yourself to stop laughing?

If you watch “Californians,” I’m actually biting my lips. I’m actually biting my lip really hard to not laugh. And what happened on “Californians” was when it cut to Fred, Kristen turned around and looked at me to see if I was laughing. She then smiled because she saw I was trying not to laugh. And then I was like, “Fuck.” With Stefon and stuff I used to fight it and now I just don’t.

Do you have a favorite sketch that never made it on air?

Oh man, there’s so many that I love that never made it. I’ll tell you one moment that I love that never made it on air. It went to dress. There’s these characters that Will Forte and I did that no one liked. The “Carol Hold My Calls Guys.” [as the characters] “Jerry! Hello Carl. Hello Jerry!” They were these grizzled guys. I would work on them with Forte and John Solomon and just laugh. But the very first one we did, Forte was making me laugh so hard and it was like, [as Will Forte, as Carl] “Jerry I can’t get fired!” It was the Ellen Page episode. His whole thing was like, “I can’t get fired this summer! I can’t get fired this summer!” And he’s got this big presentation in a big boardroom. I was like, “Don’t worry, you won’t get fired.” And so I give a speech before his presentation, and I say, “I just want you to know, that I stake my entire career on every word that’s about to come out of this man’s mouth.” And then I turn to him, and I said, “Jerry, you’ve the floor.” Instead of “you have the floor,” I said “You’ve… the floor.” And I could never do it without almost laughing. And then he comes out and he takes the longest pause imaginable. And he goes, “Ladies and Gentlemen, of Dunleavy Underwear for Adults… I have no presentation.” [laughs] He goes, “I lost my rhythm. So I watched a bunch of movies to try and get my rhythm back.” And he starts talking about how he went and saw Jumper. “I saw Jumper a couple of times and I couldn’t get my rhythm…” And it played to absolute silence and I was laughing…

So there’s another sketch called “Knish” that we did with Steve Buscemi. A cop show called “Knish.” And that was inspired by something that Paul Rudd’s son said to me. Where he said “open book knish.” He just said this term “open book knish” and I laughed really hard. So we wrote a 70s cop show, and I played Judd Hirsch. And I’d say “Greetings and salutations Knish…” And John Mulaney and I wrote it and it made us laugh. It was by the creators of the Freddie Prinze Jr., Charles Durning show “Taco and Fat Ass.” [laughs]”It’s Knish… in color.” And it was great.

You were recently nominated for an Emmy, which you promptly said you were super, super surprised by. Does any part of you think you have a shot at winning?

No not at all. No. I’m bringing up the rear. I’m like, if this was a horse race, [in a race announcer voice]And coming in 6th, it’s ‘So Happy to Be Here.’” I really am. I don’t think I’ll win but I feel incredibly honored. That they even thought to nominate me was just a total shock and a complete honor. I mean just to get to go; I haven’t even been to an awards show before. I’ve never really been to any of those things so it was just kind of neat. It’s just really exciting.

So this is your eighth season. I believe you’ve mentioned that your contract was through this season. Have you given any thought to that?

Yeah, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I really don’t know. I have no idea. But I’m excited to be coming back this season. It’s going to be different without Kristen and Andy there just because I came in with them. But at the same time we have Keenan and Fred and Taran and Vanessa and Bobby and Jay and Nasim. And all these people that I love working with, and all the writers. Yeah, it’s going to be interesting.

Speaking of Andy and Kristen, is there a specific sketch you’ll miss performing in with them, or even watching with them?

Just any time Andy did a digital short I was always interested to see what he was going to do because it felt like he was very consciously trying not to repeat himself and not do the thing that people were expecting. Like they did that one where he and Kristen had giant afros. And it was a wedding announcement. That was really cool. I just like that he would do that instead of doing another rap video. He was really smart in the way that he handled himself with the digital shorts. He did what he found funny that week. And so I’ll miss that aspect of that.

With Kristen it’s just being out there with her. You always knew things were going to go really well when Kristen’s out there. It’s just fun performing with her.

Oh “Laser Cats.” I guess we won’t do “Laser Cats.” But we kind of knew that when we were doing the Steven Spielberg one. If you watched, Andy goes away at the end. 

I was wondering if that was the goodbye to the series.

Yeah, that’s the goodbye to the whole thing. And with Kristen, I just really enjoyed watching her, like when I was in “Secret Word.” I loved watching her as Mindy Louise Grayson. Anytime she stood up to sing a song like, “Just like I did in the hit flop blah blah…” It was always funny. She’s great.

So that last “Laser Cats” had Steven Spielberg in it. As a big film fan, how was it, not only meeting him, but to shoot the silliest thing possible with him?

It was weird seeing Steven Spielberg wearing a Laser Cat hat and t-shirt and just thinking about when Jorma and Akiva and Andy and I first started talking about it seven years ago. So it’s just weird being like, “Okay there’s Steven Spielberg wearing a Laser Cat outfit.” It was really cool. And Andy was really nice. Andy knows I’m a big film nerd and he was just like, “Bill, have at it.” [laughs] I asked Steven Spielberg all these questions. Like, [self-mocking tone] “Okay so, Sugarland Express: How did you get the shot where…” And he was really nice…. “Okay in 1941, how did you… what was it like working with both Toshiro Mifune and Christopher Lee and Slim Pickins all on the same day?” And he was very, very super friendly. I probably scared him a little bit. It’s the same thing with Martin Scorsese – he came the following week to do the thing with The Dictator and I just walked right into his dressing room and I was like, [nerdy tone] “Hey man” and just started immediately talking about movies. And he was very nice.

It’s better that you’re asking very specific questions instead of going, “I really like this movie… what was that like?” You know, like that Chris Farley character.

Yeah, It was very specific. And Jaws is probably my favorite movie, because it’s the movie I’ve probably watched the most. However, he’s probably talked about it so fucking much with people. And there’s  20 documentaries about Jaws. So maybe it was a bit of a conscious or subconscious or unconscious effort of, “I’ll talk Sugarland Express and 1941.” [laughs] Which are two movies I love.

I know that you haven’t decided about leaving yet but with SNL it’s so great because you can see so many people that have been on the show and then left. Are there particular alumni that you’re like, “You know what, that’s exactly the career I’d want to have whenever I leave?” 

Yeah that’s interesting. I don’t really know. I don’t think about it that way. I kind of just think in terms of what I like. Like Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. It’s a really interesting idea. It’s two movies. But each movie’s from a different character’s perspective. They’re a couple, and one movie is from the husband’s point of view and one movie is from the wife’s point of view. And it’s just an interesting idea. And I was like, “Well I’d like to be a part of this. I’ve never seen this before.” I try not to plan it. You kind of know what you’re into but I don’t try to go, “Well I want to be like this.” Because I always find that the minute you do that then everything just works against you. [laughs] Like, “No no no. You’re over here now. ‘Cause you said it… now you’re going to go over here.” [laughs] You’re kind of like, “Alright.”

I moved to LA to be a filmmaker and I still want to be. That’s something I’d still like to do. I like writing. I didn’t move to LA to act or be in comedy, you know? And that’s what ended up happening. I try to be like, “Oh okay. Just go with the flow.”

Everyone has s different relationship with Lorne Michaels. How has your relationship with him evolved over your time there? 

It hasn’t. It’s been, oddly enough, pretty much the same. I will say for me, when I first started on the show, he was very friendly. He wants you to do well because he’s hiring you. And it was at a point in the show where there was a big turnover. When I came in, one era was leaving and we were coming in. And so he wants you to do well. And I remember after my first show, I did Al Pacino and he came up and went, “That was great.” And then there’s moments like my fourth season, he comes up and says, “Hey you got the job. You can relax.”

The thing about Lorne that I always think people might not know, but I’ve found out when I’m just hanging out and talking to him, is he’s just a big fan. He’s just like you. Just like me. He’s just a huge fan of the stuff. And he gets super stoked talking about music or literature or films. Anything in comedy. One of the biggest joys I’ve had in my life is just getting to sit and talk to him about comedy and the entertainment industry and people that he’s met and seen. It’s just insane. But that’s when he really lights up. When he’s like, [Lorne impression] “No I saw that! No, no. Yeah it was great.” Or him talking about seeing Monty Python for the first time. Or Beyond the Fringe. He’ll recite Beyond the Fringe bits to me like, “Oh, Peter Cook would do the thing where he would…” And you go, “Oh yeah, he’s just this guy who’s a giant fan and was like, ‘I want to start this thing where every week I can showcase these people that I like.’”

And I like that feeling of entertainment. You know what I mean? He just likes that whole world. And so when he runs the show, that’s what it is. It’s got all of that. He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. I did this thing this summer with Chis Rock, where I interviewed him for the Nantucket Film Festival and we talked about Lorne pretty much the whole time there. [laughs] And he was just like, “Yeah he’s the smartest guy. Like he’ll say, ‘No, I think it should be this.’ And you’re like, ‘No, no I think…’ And he’s always right. And you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, he knows that audience better than anybody. He’s been doing it longer than any of us, so shut up and listen to him.’” [laughs]

But that’s the short answer. It’s been great. I had a really cool night once. Tina Fey had hosted the show and Justin Bieber was the musical guest. And Steve Martin did a bit. Afterward, I got to sit at Lorne’s table with Steve Martin and the two of them talked about comedy records for two hours. And I just sat there spurring them on. Like, “Okay, so what were the big records?” And they were reciting stuff and were like, “You got to get the old Lenny Bruce. Like before… this is the Lenny Bruce stuff you want to get. And Tom Lehrer. Yeah yeah yeah. Oh Nichols and May, Nichols and May…Oh my god, Remember when Nichols and May would do…” You know? And they would do the bit. Recite bits for me. And you go, “Oh yeah they’re all just fans.” It’s literally like my friends and I doing Simpsons quotes. There’s no difference. They just went out and did something about it. [laughs]

Yeah they did a lot of something.

They were just like, “Oh I’m going to start a show because I fucking love that shit.” [laughs] “Oh I’m going to perform, because I love that shit.” But there really isn’t that big of a difference. But that’s what’s cool about him. When you get down to who he is, he’s just a fan.

Do you have a sense of something you do that really cracks him up?

I don’t know what he laughs at that I do. That’s interesting. I know any time Will Forte would go, “Gilly??” in the “Gilly” sketches, he would start laughing really hard. I know he laughed really hard with Sudeikis as the guy at the strip club… Oh you know what? He loved it when Sudekis and Forte would do the ESPN guys. He found that really funny. But me, I really don’t know. I don’t know.

You’re probably too much in your zone while performing that you can’t pay attention to what he’s doing.

Yeah, I don’t even hear the audience. That’s the funny thing. I’ll get done and I’ll go, “Was that funny? Did it play?” And people will go, “Yeah.” Because I kind of go into a different zone. It sounds pretentious as shit but it’s just the truth. I don’t hear anything. I kind of go to another place for five minutes and then go, “What? How did that go?” I’m not really paying attention to anything. Seriously, the place could catch on fire and I wouldn’t notice. 

Well, I think that whatever that is, it’s working for you. So keep on not knowing what’s happening.

Yeah, it’s good.

Jesse David Fox is a writer, cat person, and Jew (in that order). He lives in Brooklyn. He loves Bill Hader’s Alan Alda impression but couldn’t think of any questions to ask about it, other than, “What’s it like to do a super cool Alan Alda impression?”

Talking with Bill Hader about ‘SNL’, Impressions, […]