The Collected Wisdom of Bill Murray

Arguably one of the most beloved living comedians, Bill Murray is four decades deep into a prolific career in the comedy industry. In the ‘70s, he bounced from comedy institution to comedy institution (Second City, National Lampoon, SNL) before becoming a major movie star in the ‘80s (CaddyshackStripes, Ghostbusters), and settling into a quieter phase of his career as a revered comedy veteran in the late ‘90s, popping up in smaller parts in an eclectic array of movies and genres (Zombieland, Lost in Translation, Moonrise Kingdom). Throughout it all, Murray has maintained a healthy contempt for the phoniness of the showbiz world around him and has always come off as his safe wry and wise-beyond-his-years self. We’ve collected some of Bill Murray’s most enlightening tidbits of wisdom from the past few decades below:


Whenever I think of the high salaries we are paid as film actors, I think it is for the travel, the time away, and any trouble you get into through being well known. It’s not for the acting, that’s for sure. [The Guardian, 2005]

And I think that good actors always—or if you’re being good, anyway—you’re making it better than the script. That’s your fucking job. It’s like, Okay, the script says this? Well, watch this. Let’s just roar a little bit. Let’s see how high we can go. [GQ, 2010]

I like the whole gypsy mentality of the movie business, where you get together with a bunch of people and you live intimately for a couple of months and then you scatter…there’s no limit to how hard you can work on a film. [Charlie Rose, 2014]

The early days, you could change every single word [in a screenplay], and no one cared. It was like: “That’s fine. That was terrible anyway.” But now, if the script’s really good, you don’t need to change very much. I realized the more fun I had, the more relaxed I was working, the better I worked. [New York Times, 2012]

I don’t believe that you can give the same performance every take. It’s physically impossible, so why bother? If you don’t do what is happening at that moment, then it’s not real. Then you’re holding something back. [Rolling Stone, 1984]


I should never have attended the Oscars [when he was nominated for Lost In Translation but lost to Sean Penn]. I was angry at myself. Comedy never gets the Oscar. Groundhog Day was one of the greatest scripts ever written. It didn’t even get nominated for an Academy Award. And a movie called Dave won, which was a rehash of a movie about a Spanish dictator who died and had an actor replace him. How can that be the best original screenplay? Laughter and the lighter moments of life always seem easy to deliver. I don’t expect those giving out the awards to understand. [Daily Mail, 2010]


Everyone loves Cinnabons. [Esquire, 2004]


I think all the comedies that we all do, they all get better. And even though they’re not perfect or maybe silly to some people, we learn each time about how to do it. [Rolling Stone, 1988]

Well, obviously a lot of it is rhythm. And as often as not, it’s the surprising rhythm. In life and in movies, you can usually guess what someone is going to say—you can actually hear it—before they say it. But if you undercut that just a little, it can make you fall off your chair. It’s small and simple like that. [GQ, 2010]

I have developed a kind of different style over the years. I hate trying to re-create a tone or a pitch. Saying, “I want to make it sound like I made it sound the last time”? That’s insane, because the last time doesn’t exist. It’s only this time. And everything is going to be different this time. There’s only now. And I don’t think a director, as often as not, knows what is going to play funny anyway. As often as not, the right one is the one that they’re surprised by, so I don’t think that they have the right tone in their head. [GQ, 2010]

You gotta be able to play straight to play funny. If you can play straight to play funny, playing straight is not a big thing at all. Lots of so called funny people can be very good in a dramatic role. [Charlie Rose, 2014]

Current SNL Cast

They’re good. I don’t know them as well as I knew the previous one. But i really feel like the previous cast, that was the best group since the original group. They were my favorite group. Some really talented people that were all comedians of some kind or another. You think about Dana Carvey, Will, Hartman, all these wonderful funny guys. But the last group with Kristen Wiig and those characters, they were a bunch of actors and their stuff was just different. It’s all about the writing, the writing is such a challenge and you are trying to write backwards to fit 90 minutes between dress rehearsal and the airing. And sometimes the writers don’t get the whole thing figured out, it’s not like a play where you can rehearse it several times. So good actors - and those were really good actors, and there are some great actors in this current group as well I might add - they seem to be able to solve writing problems, improvisational actors, can solve them on their feet. They can solve it during the performance, and make a scene work. It’s not like we were improvising when we made the shows, but you could feel ways to make things better. And when you get into the third dimension, as opposed to the printed page, you can see ways to solve things and write things live that other sorts of professionals don’t necessarily have. And that’s why I like that previous group. So this group, there are definitely some actors in this group, I see them working in the same way and making scenes go. They really roll very nicely, they have great momentum, and it seems like they are calm in the moment. [Reddit, 2014]

Directing vs. Acting

I always thought it was like four times more work being the director. You can’t even compare it. It’s just ridiculous. It’s the difference between being a child and being a parent. [Standard-Examiner, 1990]


This really should be kept secret, but you can learn a lot by watching the making-of DVDs. Every actor should do it. You figure out what you’re dealing with. [GQ, 2010]


I wanted to be a doctor once upon a time, but it turns out you’ve got to study, and that wasn’t going to happen. I had no idea what I was going to do. I had trouble holding jobs because they want you to be on time. That wasn’t going to work. Working in the theater, you didn’t have to get to work until 9 o’clock at night. [Charlie Rose, 2014]


I made a lot of mistakes and realized I had to let them go. Don’t think about your errors or failures, otherwise you’ll never do a thing. [The Guardian, 2005]


There’s only a couple times when fame is ever helpful. Sometimes you can get into a restaurant where the kitchen is just closing. Sometimes you can avoid a traffic violation. But the only time it really matters is in the emergency room with your kids. That’s when you want to be noticed, because it’s very easy to get forgotten in an ER. It’s the only time when I would ever say, “Thank God. Thank God.” There’s no other time. [Esquire, 2012]

A movie like Caddyshack, I can walk on a golf course, and some guy will be screaming entire scenes at me and expecting me to do it word for word with him. It’s like: “Fella, I did that once. I improvised that scene. I don’t remember how it goes.” But I’m charmed by it. I’m not like, “Hey, knock it off.” It’s kind of cool. [New York Times, 2012]

I’ll give you my whole wrap on fame, I think everyone becomes a jerk for about two years when they become famous. So I give people two years to figure it out and pull it together. But you end up behaving poorly because there`s just no training for it. There`s nothing your parents ever did no matter what kind of people they are because everything just gets different. The information coming to you becomes differently – comes differently, and people treat you differently sort of and everything changes for us. So it takes you a little while to figure it out. [Joy Behar Show, 2009]

Free Time

I do absolutely nothing. I go home and stay there. I wash and scrub up each day, and that’s it. One month I actually grew a moustache, just so I could say that I’d done something. [The Guardian, 2005]

Garfield: The Movie

It was sort of like Fantastic Mr Fox without the joy or the fun. [Reddit, 2014]

It was certainly more than I’d bargained for. [Patricia Chui, 2010]

Ghostbusters 3

I find that you don’t really lose by saying ‘no’ in showbusiness. [The Independent, 2013]


My favorite place to play golf is in Ireland. that’s where my ancestors come from, and it’s the most beautiful country to play golf in, and when you come as a guest to play golf you are treated like a king. [Reddit, 2014]


I got in a little trouble a few years ago [on Halloween]. I came to the door with a hook. I crept out of the shadows with a hook and some real bad prosthetic things on my face, and some kid just freaked out and leapt at me and impaled himself on the hook for a second. His mother was like, “Mr. Murray, was my son hurt by the hook? Let me see.” So that ruined my Halloween. [Local TV interview, 1984]

Harold Ramis

Harold Ramis and I together did the National Lampoon Show off Broadway, Meatballs, Stripes, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day. He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him. [Time, 2014]

Independent Films

I love independent films but it’s fun to do studio movies, too. You should do both. You don’t want to be like, “Oh he’s an independent film guy.” It sounds like he makes his own dresses or something you know? It just doesn’t sound right. [The Talks, 2011]

I used to make movies that were successful and I prefer the ones that aren’t. You know. [Joy Behar Show, 2009]


My mother is a real character, a talkative soul who can make friends with anyone, and she’d always been a massive influence on me. She’s so animated, I even used to tape phone conversations with her in order to steal material! [New York Times, 1988]

Lorne Michaels

He keeps the people together, which is really a hard part. I mean, there are infamous people in the comedy world that had all the talent and alienated them and they went away. But he’s managed to keep good people, good writers, good actors, and good technicians – I mean good cameramen, good lighting guys. That’s a tough building to keep all the best guys in one room. [Howard Stern,2011]

He’s a complicated character and he really has gotten really, really good at that job. He’s a million times better at it now. He really is good at the job…He’s a nice Jewish boy from Toronto. He’s vulnerable to guilt and when people need help, he helps them. [Howard Stern, 2011]

New Yorkers

My favorite thing about New York is the people, because I think they’re misunderstood. I don’t think people realize how kind New York people are. The drivers are far more considerate, they’re just very aggressive. [Patricia Chui, 2010]


I live a little bit on the seat of my pants, I try to be alert and available. I try to be available for life to happen to me. We’re in this life, and if you’re not available, the sort of ordinary time goes past and you didn’t live it. But if you’re available, life gets huge. You’re really living it. [Charlie Rose, 2014]

I think if you can take care of yourself, and then maybe try to take care of someone else, that’s sort of how you’re supposed to live. [Squawk Box, 2012]

Picking Roles

I only do the things I like, and lately people have been asking me to do straight things, or straight things that have a little bit of humor to them. [Charlie Rose, 2014]


I’m not that organized. I’m not one of those guys. I mean you read it, you look at it, and you go: I have that in me, I can do that. I don’t necessarily get all mental. There are people that are working with you on every level and on a movie you’re working with people that are, ideally, all serving the same goal and that’s what helps me get into a role. [The Talks, 2011]

I’ve always tried to be a little bit loose. This great director we had at Second City [Del Close] said: “You wear your characters like a trench coat. It’s still you in there, but there’s like a trench coat.” [New York Times, 2012]


Biographies for children of American heroes, all the guys like Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickok and Davy Crockett. I read them over and over, ‘cause they were all poor kids when they started. The book that made the biggest impression was the one about Crockett, because he ran away from home as a kid, pulled it off, and his parents missed him when he came back. ‘That’s the kind of happy ending that sticks with me. [New York Times, 1988]

I tried to explain it to somebody the other day. This guy said to me, “People don’t read books anymore.” I said, “No, I think you’re wrong. I think that the online world has actually brought books back. People are reading because they’re reading the damn screen. That’s more reading than people used to do. [Jessica Lee Jernigan, 1999]


I think romance basically starts with respect. And new romance always starts with respect. [, 2003]


I’ve taken a couple of breaks. I’ve retired a couple of times. It’s great, because you can just say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m retired.” [laughs] And people will actually believe that you’ve retired. There are nutters out there that will go, “Oh, okay!” and then leave you alone. [GQ, 2010]

I kinda like this Jay-Z thing, where he’s retired, but he keeps doing shows. I think I beat him to that. If you say you’re retired, people don’t bother you so much, and then if you want to do something, you can do it. [Athens Banner-Herald, 2006]


I’m a sucker for hero roles, the big brother parts, especially superheroes - providing they have flaws. [New York Times, 1988]


Rumor? Oh wow! I don’t really remember them. I don’t hold onto rumors much. [Reddit, 2014]


That could have been a really, really great movie. The script was so good. There’s maybe one take in the final cut movie that is mine. We made it so fast, it was like doing a movie live. [Director Richard Donner] kept telling me to do things louder, louder, louder. I think he was deaf. [Roger Ebert, 1990]

Second City

The reason so many Second City people have been successful is really fairly simple. At the heart of it is the idea that if you make the other actors look good, you’ll look good. It works sort of like the idea of life after death. If you live an exemplary life, trying to make someone else look good, you’ll look good too. It’s true. It really does work. It braces you up, when you’re out there with that fear of death, which is really the difference between the Second City actors and the others. [Roger Ebert, 1990]


My brother Brian was my first great influence. He made much of what I am possible. To this day, if I have a question about something ethical or about being an actor or entertainer or a person or something like that, he’s a person who helped form me. [Reddit, 2014]

Wes Anderson

I really love the way Wes writes with his collaborators, I like the way he shoots, and I like HIM. I’ve become so fond of him. I love the way that he has made his art his life. And you know, it’s a lesson to all of us, to take what you love and make it the way you live your life, and that way you bring love into the world. [Reddit, 2014]

What He Whispered in Scarlett Johansson’s Ear at the end of Lost In Translation

You know? I forget. [Reddit, 2014]

The Collected Wisdom of Bill Murray