×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The untold truth of Bill Hader

During its years on television, Saturday Night Live has churned out plenty of stars, from Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell to Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig. Plenty of comedic actors have made their mark during the storied late night comedy show, creating beloved characters and crafting perfect impressions, and sometimes, a performer will end up breaking out and becoming bigger than the show itself.

One example of that phenomenon is Bill Hader, who was an intrinsic part of the Saturday Night Live cast for eight years. After his SNL tenure, Hader became a bona fide film star, between crass comedies, indie hits, and Judd Apatow collaborations. You might think you know plenty about the man who brought you Stefon and co-starred in Superbad, but this talented and versatile actor has plenty of secrets up his sleeve. From his start in show business to his varied voice work, here's the untold truth about Bill Hader.

Bill Hader is a longtime film buff

It seems pretty appropriate that Bill Hader, a future movie star, was a huge film buff from a young age. When Hader was a kid, his dad introduced him to classic comedies by Mel Brooks and the Marx Brothers, along with heavy hitters like A Clockwork Orange, so by the time he was a young adult, he was well versed in film history.

With that being said, his first ever film-related job didn't go particularly well. After getting rejected by numerous film schools thanks to his poor grades, Hader took a job at a local movie theater in Tempe, Arizona (after attending the Art Institute of Phoenix and Scottsdale Community College, also in Arizona), but he ended up getting fired because he couldn't stop himself from spoiling a movie for some pretty terrible patrons. According to Hader, a group of sorority girls rented out the theater to see James Cameron's epic Titanic, but because they were rude to him to begin with, he told them, "'The boat sinks, Leo dies, the old lady — that's Kate Winslet — she has a jewel, and she throws in the water at the end, so that's where that goes!'" To be fair, if they were really that rude, they probably deserved it. And beyond that, it's not exactly a spoiler to say that the Titanic sank in the first place.

He worked as a driver for a Karate Kid star

Before becoming a major star, Bill Hader paid his dues by working a bunch of different low-level jobs in film for years, and one of those jobs, according to him, was particularly odd. 

While working in lower-budget movies, Hader ended up as a driver for Martin Kove, best known for his role as John Kreese, the demented Cobra Kai sensei in the Karate Kid films (a role which he later reprised in the Cobra Kai series). On WTF with Marc Maron, Hader revealed that Kove was a big backseat driver, which resulted in a lot of wrong turns, and beyond that, Kove really enjoyed yelling at Hader. However, the weirdest interaction Hader described was when he thought Kove was showing him a rare moment of kindness by offering to get him a milkshake and a cookie at McDonald's. However, after Kove went inside the fast food joint, he came back out ... drinking the milkshake and eating the cookie that he'd offered to buy for Hader. Everyone has had a weird boss, but this one might take the cake, or in this case, the cookie.

He put in plenty of time behind the scenes

After dropping out of college, Bill Hader started to find work in film, although he had to pay plenty of dues before discovering fame. Hader did extensive work as a production assistant on several films, finding jobs in the back pages of The Hollywood Reporter while working towards the modest goal of becoming an assistant director. For years, the comedic talent toiled as a production assistant on movies as small as James Dean (starring James Franco) and as big as Spider-Man (co-starring James Franco), but ultimately, a bad experience on The Scorpion King, which starred Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, led to Hader's last ever credit as a PA.

However, he did have one other high profile credit during his time as an assistant. During Collateral Damage, he was a personal assistant for Arnold Schwarzenegger. And it sounds like working for Schwarzenegger wasn't an easy task. The actor demanded that schnitzel be flown to set, and he allegedly had a bad habit of hitting on women with cringey, vulgar pickup lines. But Hader persevered, and while Collateral Damage was a flop, Hader was destined for bigger and better things.

A breakup and a familiar face helped Hader get his big start

How did Bill Hader launch his career? Well, as it turns out, a breakup was the first step to his finding celebrity. Admittedly, it's an unlikely start to such a storied career, but Hollywood is weird, and so is love.

After attempting a short film that Hader himself later described as "terrible," he and his longtime girlfriend split, giving Hader the push he needed to find a new outlet. After watching a friend perform at Second City (a Chicago-based comedy school that's trained the likes of Tina Fey, Steve Carell, and Jordan Peele) in Los Angeles, he started to seriously consider comedy, so he began taking classes there, realizing that a new venture might eventually help him further his career. 

Luckily, he was right, and before too long, he created his own comedy troupe, a group called Animals From the Future, which also featured Matt Offerman, the younger brother of Ron Swanson himself, Nick Offerman. This was before Parks and Recreation, but obviously, Nick's wife, Megan Mullally, was a household name thanks to her role as Karen on Will & Grace, and when Matt told his sister-in-law to come and see his troupe perform, it turned out to be incredibly fortuitous for Hader.

Mullally immediately noticed the actor, and it was thanks to her that he booked his next big role. The Emmy-winning actress immediately called Lorne Michaels at Saturday Night Live, and before Hader knew it, he'd gotten one of the most notoriously difficult auditions in the entire entertainment industry. Hader's rise to stardom was so abrupt thanks to this opportunity that shortly before he was officially asked to become a part of SNL's cast, he was working as a production assistant on Iron Chef America.

Bill Hader winged his biggest audition

Whenever Saturday Night Live releases an audition tape that shows the origin of someone who eventually became super famous on the show, you can usually see the actor's raw potential thanks to their characters, impressions, and perfectly executed set. Bill Hader's tape had a brief moment in the sun during SNL's 40th anniversary celebration, but as it turns out, he went into his audition basically blind.

Lacking any real professional acting experience (aside from one episode of Punk'd), Hader sat down with the woman who would later become his manager, Naomi Odenkirk, and admitted that he didn't have any characters or impressions in his back pocket. When she pressed him, he impersonated an over-the-top Italian man he'd recently seen in Los Angeles, and Odenkirk told him to simply use that. Inexplicably, that one impression not only got him a role on the show, but it would eventually become his first ever character on SNL as Vinny Vedecci, the barely comprehensible talk show host who spends his time confusing his guests. Many actors spend their entire lives trying to get onto SNL, and though it seems like Hader almost booked the show by accident, it's clear that his obvious talent shone through during his audition.

A chance meeting at his SNL audition

When Bill Hader auditioned for Saturday Night Live, he absolutely knocked it out of the park, but a chance run-in with a future co-star nearly derailed his entire audition.

As Hader recounted for NPR's Fresh Air, he stepped into the elevator at 30 Rockefeller Center, set to audition for Lorne Michaels and his creative team. However, he was riding along with a fellow comedian who would eventually enter the show during the same season as Hader. According to Hader, "There was a guy next to me who had a backpack full of props and wigs and things, and I went, 'Oh my god, that guy is so prepared, I have nothing, I have no props.' And that was Andy Samberg." 

Apparently, Samberg was thinking along the same lines, later admitting (via Live From New York) that he worried Hader would book the part instead of him because this guy didn't need props. Luckily, they both went on to join SNL's cast and work together on other projects, including films by the Lonely Island like Hot Rod, but this story certainly makes for a great industry anecdote.

Bill Hader has struggled with anxiety and neurosis

Bill Hader's meteoric rise was definitely an exciting move for a fledgling actor, but unfortunately, it also came with a price. As Alec Berg — who co-created the acclaimed HBO series Barry with Hader years later — told The Ringer, "Bill got SNL super fast, and he was really good at it, but it really ate at him. He was a nervous wreck for eight seasons, and doing live television was just really brutal on him." Eventually, when Hader did leave SNL, it was mostly to take care of himself, as the grueling schedule simply got to him.

However, Hader is quite open about the fact that his first couple of years on the program were pretty difficult. Initially, he was terrified and felt like he didn't belong, delivering performances that he considered stiff and rigid. And at night, he was completely unable to get a good night's sleep. He even experienced a full-on panic attack during a Christmas episode during an impersonation of Julian Assange, saying that he barely remembered his performance by the time he had his makeup removed. Eventually, Hader was given a reason to finally relax. During an after-party in 2009, Lorne Michaels himself apparently told the actor that he had a job at SNL for as long as he wanted. 

Hader defied an agent to take a defining role

Most actors without a ton of credits to their name put their full faith in agents and managers, but sometimes, an actor has to make an independent decision. Luckily for Bill Hader, his first big break from an agent's advice served him pretty well.

As he embarked on his film career, which he kicked off during his tenure on Saturday Night Live, Hader was on the hunt for quality projects, and when he came across the script for Superbad, penned by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, he was immediately interested. However, he was also up for a part in an unnamed Hollywood blockbuster, and as he tried to decide which part to take, Hader's agent evidently got a little snippy.

Speaking with SHARP magazine, Hader said his agent sent him a rude email that read, "Let me get this straight. Instead of being with this big actor in a lead role for this big amount of money, you want to be with the kid who plays George Michael on Arrested Development for that amount of money — and you're playing Cop Number Two?" Hader didn't respond to the message. Instead, he ignored his agent's advice, passed on the blockbuster, and signed on to play the cop opposite Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

When that unnamed blockbuster flopped and Superbad became one of the most beloved teen comedies of all time, Hader responded to the agent's rude email months later, writing one simple word: "Yes."

He created one of SNL's most popular modern characters

Everybody knows that Bill Hader's most popular and iconic SNL character is Stefon, the absurd nightlife expert who spent his time baffling former Weekend Update host Seth Meyers with abjectly terrible and often horrifying suggestions about how tourists should spend their time in New York City. However, you might not know just how involved Hader was in the process.

Hader created the character with stand-up comedian John Mulaney, who was writing for SNL at the time, and he based Stefon on a sleazy club promoter he once knew who pitched terrible ideas in a variety of different weird spaces around New York. Together, Hader and Mulaney wrote the first Stefon sketch, and the character, known for his Ed Hardy shirt and fluttering voice, was born

Stefon continued his journey, pitching more terrible ideas and falling more in love with Meyers (the two got "married" when Hader left the show, and a Stefon matryoshka doll is still visible on Meyers' desk on Late Night With Seth Meyers), but his most recognizable tic was actually an accident. Stefon's signature move, where he puts his hands over his face whenever he's surprised or excited, only happened when Hader actually broke during a sketch thanks to an extra hilarious punchline written by Mulaney. From then on, Mulaney started sneaking surprise jokes into Stefon sketches just to get Hader to break, leading to plenty of hilarious moments.

He worked on another famous comedy show

Bill Hader is a man who knows how to keep busy. In addition to SNL, he's played in movies like Trainwreck and It: Chapter Two, he's created and starred in HBO's Barry (for which he won a Best Actor Emmy), and he's been doing fantastic work on the mockumentary series Documentary Now! On top of all that, he quietly worked on one of the most popular comedy shows of all time for around a decade.

Between 2008 and 2017, Hader worked as both a writer and producer on South Park, the Comedy Central cartoon about about foul-mouthed kids in Colorado that lampoons everything from Scientology to Mormonism to Shake Weights. As Hader told fellow actor Danny McBride (via Interview magazine), he met South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and it progressed from there. So what does Hader think about his time on South Park? Well, as the actor put it, "It's the best. I did it because I was a fan. I became good friends with Matt Stone, and he said I should come to one of their retreats and hang out because we all had a similar sense of humor. But they're just ninjas at writing. I just sit there and laugh and learn as much as I can." 

In addition to voicing characters on the show, Hader can  be seen in the South Park documentary 6 Days to Air, which chronicles the cartoon's hyper-fast turnaround time, even as Stone and Parker were juggling South Park alongside their Tony Award-winning musical, The Book of Mormon.

Bill Hader's varied voice work

Bill Hader spends plenty of time on both the big and small screens in person, but he also has a robust voice work career, from commercial projects to big budget blockbusters. 

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit theaters in 2015, audiences were wowed by J.J. Abrams' additions to the series, especially BB-8, an adorable droid who fit right in alongside fan favorites like C-3PO and R2-D2. However, most people had no idea who provided the noises for the spunky new robot, and as it turns out, Hader, alongside Ben Schwartz (best known for playing Jean-Ralphio on Parks and Recreation), created the chirpy, cute noises emitted by BB-8.

On the commercial side, Hader took over from Robert Downey Jr. as the voice of Mr. Peanut, but this particular role comes with some irony: Hader is actually extremely allergic to peanuts and was once hospitalized on set thanks to an errant legume. Luckily, playing a peanut doesn't require actually eating them, and Hader is still the voice of the iconic mascot.