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The Real Reason Bill Hader Left Saturday Night Live

For comedic actors, the ultimate goal is to land a role on Saturday Night Live. After all, a solid gig on SNL can lead to international stardom and acclaim. Icons like Mike Myers, Bill Murray, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph have risen through the ranks at Saturday Night Live under Lorne Michaels' tutelage and become bona fide stars, giving them the tools and skills to headline their own movies and TV shows.

One of those big names is Bill Hader, who put in plenty of time at Saturday Night Live and emerged as a promising star on the rise after years of perfecting a whole host of impressions and characters. But while roles on Saturday Night Live are certainly coveted, everything comes to an end eventually, and many actors leave SNL for greener pastures. Bill Hader was no exception, leaving Rockefeller Center in 2013. But what motivated him to move on? Well, here's the real story behind Bill Hader's exit from Saturday Night Live.

Bill Hader honed his skills behind the scenes

Plenty of Hollywood stars boast humble beginnings, and there are few more humble beginnings than Hader's. After attending college in Arizona, followed by a relatively unsuccessful stint at a movie theater, Hader moved to Los Angeles to kickstart his career, and eventually, he found plenty of work as a production assistant.

However, his work as a PA didn't exactly get off to a great start, despite working on big projects like Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. After years as a production assistant, a bad experience on the set of 2002's The Scorpion King led Hader to hang up his PA hat, but he also held some other fascinating Hollywood odd jobs during this time, including his stint as a driver for The Karate Kid's Martin Kove and a gig as a personal assistant to Arnold Schwarzenegger on the set of Collateral Damage. Reportedly, both of these bosses were unpleasant to work with — Schwarzenegger was apparently pretty difficult, while Kove was just kind of a jerk — so it's understandable that after all of that on-set drama, Hader decided to stop working behind the scenes and try harder to get in front of the camera.

A start in sketch comedy

After a bad breakup and a botched directorial debut, Hader finally got a solid start in sketch comedy after he started taking classes at the famous Second City Theatre in Los Angeles. As he made his way into the comedy world, Hader joined forces with fellow comedian Matt Offerman and a few other performers and formed the comedy group Animals from the Future, primarily playing in backyards and other non-venues in spots like Van Nuys. However, it didn't take long before Hader was discovered by a comedic giant.

As it happens, Matt Offerman's older brother, Nick Offerman — who would later gain international fame and acclaim for his career-making role as Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreationtold his wife, Emmy winner Megan Mullally, about Hader, and she was interested enough to check out one of his shows. Before too long, the Will & Grace star had placed a phone call to Saturday Night Live's Lorne Michaels, and Hader was heading to New York to audition for the legendary late-night sketch series.

He went into SNL completely unprepared

Most actors probably prepare pretty intensely for their Saturday Night Live auditions, considering the sheer scope of the opportunity, but apparently, Hader more or less went into his audition completely unprepared (which is, objectively, a slightly crazy move). 

In advance of the biggest audition of his career, Hader didn't have any impressions or characters ready to go, and so he turned to his eventual agent and friend, Naomi Odenkirk, for advice on how to handle this momentous job interview. After Odenkirk asked if he did characters, Hader initially said no, but eventually, he showed off one weird character he had brewing — an Italian interviewer who would one day become Vinny Vedecci, Hader's incompetent talk show host who barely speaks any English. Apparently, Vinny was a hit with Lorne Michaels and the rest of the SNL crew, and before he knew it, Hader was relocating to the East Coast as one of the show's featured players.

The ups and downs of Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live is definitely a dream job for most comedians, and for Hader, it made him the star he is today, but it should still be noted that his experience certainly had its share of ups and downs. Thanks to the punishing SNL schedule that famously requires constant all-nighters, Hader eventually hit his limit. He had trouble sleeping, was terrified during most of his time on set, and he even experienced an actual anxiety attack during a show. (In the aftermath, Hader has admitted he doesn't even remember that particular sketch thanks to his sheer panic.) An actor who doesn't suffer from anxiety would likely struggle with some of SNL's more intense element, and for a performer lovingly described by friends like Andy Samberg as "neurotic," the nearly seven-year stint was even tougher still.

With that said, Hader is certainly responsible for some of the show's most memorable characters and impressions. Even beyond Stefon, the ludicrous party boy he conceived with comedian John Mulaney, Hader was known for playing Devin from "The Californians," elderly newscaster Herb Welch, and fictitious game show host Vince Blight. Plus, there were his impressions of everybody from Vincent Price and Al Pacino to Prince Philip, James Carville, and Anthony Scaramucci, the latter of which brought him back to SNL in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

Leaving Saturday Night Live

Eventually, after an illustrious career on Saturday Night Live, it was time for Hader to start a new chapter in his life, and in 2013, he closed out a full season of the legendary series and finished his SNL tenure in May of that year.

Why did Hader choose to leave at that specific time? According to Hader himself, it was for the good of his family. Hader's wife at the time, Maggie Carey, was pursuing a successful directing career in Los Angeles, which forced Hader into an inconveniently bicoastal life if he wanted to spend time with his children. So in the end, he chose to move to Los Angeles full-time. As The New York Times reported, Hader said, "It was a hard decision, but it has to happen at some point. It got to a point where I said, 'Maybe it's just time to go." 

Later, during an episode of the Lebron James-led talk show The Shop, Hader said that he left because he had a "second kid," "needed some money," and "wanted to go to California." When he told Lorne Michaels, the head honcho of SNL, that he wanted to leave, Michaels told Hader to "wear it for a while." Hader's response? "It f****ing fits! I'm wearing it right now!"

Bill Hader's return to Rockefeller Plaza

As it turns out, you can go home again. Just one year after Hader left Saturday Night Live, he returned to host an episode of the sketch show. Clearly, there were no hard feelings between Hader and the crew at SNL, and he was welcomed back in October 2014 to serve as host for the first time, alongside musical guest Hozier.

Hader brought back most of his beloved characters, including Herb Welch, Devin, Vincent Price, and of course, Stefon, and ultimately, he earned rave reviews for his first hosting gig. Four years later, Hader came back alongside Arcade Fire for a show on March 17, 2018, where he reprised Stefon and Al Pacino, as well as introducing the audience to new bits like "Irish Dating Game." Hader has also returned to SNL for off-hand impressions here and there, including his multiple turns as Anthony Scaramucci, the Trump administration's famously short-lived communications director.

Hader's major movie roles

During his interview on The Shop, Hader mentioned that as soon as he moved to Los Angeles, he booked a major movie role, which turned out to be his first big performance as a leading man after his time on Saturday Night Live. That role was in Trainwreck, which was directed by Judd Apatow and starred Amy Schumer (who also penned the script) and saw Hader as the romantic lead opposite Schumer. Beyond that, Hader found immediate success in Hollywood, playing a wide variety of parts that showed his wide and incredibly versatile range.

One of Hader's first post-SNL roles was in the 2014 indie film The Skeleton Twins, opposite his former SNL co-star Kristen Wiig. And shortly after that, he booked some seriously huge projects. One of Hader's biggest credits thus far was in Pixar's 2015 film Inside Out, where he voiced the character of Fear and starred alongside Amy Poehler (Joy), Lewis Black (Anger), Mindy Kaling (Disgust), and The Office's Phyllis Smith (Sadness). Hader might've parted ways with Saturday Night Live, but in its wake, his star was seriously on the rise.

He joined the Star Wars universe

In the aftermath of Saturday Night Live, Hader linked up with another beloved pop culture institution that got its start in the 1970s, but this time, he stayed relatively low-profile. In fact, if you didn't know for sure that Hader had contributed to one of the biggest film sensations of all time, you'd never be able to guess.

In 2015, the Star Wars universe officially got a sequel trilogy, which kicked off with The Force Awakens and featured new characters like Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), as well as storied favorites like Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher). Alongside long-running droids like C-3PO and R2-D2, a new droid, BB-8, joined the fray, and as it turns out, his signature chirps and beeps were provided by Hader and fellow comedian Ben Schwartz, best known for his role as Jean-Ralphio Saperstein on Parks and Recreation. BB-8 was already well on track to become just as beloved as C-3PO or R2D2, but Hader and Schwartz's under-the-radar voice work pushed the debuting character to new heights.

He created his own opportunities

In the end, Bill Hader created his own projects, a luxury which was afforded to him thanks to his long stint on Saturday Night Live. In his first original project, he worked with his fellow SNL alumni Fred Armisen and Seth Meyers to create Documentary Now!, a 2015 mockumentary series on IFC that lampooned self-serious documentaries while still celebrating the medium.

However, Hader's biggest post-SNL project is undoubtedly Barry, which he created alongside Silicon Valley veteran Alex Berg. The HBO original series, which premiered in 2018, cast Hader as the titular Barry Berkman, a hitman/aspiring actor who tries to turn his life around in Los Angeles to some seriously varying results. Throughout the show, Hader sticks to his comedic roots, but the role also requires some truly harrowing and dark emotions, which the SNL veteran pulls off with aplomb. After Barry premiered, Hader struck literal gold with the role, earning two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy, cementing himself as a capable and skilled dramatic actor despite his comedic start, and the show itself has helped to reinvent HBO's slate of dark comedies going forward.

Bill Hader starred in a Stephen King adaptation

Bill Hader lined up a steady HBO gig after he left SNL, but he still needed at least one blockbuster film to his name, and luckily, opportunity came knocking in 2019 with a huge Stephen King adaptation. After the success of 2017's It, which itself was based on King's 1986 novel about a clown that terrorizes a group of children, the second half of the book still needed to be adapted. Part two would feature the original gang all grown up, and there was a particular role that was just perfect for Hader.

Taking on the part originated by Stranger Things' Finn Wolfhard, Hader played the grown-up version of Richie Tozier, alongside huge names like James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, and Bill Skarsgård. Ultimately, the film premiered to so-so reviews, but it earned special accolades for its performances, which obviously included Hader. In fact, Hader received special attention for his role, which some critics immediately deemed "Oscar-worthy," proving that his performance in Barry was no blip for this multi-talented star.