Bill Hader on life after 'SNL'

CNN
Friday, July 26, 2013 - 1:00am

 Comedian/actor Bill Hader has departed "Saturday Night Live" after eight seasons, but it's not like he's strapped for work.

This Friday, Hader will be seen prominently in the raunchy summer comedy "The To Do List" opposite Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Bilson, Donald Glover and Scott Porter. The film comes from Hader's wife, writer/director Maggie Carey, so he's particularly close to this project.

Later this summer, he'll reprise his role as the voice of Flint Lockwood in "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2."

CNN spoke with Hader about his Emmy nomination, why he's moving back to California and his take on humor's long shelf life.

CNN: "The To Do List" is set in the early '90s, an era that a lot of people these days feel nostalgic about. What's funny to you about this time period?

Bill Hader: I don't really know what's funny about it. Everything is so tech now; everyone is so connected that way. It's interesting in this movie that I have to tell Aubrey Plaza's character something, and I have to go to her house. Which you would never do now. The whole movie would be done in two seconds now. It was the last time when things were in that '50s vein. Now, if I leave my cell phone at the house, I assume my house is on fire.

CNN: You play a slacker pool manager, but you yourself are not a slacker. Did you ever go through a stoner phase?

Hader: No, I never did. I actually don't smoke pot that much. I've never been a big pot smoker. And when I do smoke pot, friends always say, "I feel like I'm smoking pot with my dad." I was always the designated driver; I never drank that much. Not out of some moral thing. It's that I wasn't that interested in that. I was more of the drinking coffee at the coffee shop crowd.

Oddly enough, I wasn't a very good student. I didn't apply myself that well. I wasn't good at doing things I wasn't interested in. I used to think I was just slow, and a nice teacher said, "oh, you're actually really smart, you don't give a s*** about anything."

CNN: Along with playing the lead, you're also billed as a producer. Are you looking to do more behind-the-scenes work in the future, like, say, Will Ferrell does?

Hader: Yeah. I'd love to direct a movie. That's initially what I wanted to do. Acting was never something on my radar. I just did it as a fun extension of wanting to direct. I thought I should act to know what actors go through. I realized the acting thing really took. (Laughs.)

CNN: Last week, the Emmy nominations came out, and it was the first time a male "Saturday Night Live" cast member has been nominated twice for "Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series." Have you been in a "comedy sweet spot" the last few years, the way a basketball player might get hot shooting three pointers?

Hader: I don't know if it's that or ... I don't know. I try not to think about it too much, or I'll go crazy. I used to always think that there was a shelf life on being funny. But I work with ("South Park" creators) Matt (Stone) and Trey (Parker), and their show is in its 16th season, and every season is funnier. They figure out new things to do.

Martin Short, when he comes by ("Saturday Night Live"), he's still the funniest human being on the planet. Fred Willard still makes me laugh. All these people I liked growing up are still making me laugh. I try not to think about it too much in terms of myself.

CNN: That's probably good. You need to get some sleep.

Hader: It's not very healthy to think about yourself on those terms. You'll go nuts. Oddly enough, I have really bad stage fright getting up in front of people. And I made a living going on live television.

CNN: Would you be paranoid about the reactions after, or was it more of a "once it's done, it's done"?

Hader: I'd be done with it. I've done sketches on the show -- I don't think I've ever finished anything and thought, "oh, that was great." I'm always like "uhhhh ... Why didn't I do this?" It's like a trap that I try to wiggle out of on-air. A mental trap.

I prepare stuff so compulsively. I'm constantly rereading. I'm constantly rereading the sketch, going over it. So I know it so well, and if the slightest thing doesn't get a laugh, it used to throw me. Toward my last couple seasons on the show, I'd purposely do something I've never done before. Not so much say things but give a different look or pause differently. Something that my brain would say "oh, you screwed up," and suddenly I would relax.

Every Saturday morning, I'd wake up, and I'd immediately start pacing. I could not make my body stop moving. I thought if I stopped moving, it would sink in that I have to go on live television tonight.

CNN: It seems like leaving "Saturday Night Live" might be good for your health.

Hader: Yeah, good for my mental health. No, I say all this, but in the moment, when it's happening, it's actually fun. Especially if people are laughing.

CNN: What was the conversation with Lorne Michaels like? How does someone resign from this iconic show?

Hader: I went into his office in February, and I think he knew that I was going to move to California. That's what it was really about. We got a family, and I want a backyard. That's how it started.

It was really just excruciating small talk and then getting into the issue of the leaving. Generally, Lorne said, "I totally get it, you have a family. I would love it if you stayed, but I get it." Around May, I said I wanted to announce it, and that's how it went.

It definitely was hard. People will say that they cried. I thought I was going to pass out. When it was addressed and happened, it felt like a weight had been put on my shoulder or a weight had been lifted. All I know is that the room started tilting a bit. It was a physical reaction to saying the words "I'm leaving." It was crazy. I didn't have a career. I worked as an editor on "Iron Chef: America" before "SNL." It's the reason people know me.

CNN: That's quite a jump, from "Iron Chef: America" to "SNL."

Hader: It was scary. For four years, I was waiting for them to figure out they made a giant mistake. I still can't really believe it.

CNN: Stefon has certainly entered the hall of fame of "SNL" characters. Was he your favorite?

Hader: He was one of my favorites. Herb Welch, the reporter who was a real ****head, I loved playing him. What I liked about doing Stefon is that you could play it kind of subtle. It was right at the camera.
 

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