Bill Hader: SNL Auteur
by Kathrine Esten07 Nov 2022
Before The Hottest Club in New York
With eight years as an SNL cast member under his belt and a long list of film and televisions credits, Bill Hader remains one of the most popular alumni of the show in recent years.
Many cast members spent years seeking a prized opportunity to audition for the show (Jimmy Fallon (SNL cast member 1998-2004) once told The Rolling Stones that he remembered saying to himself in his early career that if he didn’t make it on the show before he was 25, he’d kill himself). 1 For Hader, his audition was a surprising turn of events.
Living in Los Angeles in the early 2000s, Hader aspired to direct and made a short film to little success. Seeking a creative outlet, he ended up taking classes at the Second City in Hollywood and formed a sketch group with a few other students. At a backyard show, one group member, Matt Offerman, invited his brother and his wife: actor Nick Offerman (who gained prominence on Parks and Rec) and Megan Mullally (of Will and Grace fame). 2
Mullally recommended Hader to Lorne Michaels, and in 2005, Hader officially joined the cast of SNL.
“Going from Second City L.A. to ‘S.N.L.’ was like going from preschool straight to Harvard,” Hader said in an interview with The New Yorker. “It made me feel, ‘The whole nation will see that I’m a fraud!’ ” 3
Hader left SNL in 2013 and immediately found that while the show had granted him a significant degree of fame, it was as a performer rather than a creator. Agents and producers pushed him to focus on his comedy roots, even suggesting a film based on his SNL character of Stefon (co-created with former writer John Mulaney). 3
While early post-SNL projects involved fellow SNL alumni, research on his career trajectory reveals a greater reliance on people he met within comedy that were willing to take him outside of television and outside of sketch performance.
In our study of the SNL Coefficient, we’ve created a chart of Hader-affiliated projects by start year. Some are incongruous with Hader’s timeline as television projects are listed by year of premiere rather than the year Hader appeared. For example, Curb Your Enthusiasm is listed as a project in 2000 while Hader’s 2021 appearance on the show was after he departed SNL.
Visually, two observations are immediately clear.
1) Qualifying media between 2010 and 2020 are overwhelmingly SNL specials or awards ceremonies. 2) While Hader’s career involves a great degree of collaboration, those relationships have not produced SNL media.
During’s Hader’s tenure on SNL and immediately following, there was a flurry of official SNL-related media, mainly surrounding the show’s 40th Anniversary Special. There was also a new tradition of holiday specials (Saturday Night Live Christmas Special began in 2012, followed by the Thanksgiving Special in 2014). These, along with several Best Of and spin-off programming such as Weekend Update: Summer Edition (2008), make up the majority of qualifying media in our data.
The highest-rated media outside of this category and awards ceremonies is The Awesomes (2013), an animated television series co-created by Seth Meyers (2001-2014) and co-produced by Lorne Michaels.
Appearances on comedy series lead by fellow alumni such as Fred Armisen (Portlandia) and Tina Fey (30 Rock) also have high coefficient ratings. Slightly below the qualifying range (0.6 to 0.99) are ensemble animated features: Inside Out (2015)), Ralph Breaks the Internet (2015), The Angry Birds Movie 2 (2019), Monsters University (2013).
Despite being one of the most popular SNL alumni, Hader’s current projects have relatively low coefficients. Arguably his most prominent ongoing project, Barry (2018) is one of only five media items in the “crime” genre in this data set, and has a 0.37. Based on external research, however, we do not exclude him from analysis. His prominence from the show provided a launching pad, albeit in a different direction than the typical comedy fare. Hader and Barry co-creator Alec Berg met through a mutual agent and traveling in the same comedy circles. 4
- Trainwreck (2015) only has a coefficient of 0.81, but it was through this film that Hader met young comedian Pete Davidson. After filming the movie, Hader recommended Davidson to Lorne Michaels, who cast him in the show’s 40th season. A conversation about Davidson’s casting also led to Hader being asked to return for his first appearance as host on October 11, 2014. 5
Hader’s data is a story of how SNL can be a launchpad, but not necessarily constrained to the show’s boundaries.
Hiatt, B. (2011, January 20). “Jimmy Fallon’s Big Adventure.” Rolling Stone. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/jimmy-fallons-big-adventure-182204/ ↩
Barshad, A. (2014, August 25). “Bill Hader’s Day Off.” Grantland. http://grantland.com/features/bill-hader-saturday-night-live-snl-week/ ↩
Friend, T. (2019. March 11). “Bill Hader Kills.” The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/03/18/bill-hader-kills?gclsrc=aw.ds&gclid=Cj0KCQjwteOaBhDuARIsADBqRejUl9PuBCZyCmTVNcK67ygLNrGT5P6fjQEsfiG0440wxSPCtNYTxTAaAit-EALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds ↩ ↩2
Bice, E. (2018, April 9). “Bill Hader and Alec Berg talk ‘Barry’” The Michigan Daily. https://www.michigandaily.com/arts/barry-bill-hader-interview-tv/ ↩
Rahman, R. (2017, August 4). “Bill Hader discusses ‘SNL’ newbie, Pete Davidson, his own hosting debut.” Entertainment Weekly. https://ew.com/article/2014/09/29/bill-hader-pete-davidson-snl/ ↩