Bill Hader on His Early Days in Comedy and Why Stand-Up Isn’t His Thing

While many Saturday Night Live cast members begin their careers in standup, others aren’t so comfortable with being themselves on stage all by themselves.  Bill Hader, for example, might be nominated for an Emmy for his work on the long-running sketch show, but the idea of doing stand-up comedy is something so challenging for him.  As he tells NPR’s Fresh Air, “I don’t know how people do that.  I need a character. I need people out there with me.”

However, Hader almost didn’t even begin working as a comedian because “real life” got in the way.  In the interview he explains that he began his career in show business as a production assistant in Los Angeles, but during that time he wasn’t focusing on being funny.  He recalls, “I didn’t do anything creative that entire time because I just was like, ‘I need to pay the bills.’ I think that happens to a lot of people, you get out and you kinda go, ‘Oh man, I came here for one purpose,’ and then you get sidetracked with the realities of paying the bills. So I stopped doing that, and said I need a job where I get out at 6 p.m. So I started a job as a post-production assistant on a Lifetime television show and that led to me being an assistant editor. … And you know what, I still wasn’t doing anything creative. I was enjoying L.A. and being in my 20s. So my friend said, ‘Hey man, you wanna come see my Level 5 show at Second City?’ … And I went there, and that’s when I realized there are people my age performing sketch comedy and performing improv theater, and I said, ‘Oh, I need to be doing something creative. I’ve been here for almost five years and I’ve done nothing creative; I’m gonna do that.”

Obviously that worked out for him because it wasn’t long until he was auditioning for SNL.  Still, Hader reveals that auditioning for SNL was a nerve-wracking experience, especially since he thought he was under-prepared when he ran into future co-worker Andy Samberg… who himself thought he was over-prepared.  Hader explains, “I remember getting in the elevator for my audition and 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. And Andy Samberg said he was looking at me going, ‘Oh, that guy has no props. He doesn’t need props.’ And that was the first time we met, was in that elevator.”

Hader is now entering his eighth season on SNL, so it appears that not having props didn’t hurt him at all… and Samberg has done pretty well for himself, too.

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