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Bill Hader brings impressions, ‘SNL,’ insight to Ohio State

Courtesy of Dana Edelson / NBC

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Bill Hader might be used to the chaos of performing on “Saturday Night Live,” but the energy at Ohio State took him aback.

After yelling “O-H” at the beginning of the event, Hader was alarmed by the loud audience response. He instantly said “F—,” and compared the response to the reaction of a cougar after poking it.

Hader spoke to about 1,200 students Monday night in the Mershon Auditorium during an Ohio Union Activities Board-sponsored event. The event was in Q-and-A format, with theater professor Nicholas Dekker moderating the first half and students asking questions for the remainder.

Hader has been a cast member of “SNL” since 2005 and was nominated for Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 2012 for his work on the show. Hader has also starred in films including “Adventureland,” “Superbad” and “Men in Black 3.”

Hader’s character Stefon on “Saturday Night Live” usually picks out the hottest clubs in New York City, but Hader said he might pick the Varsity Club when visiting Columbus.

“I think he would just hang out at the Varsity Club. He would take over the Varsity Club and make it a vomit factory,” Hader said in an interview with The Lantern. “He would play throw-up music. He would just fill it full of broken glass.”

Hader talked highly about all of his fellow cast members and said they have their own comedic strengths. 

“I feel very lucky to be working with all of those people,” Hader told The Lantern. “You learn that the first rule of improv is making the other people look good, and they’re very easy to make look good.”

During the event, Hader gave students a sample of his many impressions, including Al Pacino, Jimmy Fallon and Peter Falk, and even brought out his Stefon voice. Hader said some of his favorite “SNL” hosts include Justin Timberlake, Jon Hamm and Martin Short.

“I was totally starstruck,” Hader said of Short hosting “SNL.” “He’s like the funniest guy in the world.”

Hader told many stories about his experiences with different hosts on “SNL,” including how a wall almost fell on Justin Bieber during a sketch in dress rehearsal when the singer hosted on Feb. 9.

“In the middle of the sketch a f—–g wall almost falls on Justin Bieber. It cuts to Justin Bieber and he looks like he s— his pants and then it cuts to me and I’m laughing,” Hader said. “All I could say was, ‘Is the little guy going to be OK?’ and (later) he was like, ‘What was that little guy thing?’ You should be happy I said guy!”

Even though “SNL” sketches are supposed to make the audience laugh, Hader is known for breaking during sketches, most commonly when acting as Stefon and also during “The Californians.” Hader said producer and creator of “SNL,” Lorne Michaels, doesn’t get mad when he can’t contain his laughter during a live sketch.

“I asked him and he said, ‘It’s fine when you do it because it seems very genuine,’ because (‘SNL’ writer) John Mulaney is f—–g with me,” Hader said. “Like in Stefon, he puts stuff on the (cue) cards that I haven’t seen yet. So I’m like saying something and something comes up and I’m like, ‘What?'”

Hader helps write many sketches on the show, including those for his characters Stefon and the elderly, angry TV reporter Herb Welch, but he said that before “SNL,” he had no experience writing sketch comedy or doing impressions.

“I learned everything at ‘SNL.’ I had no idea what I was doing,” Hader said. “I went from like kindergarten to Harvard.”

Even though Hader is in his eighth season at “SNL,” he said that it’s still “terrifying” to perform on live television week after week.

“It never gets easy,” Hader said. “I remember Will Ferrell coming back to do something and he got off stage and his hands were shaking.”

As for pre-show rituals, Hader said he eats a Cliff Bar and drinks a double espresso before each show. But the entire cast has a shared ritual. 

“When Don Pardo says your name, you give yourself a little pat on the back,” Hader said, referring to the opening credits. 

One student asked about the process of writing sketches and brainstorming ideas for “SNL.”

“It’s like being with your friends just f—–g around. You just have to be loose and not think too much,” Hader said. “It’s a very organic process and I learned to not over-analyze it too much.”

Hader said success doesn’t come easy; performing comedy is an acquired skill.

“You’re gonna go up there and you’re gonna suck,” Hader said. “None of us like, go out there and like, knock it out of the park immediately. We all suck when we start out.” 

Even though working at “SNL” is very time-consuming, Hader still found time to star in a few upcoming films, including “The To-Do List,” which was written and directed by Hader’s wife, Maggie Carey, and “The Skeleton Twins,” in which Hader plays Kristen Wiig’s gay twin brother. 

Megan Lyon, comedy chair for OUAB, said bringing Hader to campus was an obvious choice.

“Bill Hader was a popular selection among students, and OUAB’s Comedy Committee was also very passionate and excited about the opportunity to bring a well-known comedian to Ohio State,” Lyon said in an email.

Adam Lichtcsien, a third-year in anthropology, said he enjoyed the show but was surprised by the setup of the event.

“I showed up thinking it was going to be a comedy event, but I was really pleased with the way they did it,” Lichtcsien said. “You can tell he’s a really nice guy, he’s very professional and yet he remains jokey. The fact that he was able to spin it into a comedy just as a forum was really great.”

Anahita Ameri, a third-year in mechanical engineering, is a member of Fishbowl Improv and loved hearing advice from Hader about making it to “SNL” and the audition process.

“Since like the Ashlee Simpson debacle in 2004, I wanted to be on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” Ameri said. “That advice, even though it was very subtle, when I heard it I was like ‘This is great.'” 

A representative from OUAB declined to comment on the cost of the event.

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