SXSW 2018: Bill Hader talks ‘Barry,’ LeBron James, ‘SNL’ and more with The Ringer’s Bill Simmons

Wry, nimble, absurd, likable, self-effacing and brilliant, Bill Hader proved himself to be all of the things one imagines of the “Saturday Night Live” veteran when he appeared at Vox Media’s Deep End for a taping of The Ringer’s Bill Simmons podcast.

Bill Hader (left) and Bill Simmons at Vox Media’s The Deep End at South by Southwest. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Simmons, whose Ringer masthead of Chris Ryan, Juliet Litman and Sean Fennessy sat front row, knowingly commented that Hader looked a little rough. The slightly disheveled and five-o-clocked-shadowed Hader admitted that he’s not a big drinker but that he ended up putting back about 20 Electric Jellyfish IPAs the night before and got really drunk, as he sat around after the world premiere of his HBO show “Barry” and watched reviews from the trades start to flow in. He followed that night with a morning of breakfast tacos, so it sounds like the man who gave life to Stefon is fitting into the town nicely. The night before was apparently Simmons’ first trip to an Alamo Drafthouse, and the longtime veteran of ESPN announced that is was “one of the greatest things anywhere.”

Hader was ostensibly there to talk about his new show, which follows a Midwestern hitman who heads out to Los Angeles to murder an actor and ends up falling in with a class of struggling actors taught by a guru played by Henry Winkler. Hader describes his titular as a hybrid of De Niro’s Travis Bickle (“Taxi Driver”) and Clint Eastwood’s Bill Munny (“Unforgiven”) ends up meeting the characters in “Waiting for Guffman.” It’s a “tonal tightrope,” and Hader says that most places would have dismissed the idea out of hand but that HBO was totally on board, a story of another creative praising the vision and freedom of the network.

While we didn’t get an Eastwood impression from Hader, he did riff on some J.B. Smoove, imitating the former SNL writer’s brash but casual confidence in pitching absurd ideas in the show’s writers’ room. Sadly, the world never got to experience the drive-by in a snowstorm. Hader also had the crowd in stitches with his unproduced sketch about a super genial Jame Gumb (“Silence of the Lambs”) hosting a late-night talk show with the girl in the well as his sidekick and another talk show where “To Catch a Predator’s” Chris Hansen walks in on unsuspecting guests on a set resembling the creepy NBC show and offers the shocked guests milk to go with the cookies they took from a plate in the fake kitchen.

The hour-long conversation jumped from Hader’s time as a production assistant on a Playboy TV show to his big SNL break. Below are a few more highlights of the podcast that will likely be posted soon

  • Megan Mullaley was responsible for Hader’s big break. She saw him perform at an improv show and loved him. He heard from her soon after. “I had dinner with Lorne Michaels and told him about you,” and then I was on SNL, Hader said. “She just happened to be there on a night i was funny. And, thank god.”
  • Maya Rudolph was apparently a stone-cold killer on SNL, able to jump in and out of sketches at the drop of a hat. She also had a wicked sense of play. One show, as they were counting down to air, Rudolph stuck her finger in a visibly anxious Hader’s butt. “It was sweet,” Hader sad, the playful move allowing Hader to get out of his head before performing.
  • Hader, who has written extensively for “South Park” said that doing satire on Donald Trump is hard. Referencing an old comedy axiom of stacking too many jokes on top of each other and losing their effect, Hader said satirizing Trump is “like putting a hat on a hat, like putting a joke on a joke.”
  • Hader starred in “Trainwreck” with LeBron James and said the future Hall of Famer was super easy to work with and totally game for any comedic bits Hader offered. During the scenes where the notes Oklahoma City Thunder fan played one-on-one with the Cavs star, Chris Rock was apparently off camera feeding comedic lines to James.
  • Paramount Pictures once let Hader and writing partner John Mulaney know that if they wanted to make a Stefon movie, the opportunity was there, but Hader said the duo had no interest. “The sketch made no sense, so a movie wouldn’t work.” Some things were just meant to be legendary Weekend Update bits.
  • Hader’s favorite SNL character he didn’t play? Phil Hartman’s Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, in a bit that Hader said really cracked open his mind about the possibilities of sketch.
  • Hader’s first SNL pitch: that Steve Carrell playing Bobby Flay on an episode of “Iron Chef” where the celeb chef gets electrocuted. The idea was pulled from Hader’s real life, as he served as a PA on that show.
  • He doesn’t think of pieces as comedy or drama. He thinks in terms of story. In discussing the blending of the two forms and tones, he referenced that two of his favorite writers are Tobias Wolff and George Saunders.
  • Hader doesn’t talk junk about anyone publicaly ever. Except Justin Bieber, whom Hader said brought a massive entourage and a disrespectful attitude to the taping. “He had more than people than Obama.”

”Barry” premieres on HBO on March 25.

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