Growing Up ‘SNL’ With Bill Hader and Seth Meyers (Exclusive Video)

TheWrap magazine: The alums talk lessons learned from one another, “SNL” memories, “Barry” and “Late Night” in this wide-ranging (and hilarious) chat

This story about Bill Hader and Seth Meyers and “Barry” and “Late Night” first appeared in the Comedy Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

The moment Bill Hader and Seth Meyers met on “Saturday Night Live,” Meyers immediately understood that Hader was a film nerd. “The first time Bill came into my office after he got hired, when he left, I somehow had a list of 12 foreign films to watch,” Meyers said during a lengthy joint interview conducted before the writers’ strike, the full version of which you can watch here or at the bottom of this article. “It’s like the guy from the video store following you around,” Hader added with a laugh.

And yet, even as the two became close friends on “SNL” (and an iconic duo via Hader’s Stefon on Weekend Update), Meyers could never have predicted that Hader would make something like “Barry.”

The HBO series wrapped up its fourth and final season in May, with Hader’s hitman-turned-wannabe-actor comedy concluding in dark, emotional and notably cinematic fashion. Hader served as star, showrunner and writer on the show, but he also directed 18 episodes including all eight of the final season.

“Even with the people in the ‘SNL’ cast you’re really close with, it’s impossible to predict what they’re going to do next,” Meyers said. “The thing you’re most excited about is if they’re in control of it. So I was really excited because I knew that Bill had written it and I knew it would have Bill’s steady hand all over it, but I would never have predicted it would be ‘Barry.’ That first episode is such a perfectly written pilot, and it didn’t look the way I expected it to look. It wasn’t the kind of story I expected Bill to tell, but as soon as it started, I just had this real excitement of knowing how great an idea it was for his sensibility.” Meyers, beaming with pride, looked directly at Hader and said, “You’re such an exceptional director.”

Similarly, when Hader first saw Meyers transition from “SNL” cast member and head writer to host of his own late-night show on NBC, he found it to be a perfect fit. “He’s genuinely very curious about people, and he’s insanely funny,” Hader said. “I grew up watching Letterman and Conan, and I was so happy to see my friend there doing that.” The “Barry” creator added that he’s been thrilled to see his daughter talk with her friends about “Late Night With Seth Meyers” the way he and his friends talked about Letterman and Conan when he was younger.

Meyers quipped, “When my 7-year-old talks about ‘Barry’ I’m like, ‘Who’s letting you watch?’” Hader’s laugh echoed through the room before he fired back in a pitched voice, “Dad, it’s called existential angst!”

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Bill Hader (Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap)

Meyers has carved out a niche with his “A Closer Look” segment on Late Night, which delves into a specific political topic. For Hader, the segment stands out because of the host’s lack of smugness. “That’s where I get my news,” Hader said. “Everybody talks about how witty he is and the satire and everything, but it all comes from a very deep intellect… It always comes from genuinely trying to figure it out. We’re all just trying to understand what’s happening.”

Hader said it “feels like home” when he’s a guest on “Late Night,” although both Hader and Meyers get butterflies when they get physically near the “SNL” studio, which reminds them of the grind of the NBC series. “The minute the elevators open, my stomach goes into knots,” Hader admitted. “At one point I thought I’m either gonna cry or throw up, but none of it is joy,” Meyers said with a laugh.

Despite the persistent anxiety, both have applied lessons learned from their time on “SNL” to their current career paths — specifically, lessons learned from each other.

Hader, for instance, started to expand who he wrote for. “I would write these Vinny Vedecci sketches and pitch them to you, and you would go, ‘Great. What does the host get to do?’” Hader said. “You want to write something that [someone else] would want to perform, and I learned that from you,” he told Meyers, adding that when writing “Barry,” he started writing toward his actors’ strengths.

“Sarah Goldberg is really good at monologues, so it’s like OK, let’s give her a super long monologue.” Hader also credited Meyers with stressing to him not to “do the audience’s homework” and teaching him a key lesson about joke writing. “Seth had such a huge effect on me and all of us,” he said.

Hader then told a story from his first season on “SNL” when he learned the importance of simplicity in storytelling. “I did a sketch where I was Peter Falk giving a class on Star Wars sounds to Natalie Portman,” he began, barely containing his own laughter at the ridiculousness of the premise.

“Mad Libs was the head writer,” Meyers quipped, cracking Hader up further.

Hader continued, “Seth, after the table read, was like, ‘I don’t know if you need to be Peter Falk. I kind of feel like you could just be a guy. It feels like a hat on a hat.’ And I was like, ‘What does hat on a hat mean?’ Seth said, ‘It’s one idea on top of another. If you put a hat on top of another hat, it looks dumb.’” Hader wanted to try the sketch anyway, so he did. And it bombed “horribly.” “I remember sitting there kind of shell shocked and I look over at Seth and he [mimicked putting a hat on top of a hat], and I was like, ‘I understand now,’” he said. Meyers jumped in. “Now I’m mad I didn’t run to wardrobe during dress rehearsal and say, ‘I need two hats!’”

“The thing that I also learned from Seth was how to be straight with someone,” Hader added. “And critical without being — it never felt cruel. It was always compassionate and helpful. It wasn’t like, ‘Get this out of here.’ It was like, ‘OK, here’s the issue with this, here’s where things are not gonna work, and here’s what I think you could do to make it better.’ I’ve taken that from him, and that is how I run the writers room at Barry. That’s how I work with actors.”

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Seth Meyers (Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap)

While Meyers was head writer during Hader’s time on “SNL,” the “Late Night” host was quick to note that he learned plenty from Hader as well. The pride with which he spoke about Hader’s talent was profound.

“Bill’s been very complimentary, and it means a lot, but I should also say I feel like I learned from you,” Meyers said. “You’re such a good taste meter, you always have that, ‘Let’s try to get a little bit better on this joke.’ It’s so nice, when I go back and look at stuff I wrote with you, I can always see that. If I’m doing stand-up, there’s not a time where I don’t think, ‘I wouldn’t have done that if I’d never met Bill’ or ‘I wouldn’t have done that if I’d never met Will [Forte].’”

Meyers and Hader also stressed the talent of the entire cast from their “SNL” era, which included Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, Maya Rudolph, Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte and Kenan Thompson. “I was saying this to Andy recently, I believe our era was ‘benevolent snobs,’” Meyers said. “Everybody had a snobbery but not about style. I think everybody appreciated that there were different voices in that era of the show, so the only thing people were unsatisfied with was any writer not writing to the height of their talents.”

Hader added, “Seth was the person who taught me that the DNA of ‘SNL’ was competitive, but we don’t have to be competitive with each other.”

Meyers said he’s found a comfortable groove with “Late Night,” especially when it comes to joke delivery – something he was precious about on ‘SNL.”

“’SNL’ was a deeply fun time in my life. But for me, for real — I’m not just saying this because of current company — it was fun to be next to Stefon, because I didn’t have to do any of the heavy lifting,” Meyers said. “But like telling jokes, I never started Update thinking it would go well. And so now with ‘Late Night,’ I’m kind of pretty confident it’s gonna go well, and it’s a great feeling.”

Hader and Meyers’ era of “SNL” birthed not just “Barry” and “Late Night” but also “Ted Lasso,” “Bridesmaids,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Documentary Now!,” “Portlandia,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “The Last Man on Earth” and other beloved shows, films and stand-up specials. “One of the many gifts of being a part of that group of people is how it would be so deeply embarrassing to have come out of there and then do something s–ty now,” Meyers said.

Indeed, Meyers, Hader and fellow “SNL” alums Fred Armisen, John Mulaney, Alex Buono and Rhys Thomas created their own show in “Documentary Now!,” an IFC series in which each episode parodies a different documentary – some iconic, some obscure.

The idea was inspired by an “SNL” sketch in which Fred Armisen played “the one punk who loved Margaret Thatcher,” and Hader went into Meyers’ office after the show and said they should make that into a TV series. “I give full credit to you in saying, ‘That’s always the kind of show I’d wanna do,’” Meyers said.

For Meyers, “Documentary Now!” – which just aired its fourth season – is a welcome chance to make something very different from “Late Night.”

“It’s the opposite of ‘Late Night’ which by the day after it airs has like half the value, whereas ‘Documentary Now!’ it’s so fun to make a show that I don’t think will age at all because it was already so outdated,” he said. Hader added with a laugh, “It was the perfect example of Peak TV because it’s like, ‘How is this a show?’”

While “Documentary Now!” amassed a small but deeply passionate fanbase, Meyers and Hader found even wider acclaim with “Late Night” and “Barry.” Meyers has won the Critics Choice Television Award for “Late Night,” and Hader has netted three DGA awards for directing “Barry,” two WGA awards for writing the show and two acting Emmys for it.

But Hader still credits “SNL” (and Meyers) for getting him there. “I would never have been able to do Barry if I hadn’t done ‘Saturday Night Live,’” Hader said.

“I don’t think any of us would’ve been able to do anything,” Meyers echoed.

Read more from the Comedy Series issue here.

Comedy Series Cover, Selena Gomez
Photographed by Jeff Vespa

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