In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people the same 11 interesting questions.
Bill Hader is one of those people who just never seems to stop working. Even now, between seasons of his Emmy-award-winning HBO series Barry, the Saturday Night Live legend is doing voiceover work in everything from Adventure Time: Distant Lands to Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. Right now he can be heard as Cyrus Strange, the mad scientist nemesis of the Addams Family in The Addams Family 2 (now available in theaters and On Demand). In conjunction with that film’s release, Hader took a few moments to run through our 11 questions, giving us a chance to learn about a really gross moment on a family vacation, what jobs he has excelled and sucked at, and his biggest embarrassment in the Barry writers’ room.
Bill Hader: We went to Disney World in 1987, and I thought it was cool being in Florida. I’m from Oklahoma, and Miami Vice was a really big deal. I thought it was like being in an episode of Miami Vice.
The A.V. Club: Do you remember your favorite ride?
BH: I remember someone threw up on Space Mountain, and so we were on like a conveyor belt thing, like the moving sidewalk, and everybody was going, “Lift your feet up! Lift your feet up!” So that was the big thing that I remember.
2. What’s something that’s considered a basic part of your current career that you struggled to learn?
BH: Grammar. [Laughs.] Spelling and grammar. I have to write up on the board at Barry. And I am terrible at spelling and my grammar is atrocious. And I’m running a writers’ room and they have to sit there, some of whom are like Harvard educated. And they’re just like, “Bill, there, t-h-e-r-e, not…” Or, I’ll say, “How do you spell…?” you know, whatever. It’s just embarrassing.
3. Did you pick up any new skills, hobbies, or get into something you hadn’t before during quarantine?
BH: I read history books. I had never really read history books before. I read one really great one called Manhunt, which I actually read before, about John Wilkes Booth. And I thought, “Oh man, they’re all like this.” And they’re not, they’re really dry. You know anything like describing battles and how they did the battle, I get kind of bored. I’m more interested in the people and the motivations of those historical characters. That was fun.
4. What restaurant do you not live near, but make a point to hit every time you’re in the right town?
BH: I mean, it’s bad for me, but when I’m in Oklahoma there’s this place called Coney I-lander. It’s like a hot dog place. So I’ll go over there, and I grew up on those, so.
AVC: So it’s kind of more like a nostalgia thing.
BH: Yeah, yeah. It’s like, “Oh man, I’m here, I gotta go to Coney I-lander.”
BH: Oh, man. Something that could teach me how to spell and give me grammar [Laughs.] Like a helmet, a spelling grammar helmet that that I can wear in the writers’ room. Something that has a spelling grammar thing like you have in Word, but a helmet. I need it in the moment, just immediately seared into my brain. It’s so embarrassing.
AVC: You have met so many famous people at this point…
BH: There’s just so many. Martin Short, definitely. He’s just a wonderful guy. Henry Winkler, you know? I recently met Benicio del Toro, a great guy, and I had never met him before. He’s just a wonderful, wonderful person.
AVC: Do you remember the first time you met Henry Winkler?
BH: The first time I met him, he was out in the hallway with other actors at the audition for Barry.
AVC: Wow, he auditioned for Barry?
BH: Yeah, he auditioned. So he was out in the hallway with all the other actors with his sides in his hand. And I went out and sat next to him and was like, “Hi!”, you know? And he came in and was just fantastic.
AVC: You guys have such a great chemistry. It was probably instantaneous.
BH: Yeah. And he’s just he’s just such a lovely guy. And and it’s so fun for him to be playing somebody who’s so far from who he is, you know? When we were doing the pilot, he pulled me aside and said, “Is this guy an asshole?” And I said, “Yeah,” and he just went [Big sigh], “Ooohhh.”
BH: I was about to say selling Christmas trees, but I was good at selling Christmas trees. I think working at a Wild Oats. They’re like Whole Foods. I was living in Arizona and I worked at a Wild Oats and I was pretty terrible at that job. I worked at the deli and people would come in and be very specific about their food. Like someone would ask me, “Is there any brown sugar in your barbecue sauce?” And I was like 20 and I was like, “Why are you asking me that?” Now I get it, because I’m 43. But then I’d be like, “Look at the ingredients, why are you asking me?” One woman I remember, she came in, and asked, “Would I like your tamales?” I go, “I don’t know.” [Laughs.] “I don’t know how to answer that.” I was really confused.
I was also not the best P.A. I was a production assistant. That was pretty terrible. I was good at selling Christmas trees.
AVC: What makes somebody good at selling Christmas trees?
BH: Well, the flocked Christmas trees were more expensive. So you know, if you could sell those and get a big tip on that, that was good. So I was like, if they had kids, “You guys want to see the flocked Christmas trees?” and they would lose their minds. And it always, it always worked. It never did not work.
AVC: And you’re a tall guy, so you could probably help maneuver the tree out and wrap it up.
BH: No, I was bad at tying it down too. One time they pulled out and a Christmas tree tumbled off the top of the car. That did happen on my watch. I was not good at that, so I would get this kid Nicholas to tie it. But I felt like I was a genius. I thought I was like, the mob boss over the Christmas tree lot or something. I was like 13 or 14.
AVC: Wow, that’s young.
BH: Well it was a job you could have over Christmas to earn money to buy stuff. Kind of like the first job, you know, the first responsibility, and it was like, “This is great.” And everything else I was bad at. Bagging groceries, I was 100 percent terrible.
AVC: What made you a bad P.A.?
BH: Well, I think because I just was so excited by all the new stuff. I just kind of wanted to talk to people, you know, and ask people what they did and things like that. They’re like, “Bill, you’ve got work to do.” I ran into an A.D. I used to work with and he was like, “Congratulations, you’re a great actor, director… you were a terrible P.A.” [Laughs] I was awful. I just was a scatterbrain, you know?
AVC: This answer is kind of probably a given considering why you’re doing this interview.
BH: Well, the Addams Family, of course. That’d be fun. I’d also like to live with Finn and Jake in Adventure Time. I really like that show. And I like that world. Seems like a great place to be.
9. What’s the first piece of art, or earliest piece of media, that inspired you to go into your field?
BH: Well, for me, there was always two things that kind of happened and encourage each other. One was I was at a sleepover with these kids and I was 10. And this kid’s older brother, who was 17, put on Taxi Driver. And it was this kind of fear, like “I’m not supposed to be watching this.” But instead, I was so drawn in to what was in that movie. And it was the first time I understood cinema. I was just emotionally affected by that, by the way it was made. Everything about it, all the elements that came into making that movie affected me in some way—outside of the pop culture thing that surrounds that movie. You know what I mean? It wasn’t about Travis Bickle with a mohawk or whatever, it was about the emotions of it.
And then the second thing I would say, I was 15, late at night, like at 4:00 in the morning I was watching USA Up All Night with Rhonda Shear like in the early ’90s. And Evil Dead came on, which was released 40 years ago yesterday. And that was like listening to punk rock for the first time. Where you went, “Oh, this is effective, but I feel like I can do this with my camera and my friends.” And so that was a big one. And it’s cool because Jessy Hodges, who plays Lindsey on Barry, her mom is Ellen Sandweiss, who was in Evil Dead. She’s like, “Oh my mom was in this horror movie Evil Dead.” And I’m like, “That’s one of the reasons I picked up a camera and started making shorts with my friends.”
AVC: Apologies if you’ve been asked this five million times before, but how did you start doing your impressions? When did you start mimicking people or realize that you had such a talent for that?
BH: I think when I was a kid, I’d mimic teachers and friends and things like that. I didn’t really do famous people until my SNL audition. I hadn’t done famous people, it was like nothing I really did before. So then it was like, “Oh, you’ve got to do famous people.” And so I just tried it that way. But before that, it was just like doing friends, you know?
AVC: Do you remember the first famous person you decided to do?
BH: Al Pacino. I did all the ones that people have done, like a thousand times, I guess, Al Pacino, Peter Falk, James Mason, or, you know, it’s always the ones people have done forever.
BH: I know a lot. You know, that’s a hard one. Trey Parker is really funny. Holy shit, is Trey Parker funny. John Mulaney, really funny. Marika Sawyer, she’s a writer on SNL, she’s insanely funny. You know, there’s too many.
AVC: What’s the hardest that John Mulaney ever made you laugh?
BH: Just in conversation and things, he would make me laugh. I think so much of it is how quick he is. Incredibly fast. When he started at the show, it took me, I think, by the end of the first writing that he was there and I was like, “Oh, he’s like one of the best comedy writers ever.” Like, this guy is going to be in the pantheon of like, just how fast he is. So many people are good at like conceptual ideas or character ideas. And he can do both and actually bring them together. Like the game show, What’s That Name?
That’s like a conceptual idea. But then to also give me a character in there at the same time, I think that’s a good example. It would either be one or the other, but he can do both.
AVC: The whole thing is brilliant and it’s a takedown of the patriarchy. It works on so many levels.
BH: It’s really funny, just how it all just goes so badly for Doug.
AVC: Which has probably already happened in New York or somewhere. What would be on the Bill Hader sandwich?
BH: The most boring sandwich. Because I’m always like trying to eat healthy or something. It would be a very healthy sandwich and would then would just have chocolate sauce all over it, I’d just blow it. I’d have like a really healthy day, and then right as I’m getting into bed, I just will shove a pint of ice cream in my mouth. It’s just like, I was so good today, and then I just blow it at the very end.