Bill Hader on His Struggles with Ongoing Performance Anxiety

March 24, 2018

From playing beloved SNL characters like Devin and Stefon to starring as a hitman in his HBO dark comedy series Barry, it’s fair to assume that Bill Hader is a confident and comfortable performer. But that would be a mistake! Indeed, Hader has suffered from relentless stage fright throughout his prolific career.

In this Off Camera video, the funnyman reveals a surprisingly serious side of himself; he admits, “I’m a really anxious person. I have like legit anxiety. I’m hosting ‘Saturday Night Live’ next week, and I’m going to be a wreck–like I have to fully prepare myself.”

His nerves have caused flu-like symptoms, dizziness, dread, and a sense that his arms are heavy. Overwhelmed, he’s paced around backstage or sat petrified in chairs waiting for his cue to go onstage. In his recent SNL opening monologue, Hader told the audience, “I was on [SNL] for eight seasons … and I was nervous for every one of them!” Once the legendary Beatles rock star, Paul McCartney, observed Hader struggling backstage at SNL and advised him to drink water or tea to ease his nerves.

Hader says meditation helped him to center himself, and he discovered another technique he could count on; that is, he’d intentionally mess up his first line, and this, oddly enough, helped him relax for the rest of the skit. Hader said, “‘Cause then it would trick my brain into going, ‘You screwed up. This is what you’re afraid of: You screwed up. And you’re still here; lights are here; everything’s fine.’ And it would immediately relax me. Isn’t that weird?”

Born in Oklahoma, Bill didn’t aspire to be a comedian. High school was a painful time as he had challenges focussing and was known as a jokester. He felt sidelined and wondered how’d he’d ever make his way in the world. Rejected from college in Oklahoma, Bill went to community college in Arizona but dropped out to move to Los Angeles. He loved movies and hoped to find work behind the scenes.

Actually, what Hader really wanted was to be a director, but he felt unempowered since the only experience he had with filmmaking was making short films with friends while growing up. And applying to film schools was of no use because of his poor school grades. Sadly, Hader has described his early adult years as feeling “lonely and underemployed.”  Over a period of six years, he worked as a PA and eventually became employed as an assistant editor.

But it would be an invitation from a friend to accompany him to the improvisational comedy enterprise Second City that would change Hader’s life. After studying there for a year, Nick Offerman called Hader to say how much he enjoyed his performance, and he introduced him to Lorne Michael. Lorne, in turn, invited Hader’s comedy group to audition in New York in front of SNL producers. Hader’s nerves were creeping up on him for the audition, but he told himself, “I’ve got nothing to lose.” And the rest, of course, is history.

As far as Barry is concerned, Hader co-created, wrote, directed, and stars in the series which premieres March 25.


Embrace your uniqueness

November 6, 2015

Checking out the other actors in the lobby before auditions is potentially dangerous to a performer’s self-confidence. If you overly concern yourself with the competition, you just might find yourself second-guessing a wardrobe choice, your look, your read, or your take on the part altogether. And entering the audition room riddled with self-doubt is not the way to go!

But this human tendency to compare oneself to others has plagued many of the best performers at various points in their careers. Take, for instance, Saturday Night Live comedian Bill Hader. SNL auditions require the performers to come up with six minutes’ worth of material, and Hader prepared for the challenge in his unique way. But as he went in for the audition, another comedian caught his eye. As he puts it:

“I remember getting into the elevator at 30 Rock next to a guy who had tons of props. It was Andy Samberg. I was really nervous because I hadn’t brought props, but later Andy said he was looking at me, going, ‘Oh man, that guy doesn’t need props!’”

Turns out the two comedians were both super talented in their own unique ways, and both were worthy of the show. So, this story serves as a reminder to drop the insecurities, and instead appreciate and fully own your authenticity! If something works for you, then go with it.