Saturday Night Live‘s epic farewell to Stefon — the absurd masterpiece played for five seasons by Bill Hader — had EVERYTHING: human parking cones, Black George Washington, Jupids, Furkels, even DJ Baby Bok Choy, “a giant 300-pound Chinese baby who wears tinted aviator glasses and spins records with his little ravioli hands.”
So naturally, putting the clip together was a massive undertaking — and an especially emotional one for departing cast member Hader, who left NBC’s comedy institution this spring after eight years. (Soon, Stefon’s entire team will be gone for good: Hader’s writing partner John Mulaney exited the show in 2012, returning only occasionally to help with Stefon-related matters. Meanwhile, Hader’s longtime Weekend Update foil Seth Meyers moves to host NBC’s Late Night in early 2014.)
Here, the comedian describes the making of that big goodbye video, from start to finish — and reveals when, precisely, he started crying.
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As Told By: Bill Hader
I knew I was going to leave [the show] in February of last year, which is pretty early. I think my last season, we kind of made a point of not doing too many Stefons. Maybe I felt like I was running out of gas. So we did two that season, and we thought, “Well, we should do something for my last show.” John Mulaney and I went and had dinner that Monday [before the finale] and went, “Okay, let’s try to figure something out.”
And then we remembered that the year before, we had [had] the idea of [doing] just exactly what you saw — it’s a Graduate thing, [Seth Meyers] breaks up the wedding, you see all the people that Stefon’s talked about over the years, and he’s being married to Anderson Cooper. I probably still have it — I just jotted it down on a piece of paper. Like, “Oh, here’s what the final Stefon would be.” In like, two sentences. It kind of proves that Stefon wasn’t crazy — those things actually do all exist. And then they run off together, and they would run back into the live set, and say, “We’re Mr. and Mrs. Seth Meyers.” And that’s the end of it. Like, verbatim.
Now, Lorne and everybody, their feeling initially was not “fantastic, let’s go do it.” They were like, “You know, Stefon is a great live sketch. Why do you want to make it all a pretape?” For people at home it doesn’t matter, but I totally get that — you want the people in the audience to be involved. And then Seth Meyers said, “Well, you should come out and you should do at least one Stefon run live so the audience thinks, “Oh, this is a normal Stefon Update.” And then, in the middle of it, you get mad at me and walk off.” Initially, the way I wanted to do it was, I come out, I see Amy Poehler, I say, “Who’s she?” And I get mad and I leave. Seth was like, “I think that’s a big letdown. I think you need to come out, let the audience see you, they get into it, and then you leave. It’ll be more of a surprise.” He was totally, 100 percent right. To be honest, I never felt like [the last Update bit] was that great of a run, because it was kind of an afterthought for both John Mulaney and I. We were so concentrated on the video. That’s probably me being hard on it; there’s some laughs in there.
John and I, for a second — not that long — we talked about me saying, “Well, Seth, I have to go now, back to my planet.” And I was going to go back to my planet with my boyfriend, and we were going to try to get, like, Ryan Gosling or Brad Pitt or someone like that. I leave with him on a spaceship, and then the spaceship lands on a planet that has Stefon’s haircut. That was the idea we had. We talked about that for a couple hours, and then we were like, “Nah, I like this video.” It sounds corny, but we wanted it to be emotional. It’s the rare instance where there’s two characters on SNL that you’re somewhat invested in, you know? I would hear that from people: “Man, you and Seth have to get together!” And I was like, “It’s a sketch show. It’s a fake news segment on a sketch show.” I think it was also the way I was feeling because I was leaving. I said to Rhys Thomas, who directed that — who really deserves a ton of credit — “I think it should be cinematic and emotional.” And man, he knocked it out of the park. When we saw it, we all got choked up watching it. We were leaving, and Seth was leaving, and I was leaving… John had left, but he came back to help with this.
Some wonderful intern went through every single Stefon Update and lifted all the things that I talked about. There’s an email chain someone sent, that was like, “Here’s everybody you mentioned.” And then of those, I said, “These would be fun to see [in the video].” And then Mulaney added a couple more. The one that we were bummed about [not including] was Taylor Negron, that actor, because I mentioned him once. And Spud Webb. But Ben Affleck just happened to be hosting the show, and that was great. Total coincidence. And he was so funny, he really sold it. He was very happy for his brother.
[The shoot] was very relaxed. It was on a Thursday; usually, we shoot those things on a Friday. Rhys and Alex, his cameraman, just really knew what they wanted. Rhys had it all storyboarded out, exactly the same coverage as The Graduate. The little girl who played Menorah the Explorer was really sweet. She was so funny and game. We had her say so many different lines. ”Can you say ‘oy vey’?” That’s one that we shouted out to her. She was great. The guy who played DJ Baby Bok Choy was really good, because he had a really hard job — he had to have that turntable on that Jazzy [scooter] thing, and it was super hard to maneuver. We couldn’t do the ravioli-hand prosthetics; he couldn’t actually operate the thing [with them on]. We talked about that, believe me. We’re like, “Shouldn’t he have ravioli hands?” And then I got a little in my head, like, “Should we have little chyrons of what all the characters are?” I was overthinking things. And I remember Seth went, “No, don’t do the crossword puzzle for people! Let them figure it out on their own!” He was totally right, because the next day, I had so many people send me different websites and sh– labeling all the characters.
“Anderson Cooper 360,” that was all made up on the set — Seth said, “Oh, you should say ‘Anderson Cooper 360,’ and then you turn around, and I just punch you in the face.” And everyone laughed, so we did that. [Anderson] could not have been nicer, and very excited to be there. He seemed very genuinely like a fan of SNL. He was very patient, very game for anything. I think he’d be a great host.
We did it at dress, and it went okay. And then Lorne Michaels went, “I think we should have all the other SNL Update feature people out there throwing rice.” So that was added before air.
I never got emotional all week. Like, I never really cried all week. I get very focused on work, and I don’t fully get the weight of things sometimes. I was so focused on what we were working on that it wasn’t until me and Seth — so I go up there [on the live show], I do the jokes, I get mad, I leave, and I run over to this corner and they start to put the veil on me, and get me ready for the part where me and Seth run back into the studio audience. I was sitting there, holding Seth’s hand, and we’re getting ready to go, and we’re watching the video. Then I start getting a little emotional. And Jenna, our stage manager, was crying, and she was like, “It’s been a lot of fun, Bill.” And I was like, “Aww, man!” And then that was it. [Laughs]
There was this beautiful moment where we finished it, I hugged Seth, and kind of waved, and got a nice applause, and then walked off. And there was Kristen Wiig. I had no idea she was going to be there. She ran over and gave me a big hug, and she was crying. And then Seth gave me a giant hug, and he said, “Thank you so much for letting me be a part of this.” And then John Mulaney and I hugged, and he was like, “Hey, that worked out okay, huh?” And I was like, “Yeah, I guess.” And then they said, “We’ve gotta get you ready for the next sketch,” and they took off the shirt and the wig, and they just whisked it away. And Michael, my dresser, looked at me, and he went, “Well, Bill, I guess that’s it.” Then I just got dressed for the next sketch. It was funny, because the next sketch, we were playing a bunch of cops trying not to cry, so I was already — it was perfect. It was, like, a full season of holding back emotions, and it really all came out just right then. And then I was fine.
[On whether Hader might do a Stefon cameo someday:] Maybe. We’ll see. It just depends if anything warrants it. I mean, a lot of times those things, I feel like they work for a specific moment in time — you want people to still be excited when he comes out, you know? The new cast — they’ll find something that’ll be the next big thing. I mean, John just told me Stefon was a question on Jeopardy. So, I was like, “Oh, we did it. No need to do anymore.” [Alex Trebek] said, “Who played him?” … and the girl went, “Who is Taran Killam?”