Bill Hader cut his TV teeth in late night, playing myriad characters on the sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live. He’s well remembered for characters like Stefon on “Weekend Update,” newsman Herb Welch, and let’s not forget his celebrity impressions ranging from Clint Eastwood to Lindsay Buckingham. Looking back, however, he does have some regrets about his work on SNL and specifically how some characters come across today.
In fact, he specifically pointed out that some of the stuff Stefon said was problematic, pointing out Stefon’s ways to describe little people as something he would not use in sketch comedy today.
I mean, everyone and everything is fair game. But in the current environment, there are a lot of things that people don’t want to touch. I’ve talked to a lot of comedy people who now look back at things they did, myself included, where you go, ‘Oh, man, I would never do that now.’ … A good example is Stefon saying ‘midget.’ Also, any time I played different ethnicities. By virtue of being a sketch show, we had to do that. But I remember playing Chinese people, and, I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that I’m just like...
Stefon sketches always ran the same way. He’d go on “Weekend Update,” he’d be asked about things to do around New York, he’d kick off with “the hottest club is” and then describe a bunch of random and hysterical things occurring in said club. In general at some point, one of these things would involve a joke or crack at the expense of people with dwarfism.
It should be pointed out that even at the time, using the word “midget” was politically incorrect, but Stefon was a totally outrageous and incorrect character in general and seemingly the goal was to point that out with his uses of offensive terms. In one episode, then-“Weekend Update” host Seth Meyers even made it clear that the terms Stefon were using were not correct, and Stefon switched up his usage to call the people in the club “fun-sized.”
Looking back, however, Bill Hader seems to be a thoughtful when talking to Esquire about what is playing in the current comedy environment and what’s a touchy subject for some fans. Particularly over the past few years, there’s been a move to be politically correct with comedy, but also to be more inclusive and sensitive to stereotypes.
Comedy is ever-evolving and comedians are evolving with it. We can either judge past performances by today’s standards, or we can look back at something that no longer plays and see how it helped to shift the comedy that came after.
Stefon is a hilarious character, and routinely ranks at the top of lists about Bill Hader’s best characters on Saturday Night Live. He’s still funny years later.
I wouldn’t mind seeing Stefon back on Saturday Night Live anytime the actor does a guest stint. (Although it’s harder for him and he breaks character more these days.) In fact, during his 2018 stint, Stefon pulled away from this sort of bent, consulting his lawyer, played by Stefon co-creator John Mulaney, about how to appropriately refer to those with dwarfism, finally landing on “little people.”
Colin Jost even goes so far as to note he’s happy Stefon “didn’t make that insensitive,” about the joke that followed. So, the show attempted to work around the issue Bill Hader described.
Saturday Night Live returns to the schedule this fall for Season 45, kicking off with Zombieland: Double Tap actor Woody Harrelson and musical sensation Billie Eilish. See more about what’s coming with our full SNL guide. Or catch Bill Hader on HBO's Barry, which will return for Season 3 and has been nominated for 17 Emmys this year.