What A Saturday Night Live Star Does To Improve

When you are a cast member on Saturday Night Live, you have made it. The show is currently in its 42nd season and has launched the careers of Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase and many other huge stars.

From 2005-2013, Bill Hader was one of those SNL stars. He was a featured player on many of the skits that helped the show gain popularity with a new generation of audience.

He had made it, but like Murphy and Chase, he longed for bigger things. He wanted to write. He wanted to direct. He was in a position of such fame, that he probably could have sat around and waited for those things to come to him. Instead, he chose a different route.

He became an intern for two cartoons.

Well, technically he wasn’t an intern. I doubt he got the staff coffee or delivered mail, but his role wasn’t much higher on the totem pole. He gladly accepted any grunt work he could get for two popular animated programs: South Park and Inside Out.

Hader told Norm MacDonald on Norm’s podcast that he wanted experience, so he went out and found it.

At SNL, you just write sketches…I was trying to write movies, so I wanted to learn about that.”

He said that he wanted to be around these shows and “see how they did it.” And what did he learn?

  • Even after a very successful 20+ year run, the South Park creators never phone it in. They have set the bar so high and continue to strive for something even better.
  • Attention to detail is critical.
  • As is working on the script’s structure.

And guess what? Everything he learn has paid off. Hader has since moved on from SNL and become a writer/star of the HBO series Documentary Now. And he is producing an upcoming movie called Barry.

I recognize 99% of us don’t have the opportunity to just go hang out at Pixar or just go hang out with the South Park guys, but surely there is someone else we can learn from. Can you think of any positions (big or small) that provide the opportunity to learn or grow your craft?

Hader said one other important thing…while learning from South Park and Inside Out, he kept writing on the side. He said he wrote a bunch of stuff that was bad, but he kept writing so he could learn how to make it good.

I often think that I am above the thought of interning and continuing to write even if it is bad, but if it is good enough for a Saturday Night Live star, maybe it is good enough for any of us.

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