'SNL' at 40: Dana Carvey, Bill Hader Swap Notes on Their Best Impressions

The actors interview each other for THR's special issue.

In between the (very few) moments where Bill Hader wasn't convulsing with laughter at something Dana Carvey said or did, the two Saturday Night Live veterans managed to squeeze a few stories out of each other about their time on the show.

At a studio in Hollywood in January, the funnymen revisited their auditions, the worst SNL host of all time and why watching SNL after you leave the show is akin to "watching your own funeral on TV."

BILL HADER: What were you doing before SNL?

DANA CARVEY: Playing a Pizza Parlor in Martinez, California. I played with four people. Half the audience hated me. Then I auditioned for SNL, got on the show and suddenly I was at Lorne Michaels' house. My first show was October 6 — 45 days after the Pizza Parlor. I'd never done sketch comedy in my life. And I was in the cold open, too. Hey, I saw you do Al Pacino on your first show. I thought, "Wow, he's an impressionist."

HADER: And I had never done impressions.

CARVEY: I remember you did Vincent Price too. I was like, "This kid's doing Vincent Price?!"

HADER: I remember the morning of my audition they called me in my hotel room to say they wanted to see political impressions, but it couldn't be George W. Bush, who was the president at the time. I was like, "Oh great." So thought, I'll just do a British accent and say I'm Tony Blair. Then I remember being in an elevator and going up and there was this guy who had tons of props for his audition — like a whole backpack. It looked like he was running away from home. I was like, "I didn't bring any props!" And that was Andy Samberg.

CARVEY: I remember doing a comedy show with Jim Carrey once and he was out there with his foot behind his neck and rubbing his face with it.

HADER: Did they laugh when you did your audition? They usually don't. And then I went up and I did Vinny Vedecci. And when I went to the voice, Tina Fey went "Ah!" She kind of cackled. Like what the hell is that? And I totally relaxed. Until I was on the show. For eight years I would have a panic attack in my dressing room. And my wife would have to come down and say, "OK, breathe." I'm a little dyslexic and I would be so nervous about reading the cards. All those last-minute changes!

CARVEY: You're like "Whoa, whoa, whoa! No, no, no!"

HADER: I'd go onstage and someone would be like, "OK, you're a guy from Texas." And then I'm like "How y'all doing?" And then suddenly he tells me, no, I'm from Boston.

CARVEY: That countdown to the cold open — it's the only time when it's totally quiet. Eerily quiet. I did so many as President [George H.W.] Bush. Phil [Hartman] had been doing Reagan, [Jon] Lovitz was doing Dukakis. So I was just assigned to Bush!

HADER: When did you first hear from President Bush?

CARVEY: A few of us and Lorne went to a Democratic fundraiser and I did Bush there. Then we went to the White House the next day — me and Lorne — and Bush was incredibly gracious.

HADER: I once did a sketch called "Fart Face" with Josh Brolin

CARVEY: Yeah, I saw that.

HADER: That's one Lorne Michaels liked so much, he wanted to put it on the air because it had so many farts in it. Anyway, Sarah Palin was on that show. I went up to Sarah at the end to say goodnight. "Did you enjoy our 'Fart Face' sketch?" She thinks for a minute. And goes, "Oh, no."

CARVEY: (Laughs.) Did you ever put a sketch in read-through just to hear Lorne read stage directions? Mine was an intentionally ridiculous sketch with ridiculous stage directions. "A Funny Little Poop" he had with my character. And Jan [Hooks] was "Funny Little Poopy Head." And then there'd be just massive amounts of stage directions: "Funny Little Poopy Head sits down. Funny Little Poopy Head crosses the room.".

HADER: (Laughs.) Lorne considered the worst host of all time to be Steven Seagal. Tell me about him?

CARVEY: Kevin Nealon and I were doing Hanz and Franz with him. And Seagal just stops rehearsing. I go "What's wrong, Steven? And he goes, "I just wish Arnold [Schwarzenegger] was here, so I could kick his fucking ass." I tell Arnold later a couple years what Seagal had said. He just leaned back, with his cigar, and said (does an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice), "Is that a fact?"

HADER: (Laughs.) Do you still watch the show live every week?

CARVEY: Well see, I'm just not up that late. But I do watch it a lot online. Honestly over the years of raising the kids, it's very hard for me to be up at 11:30.

HADER: After I left the show, my wife and I put out food, we're all ready to watch, Tina is hosting. After the cast montage happened and I wasn't in it, I just was like, "I can't watch this." And then we went and watched the movie Prisoners. It's like the most a depressing movie. So yeah, I don't watch. It's too hard. I have three kids, but mostly because it's like watching your funeral on TV.

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