The Surprising Way Bill Hader’s New Show Is Based on His Real Life

Bill Hader now stars as the main character of his very own HBO show, as the Saturday Night Live alum plays the lead in the new series Barry. Created by Hader and Alec Berg, the premise of this show is completely ridiculous, which is why it’s so surprising to learn that it was actually directly inspired by the comedian’s real life.

Here’s how Hader brought his own experiences — especially his experiences on Saturday Night Live — to the table with Barry.

Barry revolves around a hitman who pursues a career in theater

Barry holding a gun in front of a mirror.

Barry | HBO

In Barry, Bill Hader stars as Barry Berkman, a former Marine who currently works as a hitman. Barry works in the Midwest, but at the start of the show, he travels to Los Angeles in order to kill a target. However, while he’s there, he develops a love of theater, and he begins to pursue this life of acting.

Henry Winkler stars in the show as Barry’s theater teacher, while Stephen Root stars as the manager of Barry’s hitman career.

Next: This aspect of the Barry character relates to Hader’s life.

The character is good at killing, but he hates it

Barry aiming a rifle.

Barry is looking for another type of life. | HBO

One of the ideas at the center of Barry is that the main character hates the thing that he’s really good at. Because of his experience as a Marine, he’s good at being a hitman, but it’s not something that brings him joy.

In an interview at South by Southwest, co-creator Alec Berg described Barry as being a “prisoner of his own talent.” It’s in this way that the show connects to Hader’s life.

Next: In Hader’s life, this was his own experience with hating something he was good at.

This is based on Hader’s own experience on Saturday Night Live

Bill Hader looking sad in 'Barry'.

Bill Hader drew from his own experiences. | HBO

In the same way that Barry is really good at something but hates doing it, this is how Bill Hader says he felt while he was working on Saturday Night Live.

“I think we started talking about the idea that he was good at killing, but hated it — that he was a prisoner of his own talent, which is sort of based on Bill’s experience on SNL,” Alec Berg said at South by Southwest. “He was great at it, but he derived no enjoyment from it.”

Hader agreed, saying that he talked with Barry‘s co-creator about “the irony that the thing you’re good at is wrecking you.”

Next: Another thing that Barry and Hader have in common.

Hader also based this other idea on his own life

Bill Hader posing on the audience chairs in a promotional image for the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special

Bill Hader didn’t always enjoy acting. | NBC

In addition to hating the thing you’re good at, another aspect of Barry is the idea of passionately wanting to do something you aren’t as good at. In the case of Barry, the main character wants to act, when he’s really good at killing people.

Hader told The USA Today that he can relate; he was good on SNL, but he wanted to do more. “The idea of doing voices and impressions, that comes easily to me,” Hader said. “I really wanted to direct.”

Hader previously told Grantland that he dreamed of being a director as a kid and that he started working as a production assistant hoping this would lead him down that path. But this did not work out. He eventually did direct a short film of his own, but he told Fast Company that it didn’t turn out well and he was too embarrassed to release it.

It was only after this experience of failing to become a director that he began taking comedy classes.

Next: Why working on Saturday Night Live was such a difficult experience for Hader.

Hader says he suffered from anxiety and stage fright during SNL

Bill Harder smiling on a red carpet.

He had an amazing career on SNL, but wasn’t enjoying it. | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

It might be surprising to learn that Hader had such a difficult time on Saturday Night Live considering how great he was on the show. But Hader says that while he was a cast member, he suffered from anxiety and stage fright.

“I tried everything,” Hader said. “I was doing transcendental meditation, I was doing all these things.” Hader also explained that for four years on SNL, he was constantly waiting for someone to fire him. He previously told Grantland that there was one specific episode when he had a full-on panic attack.

“It felt like someone was sitting on my chest,” Hader said. “I couldn’t breathe, I started sweating. I thought, This is not good — abort! abort! I remember getting my makeup taken off and saying, ‘I don’t know what’s going on out there. I don’t know what just happened.’”

Next: This specific scene in Barry is based on Hader’s own life.

There’s a specific scene in Barry based on an experience Hader had on SNL

Bill Hader with his SNL cast mates.

He felt like an outsider. | Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

In the pilot episode of Barry, there’s a scene where Hader sits at the bar with the people from his acting class. Hader says that this was based directly on his experience hanging out with the Saturday Night Live cast.

“I remember when I first got to SNL I was suddenly getting to hang out with Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers and Rachel Dratch, and Tina Fey, and Chris Parnell, all these people that I admired,” Hader told Business Insider. “And I would be at a bar with them and I felt very out of place. I have to work with them and they are all geniuses and I don’t feel equipped.”

Hader also told The USA Today that he saw how relaxed these comedians were, and he wanted that.

Next: This was the point at which Hader felt more at ease on SNL.

Hader felt more at ease after a few years at SNL

Bill Hader as Stefan on SNL.

He loved playing this character. | NBC

Hader told Business Insider that as he continued working at SNL and getting better, his anxiety didn’t go down; it actually went up. However, there was a point at which he started to feel slightly more at ease.

He told Grantland that he recalls the Seth Rogen-hosted episode in 2009, when Lorne Michaels pulled him aside and said, “You can work here as long as you want.”

Michaels himself told The USA Today that it was around the time the Stefon character was introduced that Hader stopped seeming so anxiety-ridden. “By the time he did Stefon, which was completely original, the anxiety stuff he went through wasn’t showing up on air. He had that level of ease by the time he left the show. He’ll be all right in the real world.”

With Barry, Hader finally gets to fulfill his dream, as he directed the show’s first three episodes.

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!