Bill Hader’s Haunted ‘Saturday Night Live’ Character Who Predicted ‘Barry’
One reason Bill Hader’s Barry was such a revelation was that the character was so unlike any that Hader had portrayed before. From social influencer Stefon to slack-jawed Californian Devin to the bumbling cop in Superbad, Hader’s characters were nearly universally goofy and broad, none of them suggesting the quiet intensity of Barry Berkman/Block. But there was one Saturday Night Live character who did forecast the thespian/assassin Hader was destined to become — war veteran/amateur puppeteer Anthony Peter Coleman.
Bear with us here. Sure, on the surface, Coleman is just another deranged Hader sketch comedy character played for laughs. Was there really a Barry lurking in the sketch’s fringes? I’m arguing yes. Look at the similarities:
- Barry and Peter are both haunted by violent military pasts. Both of these guys have seen some shit. Barry suffers PTSD from his time as a marine sniper, taking out innocents on multiple occasions in the line of duty. He’d have a sympathetic ear in the jaded Tony, Coleman’s puppet alter-ego. Couldn't you hear Barry speaking Tony's dialogue? “There was a rebel village five clicks down the road. Word came down from top brass: Make it disappear. We didn’t know any better. We were kids. I watched myself pick up the flamethrower. I just… went… off.”
- Barry and Peter both hide behind theatrical alter-egos. How to escape his assassin memories? Barry finds unexpected respite in an acting class — is this the calling that might just save him from a destructive life? And clearly, that’s what Peter David Coleman is after, trying to imbue his Tony puppet with a non-Anthony persona: “I was not charged with war crimes. My favorite game is not Russian Roulette. I did not lose a full year of my life in porno theaters.”
- Barry and Peter are both dangerous romantic partners. Sally is attracted to Barry, but their doomed love leads to any number of homicidal situations. Bonnie and her puppet Nikki are similarly attracted to Anthony/Tony, aroused by the duo’s simmering intensity. The feeling is mutual: “I clocked you the minute I walked in the door,” Tony says to Nikki. “You look like this one hooker in Grenada.” The two puppets start making out before Anthony drops Tony to his side and begins making out with Nikki himself. This is not healthy.
- Barry and Anthony both desperately want to please their teacher/mentors. Acting guru Gene Cousineau is the father figure Barry craves. What is Barry’s interest in acting after all if not to win Cousineau’s approval? Anthony covets Seth MacFarlane’s blessing just as much, continually adjusting his Tony performance to his instructor’s specifications. Teacher wants a different personality? No problem, as Tony adopts a gentle Southern drawl: “I’m Clark, and I like biscuits and waffles!”
After Hader left Saturday Night Live, he lamented in a Huffington Post interview that the puppet didn’t lend itself well to repeat appearances. “Anthony Coleman was fun,” he explained, “and it worked so well that it was like, we just couldn’t — how do you bring it back, you know?”
Turns out that Hader could bring back the troubled felt assassin after all. He just renamed him Barry.