Bill Hader Grabbed Vanessa Bayer’s Arm During ‘SNL’ Sketch Because He Was Having a Panic Attack

‘It was like, ‘Wait, what am I supposed to do?’’
Bill Hader Grabbed Vanessa Bayer’s Arm During ‘SNL’ Sketch Because He Was Having a Panic Attack

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“I always loved doing sketches with you,” Vanessa Bayer told Bill Hader this week on her How Did We Get Weird? podcast, “because I never knew what I was going to get.” Most of the time, working with Hader was a good thing (“It was always so fun!”) but sometimes, things got a little darker. Bayer wasn’t sure Hader would want to talk about one specific Saturday Night Live sketch in which the comic grabbed her arm multiple times. “I thought you were having an issue with the cue cards,” she said, but Hader assured her that he “straight up had a full-blown panic attack.”

The sketch in question had an extra degree of difficulty baked into its sci-fi/magical premise: A new kid (Bayer) finds out that one of the high school’s hallways causes everyone to move in slow motion. “I was the principal who came up and had to go into the slow motion thing for a bit and then come out of it,” Hader remembered. “I got out on my mark and suddenly lost all confidence that I could act in slow motion. Like I forgot how to do it. I just panicked and I grabbed your arm.”

Part of the problem was Hader was cast in several sketches in that particular show. “I was so tired that I just blanked,” he said. “It was like, ‘Wait, what am I supposed to do?’”

Bayer had been there. “Oh yeah, that happens,” she says. “You just have those moments.”

It wasn’t Hader’s first (mostly) invisible breakdown on Saturday Night Live. He also talked about the cold open in which he suffered major anxiety playing Julian Assange. “I just don't know what happened,” he says. “I can't explain it.”

He described the incident to Bill Simmons a few years ago on Any Given Wednesday. “I didn’t feel like I was prepared, so on air I’m sitting there and all of a sudden it felt like someone was sitting on my chest,” he confessed. “I started sweating, I thought I was going to start crying.”

Watch the sketch and you can see the coping technique that Hader describes to Bayer. “I had a glass of wine. I just kept putting it higher on my face so people couldn't see because I was freaking out.” The stage manager kept motioning for Hader to lower the glass, which likely heightened the anxiety. “It's funny because, in my mind, it was like, ‘Oh, it's awful, and she could tell something was wrong.’” 

But the reality of what was happening on live television was much less of a disaster than what was happening in Hader’s head. “When I watch it back, I'm just rushing it,” he says. “It doesn't look that bad.”

That’s one of the main advantages doing an HBO show has over live TV comedy. “Barry was great,” Hader says, “because you got to do take two.” 


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