‘SNL’ Didn’t Pay ‘Mr. Bill’ Creator Until Season Four

Oh noooooo! Pay the man behind Mr. Bill!
‘SNL’ Didn’t Pay ‘Mr. Bill’ Creator Until Season Four

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In the early days of Saturday Night LiveJohn Belushi’s Samurai and Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella had stiff competition for the show’s most popular character. The funny thing was that the comic voice behind the character was the only one not getting paid — at least not at first. Mr. Bill eventually appeared more than 20 times on SNL, making him one of the show’s most frequently recurring characters. But three seasons’ worth of those bits were free. 


To be fair to SNL, no pay was ever promised. During the show’s first season, Dan Aykroyd asked America to send in their funny films for a chance to be seen on national TV.  Walter Williams took the show up on that offer. Williams, an aspiring comedy filmmaker from New Orleans, sent in a deliberately low-tech parody of a kids’ show, starring the Play-Doh-bodied Mr. Bill as the hapless innocent who gets dismembered by his nemesis Sluggo and his supposed helper Mr. Hand. 

“I knew that I didn’t want to start beating up Mr. Bill right away. He doesn’t enjoy it,” Williams told TVParty. “People mistake it as some kind of masochistic thing. He’s always complaining, but he just can’t get away. He’s kind of a victim of his form of animation. He can’t run away. He’s just there for whatever’s going to happen to him. I decided I needed to delay the action a little bit.”

The Super 8 film got big laughs on the show, so Williams decided to keep sending in more. “The first three seasons, I just kept making the Mr. Bills and submitting them,” he said. “I didn’t get paid anything, but I knew I was building an audience so I figured I would just keep doing it, as long as they would put them on. Finally, they got so popular they gave me a full-time job doing that.”

That would be SNL’s Season Four, in which Williams delivered a slew of Mr. Bill sketches, as well as other pre-filmed bits like Elvis Presley’s jacket going on tour. 

Mr. Bill was the character that the audience craved, however. So how could Williams keep getting laughs out of what was essentially the same bit — a clay character slowly losing his limbs? “I just kind of kept evolving the character once I got an opportunity to do more,” he explained. “The challenge was to continue to surprise the audience. That’s what it takes to make people laugh.” 

Somehow, Williams found a way to keep the surprises coming, as well as getting paid this time. In the 1980s, he turned up in new shorts on USA Network’s Night Flight, and then got his own series on Fox Family Channel in the 1990s. He also had a durable career as a commercial pitchman, doing spots for big brands like Subway, Mastercard and Burger King.

Williams and Mr. Bill eventually left SNL with the rest of the original cast after Season Five. “It was kind of fortunate because Mr. Bill was at its peak in the fifth season. He probably was the hottest thing on the show because a lot of the people had left,” Williams explained. “It was nice leaving there at that peak because a lot of things get to that point and they just burn out and become like everything else and everyone gets tired of it. If anything, people said, ‘Well, where is he?’ Which I think is good rather than, ‘Oh, yeah, I had enough of that.’"


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