Bill Hader's SNL Character Stefon

Saturday Night Live's famous Stefon character, played by Bill Hader, is based on someone surprisingly unexpected. Bill Hader made his SNL debut in 2005, where he quickly became known for his wide range of impressions. He would often go to great lengths, tapping into the deep end of the absurd. For example, Hader parodied Daniel-Day Lewis' Daniel Plainview in a hilarious There Will Be Blood parody sketch. When Bill Hader was on SNL, he shared the stage with a very competitive cast of players including Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jason Sudeikis, and Fred Armisen. While his numerous impressions are spot-on, some of Hader's best moments on the show were his appearances as original characters. From Devin in the recurring sketch, "The Californians," to Herb Welch, the crass, out-of-touch news anchor, Hader's range of original characters was impressively eclectic. Stefon, however, became a touchstone for Hader. He would appear as a favorite recurring guest on Weekend Update with Seth Myers where he would promote fictional clubs with questionable names, depicting their increasingly ridiculous atmospheres, like one sporting rooms full of broken glass, or another with screaming babies and Mozart wigs, in a playful poke at New York City nightlife.

The primary inspiration for the eccentric, flamboyant, club-hopping character was Macaulay Culkin, in his first role in almost 10 years after Richie Rich. According to comedian and former SNL writer, John Mulaney, when he and Hader co-created Stefon, they repeatedly referred back to Culkin's role as Michael Alig in the 2003 crime drama Party Monster, a movie about the dangers of drugs and excessive partying. When designing the character, John Mulaney recalls saying, "I think he should have an Ed Hardy shirt," not knowing what an Ed Hardy shirt was but "picturing something from that Macaulay Culkin/Seth Green movie, Party Monster." (via Business Insider) Indeed, the Ed Hardy shirt became synonymous with Bill Hader's iconic character but it was not at all what Mulaney and Hader had in mind, thinking Ed Hardy somehow indicated excessive amounts of latex. Nevertheless, they went with it, adding to Stefon's randomness, and instead drawing more direct influence from specific details of Culkin's appearance and performance in the film. Party Monster is based on the true story of a New York City club promoter in the late 80s and 90s. It follows Macaulay Culkin and Seth Green as they descend together into the dark corners of the exotic, high-energy club scene, partying non-stop and falling prey to the world of drug abuse. One of Macaulay Culkin's more interesting movies, it's easy to see the basic similarities to Stefon, also an enthusiastic club promoter, who loves partying and taking things to their extremes. To better capture the kind of character they were parodying, Culkin's bold combed-to-the-left hairstyle was a deliberate choice embraced by Mulaney and Hader, which is always emulated if not exaggerated by Stefon. It's also clear that Stefon's mannerisms and the general way he talks are direct parodies of Culkin's performance as interpreted by Hader. The only major difference is in the tone of the performances.

Despite Culkin's strong influence in his dramatic role in Party Monster, Stefon is emphatically his own character, transcending mere parody as he takes jabs at the extreme pop-up club culture of the late aughts. Mulaney reports that he would frequently change some of Stefon's lines right before going live in order to surprise both Bill Hader and Seth Meyers on camera, causing Hader to break character, which he did frequently when playing Stefon. In contrast to Culkin's Michael Alig, the comedic whimsy of Stefon is anything but dark, but the roots of the character's origin remain. It's remarkable that such a seemingly random reference to a somewhat obscure film could blossom into one of Saturday Night Live's most revered characters.

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