October 6, 2018

No Joke: Bill Hader

Bill Hader’s anxiety was no laughing matter. He talks with David Lynch Foundation CEO Bob Roth about how Transcendental Meditation helped him overcome it.
Photo courtesy @willbillhader

Bill Hader is one of the funniest men in comedy today. Among his long list of honors and credits, he starred for eight seasons on NBC’s Saturday Night Live and is currently the co-creator and lead actor for HBO’s hit show Barry (for which he just won an Emmy Award for best lead actor in a comedy). Hader is also a meditator and strong supporter of the David Lynch Foundation. Here, he sits down with his good friend Bob Roth to talk about how his five-year practice of Transcendental Meditation has helped him overcome a debilitating battle with anxiety and panic attacks, which were undermining a very promising career.

BOB ROTH: You once said the first four years at Saturday Night Live weren’t fun for you. Why?

BILL HADER: I was terrified. I had massive panic attacks on every show and I wouldn’t sleep the night before, because I knew I was going to be live on national television and I felt so much pressure. In fact, when I did the Stefon character, I would put my hands in front of my face because I was so nervous.

BR: What did you do?

BH: I had some friends who said, “You should take pills” or “Smoke this, man, you’ll be great.” But I said, “Uh, I don’t know.” So I tried taking Xanax and other stuff. But I had issues coming off the pills. I would be at a Whole Foods with my kids and they’d say, “Dad, why are you crying?” I was crying!

BR: How did you hear about Transcendental Meditation?

BH: I’m a big David Lynch fan and I happened to be listening to his audiobook of Catching the Big Fish when he talked about Transcendental Meditation. I thought to myself, “I should try that.” I went to the TM center in Manhattan and met my teacher, Josh Pittman, who is one of the nicest guys in the world. He taught me TM, which essentially is as simple as someone teaching you how to brush your teeth. I took to it really quickly. I immediately felt a clarity and a calmness. The fear kind of ebbed out of me. I still knew all the stakes—that I could still mess up on national television—but I also had the feeling of, “So what if that happens? I’ll be OK, I’ll be alright.”

BR: But did that feeling of calm make you feel passive or less creative?

BH: The opposite. When you have a genuine sense of calm, the fun things come out that you weren’t expecting. You just grab it and you see where that goes. But when you’re tight, that doesn’t happen. To find out more about Transcendental Meditation, visit tm.org.