He’s been awake for a few days, is really into “dungeon culture” and has a massive crush on “Weekend Update” anchor Seth Meyers. He’s also the most beloved “Saturday Night Live” character to debut in years: Stefon, a tweaked-out club kid turned “city correspondent.”
Played by master impressionist Bill Hader, 32, and co-written by standup comic and “SNL” staff writer John Mulaney, 28, Stefon offers a ridiculous, absurd caricature of Manhattan’s fake trends, near-overdose-level club life and hipster culture.
“Stefon,” Mulaney says, “is someone who can stay up partying for three days straight, fall off a building, land on his feet and then walk into 30 Rock and do ‘Weekend Update.’”
The joke lies in asking for family-friendly advice from a meth and cocaine-addled, flamboyantly gay club crawler who lives in a bubble of over-the-top Manhattan sceney-ness.
Stefon debuted his hopped-up humor in April, wearing highlighted, coiffed hair, a bedazzled green Ed Hardy T-shirt and tons of rings. Meyers asked him where tourists could go for fun.
“If you’re looking for a good time, look no further,” Stefon urgently whispered. “New York’s hottest club is Crease. Club promoter Tranny Oakley has gone all out, and inside it’s just everything: lights, psychos, Furbies, screaming babies in Mozart wigs. Sunburned drifters with soap-sud beards.”
Meyers stops him for clarification: “I’m sorry — what?”
“You know,” Stefon says, “it’s that thing when a hobo becomes a rich man, so they take the big bubble bath?”
The key to Stefon’s appeal is his husky delivery. He speaks alternately in pretentious, knowing whispers and with near-rapturous enthusiasm. He covers his mouth frequently, fidgets with twitchy glee and flails his hands out at the end of segments to say, “Yay, Stefon!”
Two New Yorkers served as the inspiration for the character: a would-be club owner and a super-affected coffee slinger who described his neighborhood as the “Lower Lower East Side.”
“A friend of mine knew a guy who wanted to start a club,” Mulaney recalls. “He was always listing off things it was going to have in that rhythm: ‘It’s going to have everything. Jacked guys, glitter, rooms with broken glass, etc.’ Bill had met the barista who lived on the Lower Lower East Side, so we put them together.”
For details, Mulaney draws on his nights out in NYC. “I used to go to a dance night at Rififi called Trash,” he recalls. “That was pretty fun in a not-fun and terrifying way. A lot of the clubs Stefon talks about come from parties that were thrown in weird, crazy buildings in 2004. I also lived off the Bedford L stop for five years and saw a lot of people coked-up in Mozart wigs and stuff like that.”
Club drugs are a constant reference for Stefon, and Hader plays that frenetic sensibility to the hilt. “Stefon’s been awake for a couple of days,” Hader says. “And he doesn’t know where he woke up.”
Stefon’s become a viral hit with fans, who frequently approach Hader to say they know someone just like Stefon or offer suggestions.
“People always come up to me with club names — ‘You should do Lisp,’ ” Hader says. “It’s funny because I feel like a lot of people think that we have a lot of experience with people like Stefon. We know two people. Who aren’t that crazy.”
Hader plays dozens of bizarre characters on “SNL.” Only Stefon seems to crack him up regularly.
“I have a hard time keeping it together because I can sense everyone around me laughing,” Hader says. “Seth makes me laugh. I can hear Andy [Samberg] laughing or see John laughing. It just gets me.”
Mulaney enjoys pushing Hader over the edge. He tosses in new gags at the last minute. So Hader may have seen the line in advance, but he’s never read it out loud. He’s hearing how funny it is for the first time.
Like the club touted at Christmas: “Blitzen!” It had it all: “Twelve jacked albinos, 11 Little Richards, 10 pierce-eared babies, nine Asian Balkys, eight gay Aladdins, seven psychos swearing, six Puerto Screechans” — Puerto Rican versions of Screech from “Saved by the Bell” — “five homeless Elmos, four coked-up frogs, three French hens, Taylor Negron and a human parking cone.”
New to Hader were the club owner’s name — “Gay Liotta” — and the Puerto Screechans. And just before the actor went on, Mulaney handed him a keepsake.
Comedian and actor “Taylor Negron was in one of the club descriptions, so I printed out a photo of him and autographed it, ‘To Bill from Taylor Negron,’ ” Mulaney recalls. “Before he walked onstage I was like, ‘Hey, you should look at this.’ ”
The gesture again rattled Hader’s otherwise unflappable demeanor.
“I have not gotten through a single Stefon update without breaking,” Hader says. “Still working on it.”
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