Bill Hader Gets His Carville On in Season 2 of IFC’s Documentary Now!

Michael Logan
documentary now, bill hader
IFC

This is serious stuff. Really! The Bill Hader–Fred Armisen mockumentary series Documentary Now! returns for Season 2 on Wednedsay with “The Bunker,” a parody of The War Room, an acclaimed 1993 film that trailed Democratic campaigners James Carville and George Stephanopoulos as they helped win the presidency for Bill Clinton. Hader gives us a nonpartisan preview.

You play the Carville-esque Teddy Redbones, known as “the Mississippi Machiavelli,” and Armisen is the “hunky” Alvin Panagoulious, but this is so not Saturday Night Live.
The Carville I did on SNL was later Carville—totally bananas and a guy raised by eels. But Redbones is early Carville and much more real, although he’s known in the press as a suspected arsonist. That’s the goal of this series—to play it so straight people think they’re watching an actual documentary. Well, until Fred comes on screen and then you’re like, “Wait. Whaaat?

In an odd way, The War Room turned out to be a big inspiration to TV comedy writers, though that sure wasn’t the intention.
It’s true. That whole documentary, show-within-a-show look and tone of The Larry Sanders Show can be traced back to The War Room, and Sanders led to The Office, Parks and Recreation and Modern Family, and now that style is mainstream. Of course, we weren’t paying homage to it for that reason. We don’t think that deep around here. We’re more like, “Hey, if we do The War Room, Bill can be Carville and Fred can be Stephanopoulos!” That’s our idea of a production meeting.

The show is hosted by Dame Helen Mirren, and guests this season include Anne Hathaway, Mia Farrow and Peter Fonda—stars who rarely do TV. What’s the lure?
Well, it’s certainly not the money. [Laughs] I think maybe it’s that Spinal Tap thing—the challenge of being funny yet truthful and subtle. We do not wink at the audience. That kind of comedy is far more interesting to me, which is why I was on a big learning curve my first year at Saturday Night Live. Everything I did was too small. They wanted it balls to the wall.

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You spoof famous docs and really obscure ones. With the latter, how do you make sure the audience gets the jokes?
We just go with it. I remember, as a 13-year-old, watching Monty Python spoof the films of the Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini with a sketch about a hypersexual cricket match with all this weird religious iconography shoehorned in. It was so original and so strange. I’d never even heard of Pasolini, but I still laughed my ass off, and I’ve been addicted to the obscure ever since. Funny is funny.

Documentary Now!, Season premiere, Wednesday, September 14, 10/9c, IFC