The many tragicomic roles of Bill Hader: “IT: Chapter 2,” “Barry” and “The Skeleton Twins”

This article contains spoilers for “IT: Chapter 2” and the film “The Skeleton Twins.”

From 2005 to 2013, SNL saw numerous performances from the beloved comedic actor Bill Hader, who earned four Primetime Emmy nominations and a Peabody award during his time on the show. Since leaving SNL, Bill Hader has worked on numerous projects, most notably his mockumentary series “Documentary Now!” and the HBO critically-acclaimed hit, “Barry.”

But his role as adult Richie Tozier in “IT: Chapter 2” in 2019, following the massive success of the first movie which premiered two years before, has brought the comedic actor back into the spotlight, and highlights the range, gloom and depth that Hader brings through in his comedic — and surprisingly tragic — performances.

Following the characterization of Stephen King’s novel and Finn Wolfhard’s performance as young Richie in part one, Richie Tozier continues to serve as the primary comedic relief of the film. He’s a loose-tongued loud mouth with a dry comment for all situations, which isn’t too different from his characterization as a child.

But now, as an adult, he faces his own demons that have nothing to do with killer clowns. While this is standard for the rest of his friends (known as “The Losers”) upon their reunion after 27 years apart, his funny, quick-witted character quickly becomes one faced with tragedy. Unlike in the book, the movie reveals that Richie Tozier is gay, which Pennywise uses as a means to torment Richie in the film. Later, it is revealed he was in love with his best friend, Eddie Kapsbrak (and, as it turns out, has been since childhood).

As the film comes to an end, audiences are faced with what I felt was the most disturbing moment in the film. After defeating Pennywise, Richie has to be dragged away from Eddie’s body, who was killed by Pennywise during the final battle. While the Losers reunite in the lake where they once played as children, Richie breaks down into tears and can be found re-carving “R+E” into the Kissing Bridge at the end of the film where he once carved it as a child.

Hader is expressive, childlike and entirely heartbreaking in the emotional range Richie displays during the film. His ability to go from dry, quick wit to raw, emotional breakdown was impressive to me, who hadn’t been familiar with any of his work on SNL or filmography in the past.

Wanting to watch more of his work, I began watching the “tragicomedy” TV show “Barry,” which Hader stars in and co-created with Alec Berg. This series follows a low-level hitman with PTSD from time served in Afghanistan who desperately wants to be an actor. The show’s purposeful use of emotional whiplash — and Hader’s outstanding performance, which won him two Primetime Emmy awards — is nothing short of a rollercoaster ride for audiences. In a world where a hitman searches for his own humanity — and where everyone around him seems to serve as nothing but a parody of themselves — the harsh reality of crippling depression, abuse and unchecked anger play a heavy, gut-wrenching role in the quick pace of the plot.

Familiar with Shakespeare? After watching “Barry,” you’ll never hear the line “My lord, the queen is dead” the same way ever again. Trust me.

Before “Barry” and “IT: Part 2,” Hader co-starred alongside Kristen Wiig in his role as Milo Dean in “The Skeleton Twins,” which kicked off his series of tragicomedy roles. In a comedy about two dysfunctional twins reuniting after 10 years of being apart, audiences are immediately presented with the startling events that brought the two twins back together: their mutual suicide attempts. Suicide, pedophilia and broken family are heavy themes in the film told through a charming comedy about two, crazy siblings growing stronger together and finding their childhood innocence again.

Comedy and tragedy go hand-in-hand. I have great respect for media, like the three I mentioned above, that use comedy as a vehicle for understanding and coping with tragedy, and not as a means to dilute it. While Hader has a massive filmography that I absolutely intend to watch, he shines as an actor and as a comedian in roles where audiences are left teary-eyed, be it from sorrow, laughter or all of the above.

Samantha Walsh is a fourth-year student majoring in English and special education. SW850037@wcupa.edu

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