Oprah: In the moment you create a character like that, do you know it will be a cultural phenom?
Billy: No. You don't know. "You look mahvelous!" hooked in right away, and it wasn't even scripted. We had everybody on the show that year. Ringo, Howard Cosell, Siskel and Ebert, Mr. T, and Hulk Hogan. One night Barry Manilow didn't show up. He was playing Radio City Music Hall, right across the street. We said, "We'll race you over; the first sketch will be at 11:43 and then you're on." At 11:30 he said, "I'm not doing it." No Barry Manilow. I said, "Oh God, what are we going to do?" So I talked to Bobby, a guy who drove a crane for the camera. He weighed 350 pounds. I said, "Bobby, you'll play Barry Manilow." He said, "Okay. What do I do?" I said, "I don't know. Just play him. I'll explain to the audience that Barry couldn't make it, but I can't disappoint his fans, so here is Bobby." I asked, "What's your definition of love? Is it difficult for you to be a sex symbol in this age and to sing the songs that we love so much?" And he started singing, "I Write the Songs." It was priceless. I go, "That's enough," and he goes, "No, no, no" and keeps singing. It was just the best. People think that Chris and Marty and I were on for five years, but it was just one season. And from there, all the movies happened. I was lucky.
Oprah: That was a hot year. Does your brain think funnier after it's been warmed up?
Billy: Oh, yeah. And that year I was oiled. I also knew I was 37 years old, and I wasn't getting the movie parts. I had no visibility. I wasn't making a great living. I'd been playing Vegas and colleges, and I was away from my family. We lived on 13th Street, and when I'd walk to 30 Rock [to the SNL set], I'd have two characters in my head because I'd heard them on the street on the way up. I was ready for anything.
Oprah: Now I want to talk about the Oscars. I think the public's perception is that you really want to do movies—so you've skipped doing the Oscars every year because you don't want to be labeled....
Billy: As DH—Designated Host. I'd find myself getting defensive about it: "But I do other things." And yet it's a weird ability. If I enjoy it, why not do it more?
Oprah: Just accept that you're the best at it.
Billy: I thought Steve Martin was very good last year. That's when I knew I wanted to come back. I wanted to be out there because the war was happening. Pressure can make it really spicy for me, like, "Oooh, that'd be a great one to pull off." But I thought Steve was fantastic in a very difficult year. And Johnny and Bob have been great.