When Seth Meyers stepped into Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night shoes a couple of years ago, it was pretty much a given he’d be as on-point and funny as his fellow SNL alum. But did he have the front-man chops to pull off the behind-the-desk hosting job? In fact, initially Meyers stood up during the intro to his show, eschewing the traditional desk format. But then, as he found his niche within the genre, he sat down, relaxed and began filling the much-felt void left by Jon Stewart’s retirement–that of a whip-smart late night politico–although Meyers insists, “no one can replace Jon Stewart.”
Meyers’ segment, A Closer Look, provides a one-two punch of news and political revelation, delving deep into subjects such as Planned Parenthood and Donald Trump’s funding, feeding viewers a substantial slice of investigative reporting with a side of hilarious. And he’s currently grabbing headlines all over, having banned Trump.
With his old SNL buddies surrounding him–Fred Armisen handles the music, Alex Baze is producing and Lorne Michaels exec producing–Meyers is among friends, but not resting on his laurels. There’s also a new installment in the works of Documentary Now!–his joint project parodying iconic docs with Armisen and Bill Hader. This time it’s called The War Room. “We’ve shot two of the six episodes so far,” Meyers says “and just to be able to write for Bill and Fred again is such a gift.”
Looking back, how tough was the transition from SNL to Late Night?
There’s so much to do every day that you don’t have a lot of time to assess the transition, but I will say my biggest fear in all my time at SNL was that my next job would be boring in comparison and thus far, I’m very satisfied with the fact that this job is not boring. The other great news is, my favorite hour of every day is actually the hour where we’re doing the show, because ultimately all the decisions have been made and all the writing’s been done, and so the work has happened, and the performance is fun. Performing for an hour in front an audience, I’ve always liked doing. And so, I feel like I’ve traded up and I get to do it every night, whereas on SNL you only got to do it on Saturday.
As time’s gone on, the show became more political–was that always your intention?
I think we assumed we would do it when we started, and I think we maybe underestimated how hard it was to do. Attempting to be funny about politics every day is really hard. So we kind of had to learn how to do it, and we’re still learning how to do it. And one of the adjustments we made was we hired people that were really good at doing it. The main thing we had to do was find people who are really good at that sort of comedy writing.
Do feel the weight of responsibility that comes with investigative reporting, even though of course it’s comedy too?
Well, again, the biggest burden you feel every day is the burden to be funny. And even when you’re doing something that’s a topic that’s really important to you, and one that you feel like you want people to know more about, if it doesn’t have any jokes, you feel sick to your stomach. So, that is the first thing, because otherwise, I feel like you could just slip into a sort of self-righteousness that nobody wants to see. The next thing is, “Let’s try to talk about something that maybe people will be interested in.”
Do you have a dream guest?
I’d really like Rhianna to come on the show, and I know that’s a real 180 from what we’re talking about with politics, but I’ve talked to a lot of politicians this year, and the reality is, politics are more interesting than politicians. So, I guess, give me a Rhianna; give me a Beyoncé. I think they would be a lot more interesting to talk to.
What appeals to you about Beyoncé and Rihanna as subjects?
Well, I will say one of my favorite interviews was when I talked to Kanye [West]. I’m fascinated by him and I think he’s a really interesting artist. He’s, I think, understood in a lot of ways, and misunderstood in a lot of others. So, talking to somebody like that is a lot different than other interviews on the show, and culturally, I just think Beyoncé and Rhianna are people who would be fun to talk to on a talk show.
Who knows, in a few years, you could be doing political comedy about Kanye’s presidential campaign.
I’d rather be doing political comedy about Beyoncé’s, but based on the way politics are going, it’s probably more likely we’ll have a Kanye.
If Fallon is kind of goofy and Kimmel has his pranks, how would you would define your area in the late night scene?
You know, we’re still figuring it out, and I’m always so worried about giving myself a label, I feel like I’m putting together a Tinder profile. I’d far rather just get into, try to get into a groove with the show, and then leave it to others to sort of say what our personality is.
Thank god you don’t have to do a Tinder profile.
Yeah. I say that to my wife every day. I tell her, “You provided me with many things, but the fact that I don’t have to do a Tinder profile is probably the greatest.”
The people that you have with you from SNL, how would you describe how those relationships have evolved, and why they still work in this next phase?
Well, I really only brought two people with me, and technically, I only brought one. Alex Baze is our head writer and he was the head writer at Weekend Update for most of my tenure there. He is, I believe, our nation’s greatest living joke writer. When I hosted the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Baze was integral to that, or any time I’ve hosted anything, like the ESPYs. He can write sports as well as politics. But when Lorne offered me the job to take over Late Night, the first thing Lorne said to me was, “You can’t have Baze,” because he knew that would be who I would want. Then the only other person, the most important person is Mike Shoemaker, who was my closest friend at SNL. I don’t know if I could’ve done it without him.
Is there a part of you that thinks, “At least if Trump gets in I’ll have unlimited material for years”?
Well, first of all, you’re presuming I’m not shipped out the day of the inauguration. Black Ops could show up that day and you’ll never hear from me again. Even now the amount that I say his name, he’s a joke who’s in the news, and I know he might not be the funniest joke, but there’s a lot of it that’s comic. So it seems like you have this responsibility to continue to talk about it. I would be saying that name a lot, but on the other hand, it might be a joke that gets a little old in the telling, so I’m going to be very careful what I wish for.
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