When Seth Meyers takes the stage as the new host of “Late Night,” the former “Saturday Night Live” Weekend Update anchor will complete a total upheaval of NBC’s nighttime landscape.
Gone is Jay Leno, with Jimmy Fallon graduating from “Late Night” to the new host of “The Tonight Show” last week. Meyers, who like Fallon is another graduate of the Lorne Michaels school of funny, is the fourth host of the show, which launched on Feb. 1, 1982 with a young David Letterman, who was followedby an unknown Conan O’Brien in 1993.
Those former hosts will certainly be in Meyers’ mind as he takes over this storied time slot.
“I’m lucky enough to have Letterman in high school,” Meyers says. “We would tape the show and all of us would watch it in the morning so that we could get to school and talk about the Top 10 list. And then when I was in college, it was Conan and that was a great time to be watching ‘Late Night.’ Obviously, sitting in a college dorm room watching Conan was a perfect marriage of tastes. Those are the biggest influences for me, I’ve been really impressed with everything Jimmy has done with the show. So there are approaches to pull from all three of them.”
amNewYork spoke with the 40-year-old comedian about his new gig.
What does the “Late Night” gig mean to you?
For me, what it means more than anything else, is an extension of the great time at “SNL,” getting to go to a place where you have all this real estate to fill and you get to surround yourself with a really talented writing staff, and also I get to stay at NBC, I get to stay in 30 Rock and, most importantly, I get to stay in New York.
What are some of the advantages to doing the show in New York?
Well, I certainly think for all of Hollywood’s qualities, people associate New York with nightlife and it feels to me there’s something very romantic about the idea of doing a late night show in New York City, certainly in a building that has represented television for as long as 30 Rock has. So, I think that is why, from the beginning, when this time slot was something that was being bandied about as something I could potentially do, it was important for me to keep it into the city.
How has the city informed you as a person?
The nicest thing is: Everyone comes to New York, so you don’t just get a New York sensibility, but you get the best of every other part of the country that wants to come here to hone their craft. You’re not just surrounded by people from New York — New York gets the best of everywhere and that’s why I wanted to stay here.
What is the Seth Meyers “Late Night”?
Well, I think one of the challenges of taking over a job like this is you sort of find your strengths and one of the nice things about coming from “SNL” is that’s another job that makes you find your strengths. To some degree we know what we’re good and there are a lot of things that Jimmy is really good at that I’m terrible at. So, you won’t … Jimmy’s so musically skilled and that’s not a talent or skill set I have. But I think you make these things your own by bringing your own creative DNA to it. I sort of identify with myself as a writer so we want to have as much writing on the show as possible. We’ve hired a lot of writers who are also performers and we want to get them out whenever we can. One of things I’ve learned from Weekend Update was I enjoy sitting next to people who are funnier than I am, so I want to try to make that happen as often as possible.
Will you have a sidekick?
We’re not going to have a sidekick. The closest we’re going to come is a rotating cast of performers who sort of become a bit of the ensemble that the show relies on that I can talk to. But when I walk on in the beginning, there won’t be the Steve Higgins, if you will.
What is the format of the show?
Monologue, and then two or three acts of comedy and then guests. We have a lot of respect for what “Late Night” has been through the last three iterations of it and we don’t want to deconstruct the model, we want to just do our version of it. And we like all those pieces of it. We like the idea of desk comedy, of sketch comedy, of video pieces. We’ve tried to hire writers with a diversity of skill sets who can all do different things so we don’t get stuck with a week of all similar pieces.
Are there any recurring skits you can disclose?
I can’t really tease them because we’re sort of going into it trying to generate like a hundred ideas before our first show knowing that we’ll try all of them once and probably like four or five of them will be good enough to do a second time. And then we’ll just have to generate another hundred. Right now we’re in the process of, sort of, no idea is a bad idea. We want to get everything that makes us laugh out there and we judge based on how it goes. Nothing yet that I can tease as a sure fire hit because I would never be that confident about anything.
Do you have any fears about doing the monologue?
The monologue I’m less fearful of just having done a few award shows where you have that pressure. For me, the biggest fear is the interviewing because that’s the farthest from anything I’ve done before. So hopefully the monologue, because of the writers we’ve hired, will have good jokes and when that happens I’ll feel pretty good. And hopefully over time, I’ll learn to interview a little bit better.
What have you been doing to practice interviewing? Have you been interviewing people around the office?
I haven’t done that, but we are going to have some test shows. I’ve found in general I’ve tried a lot harder to be a better listener. And I realize that the people I’ve been listening to more than I have in the past are my parents, so they’re the biggest beneficiaries of this.
What does it mean to have Amy Poehler on as your first guest?
For me, having Poehler out there is such a nice comfort level. Not only is she such a great interview anytime she goes on any of the late night talk shows, but she and I started the show in 2001 together — it will be very fitting to have her at the first show this next chapter. She’s not just one of the funniest people I know, she’s one of the best people I know. So I’m very lucky to have her out there.
Who is your dream guest?
Someone like Hillary Clinton is a person I keep saying. Someone who is going to have a fairly big impact on this country or certainly has the potential to. People like that would be interesting to talk to.
What’s the set like?
The set designer at “SNL” did it, and so it has a really classy, gorgeous look to it. There are some interesting things happening with the desk that I think people will be psyched to see.
How did “SNL” prepare you for “Late Night”?
“SNL” is where I learned to do everything, so it would be impossible not to bring those sensibilities here. The best thing for those of us who were at “SNL” who are working at the show now is you don’t have to wait for Saturday for something. You can try it on Monday if it happened on Monday, which is great. You don’t have to wait. But working for Lorne Michaels really helps inform how serious you have to take a job like this in order to do it well. Lorne, I feel he’s endured in show business for as long as he has because he does have a commitment to quality and making the effort it takes to put out a product that you’re proud of day in and day out. Those are all things I wouldn’t have learned if it weren’t for my time at the show.
What was it like when Lorne came to you about doing the show?
It was strange. In my head it wasn’t a thing that was real or was ever going to be real. And Lorne has a very cryptic way of talking to you in that when you hang up, you often don’t know really what was asked or what was decided upon. So it wasn’t until a few days later that my agents called to say, “This is a thing that you were being asked to do,” that I realized that was the case. So, in a perfect way, I’m very lucky that I didn’t have to go through the process is this having to be a thing that I was angling for, or that I was in the running for that I spent months obsessing over. It all kind of happened very fast and for that I’m forever grateful because obviously these are shows that, in the past, transitions haven’t been as smooth as this one, up to this point, seems to have been.
That’s a very diplomatic way of putting it.
I’m very politic.
What was it like to leave “SNL”?
It’s really heartbreaking. Again, that show’s the reason I moved to this city, that show is where I’ve met some of my closest friends, and obviously it made it a little bit easier being on the same elevator in the morning. But I’m already aware that a week from now, two weeks from now, I’ll have a sketch idea for an “SNL” sketch and that realization that I have nowhere to put it and it’s going to be heartbreaking.
How long did it take you to hit the right elevator button when you got on?
I will say that I fully was on the wrong elevator my first day after “SNL,” which was like a scene out of some romantic comedy. I’m now officially going straight to the right floor.
Any advice for your Weekend Update replacement Colin Jost?
If you get one of these legacy jobs that’s been around for a long time, you can sort of over obsess about how you’re going to do it differently and what are going to be the wholesale changes you’re going to make to make sure it’s yours. But the reality is when you get a job like Weekend Update or “Late Night,” you get the job because of what you’ve done up to that point. And so the reality is if you keep sort of doing what you’ve been doing, you’re going to bring your own DNA to the job anyway. Mostly, the best advice I’ve given to Colin is do all the things that put you on Lorne’s radar as a good choice for this job.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten?
Be patient. This is a job you need six months to figure out and the worst thing you could do is over course correct based on how the first couple of weeks go. Stick with what you personally believe is funny and that will do better by you than sort of trying to overdose on what you think people will find funny.
How about the worst advice you’ve gotten?
Somebody just asked me that. I can’t really think of any worst advice. I mean, people would say things like, ‘Do you think it’s a mistake to leave “SNL?”’ which, of course, when you hear that, you can’t help but think it.
Now that you’ve got “Late Night,” is Jimmy feeling you breathing down his neck for “The Tonight Show”?
Not at all. It’s kind of a delight to take over this show were someone my age is taking over “The Tonight Show” because I don’t think we will ever have to worry about that, the succession drama that follows all these other shows around. I’m really lucky. I’ve known Jimmy since 2001 and to follow a colleague like that in this time slot and also to know that my success will have a lot to do with how successful his show is, I feel very lucky to be following him.
Will we see any crossovers between the two shows?
We’ll see. For me, obviously we’ll be open to any crossovers. I’m also aware that Jimmy is launching “The Tonight Show,” which is no small feat in its own right. I think we’ll both take a few months to get ourselves settled and it will be fun to literally be two flights above him.
Do you have any pleas to get people to watch?
I promise that we’ll be done every night by 1:37, so if you have plans, you should be able to make it. I’m hoping the show will be a good mix of smart and silly.