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Seth Meyers talks about taking over 'Late Night'
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 NBCs 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 OBrien in 1993.
Those former hosts will certainly be in Meyers mind as he takes over this storied time slot.
Im 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, Ive 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 Hollywoods qualities, people associate New York with nightlife and it feels to me theres 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 dont 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. Youre not just surrounded by people from New York New York gets the best of everywhere and thats 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 thats another job that makes you find your strengths. To some degree we know what were good and there are a lot of things that Jimmy is really good at that Im terrible at. So, you wont Jimmys so musically skilled and thats 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. Weve hired a lot of writers who are also performers and we want to get them out whenever we can. One of things Ive 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?
Were not going to have a sidekick. The closest were 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 wont 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 dont 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. Weve tried to hire writers with a diversity of skill sets who can all do different things so we dont get stuck with a week of all similar pieces.
Are there any recurring skits you can disclose?
I cant really tease them because were sort of going into it trying to generate like a hundred ideas before our first show knowing that well try all of them once and probably like four or five of them will be good enough to do a second time. And then well just have to generate another hundred. Right now were 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 Im less fearful of just having done a few award shows where you have that pressure. For me, the biggest fear is the interviewing because thats the farthest from anything Ive done before. So hopefully the monologue, because of the writers weve hired, will have good jokes and when that happens Ill feel pretty good. And hopefully over time, Ill learn to interview a little bit better.
What have you been doing to practice interviewing? Have you been interviewing people around the office?
I havent done that, but we are going to have some test shows. Ive found in general Ive tried a lot harder to be a better listener. And I realize that the people Ive been listening to more than I have in the past are my parents, so theyre 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. Shes not just one of the funniest people I know, shes one of the best people I know. So Im 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.
Whats 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 dont have to wait for Saturday for something. You can try it on Monday if it happened on Monday, which is great. You dont 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 hes 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 youre proud of day in and day out. Those are all things I wouldnt have learned if it werent 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 wasnt 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 dont know really what was asked or what was decided upon. So it wasnt 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, Im very lucky that I didnt 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 Im forever grateful because obviously these are shows that, in the past, transitions havent been as smooth as this one, up to this point, seems to have been.
Thats a very diplomatic way of putting it.
Im very politic.
What was it like to leave SNL?
Its really heartbreaking. Again, that shows the reason I moved to this city, that show is where Ive met some of my closest friends, and obviously it made it a little bit easier being on the same elevator in the morning. But Im already aware that a week from now, two weeks from now, Ill have a sketch idea for an SNL sketch and that realization that I have nowhere to put it and its 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. Im 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 thats been around for a long time, you can sort of over obsess about how youre going to do it differently and what are going to be the wholesale changes youre going to make to make sure its yours. But the reality is when you get a job like Weekend Update or Late Night, you get the job because of what youve done up to that point. And so the reality is if you keep sort of doing what youve been doing, youre going to bring your own DNA to the job anyway. Mostly, the best advice Ive given to Colin is do all the things that put you on Lornes radar as a good choice for this job.
Whats the best advice youve 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 youve gotten?
Somebody just asked me that. I cant really think of any worst advice. I mean, people would say things like, Do you think its a mistake to leave SNL? which, of course, when you hear that, you cant help but think it.
Now that youve got Late Night, is Jimmy feeling you breathing down his neck for The Tonight Show?
Not at all. Its kind of a delight to take over this show were someone my age is taking over The Tonight Show because I dont think we will ever have to worry about that, the succession drama that follows all these other shows around. Im really lucky. Ive 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?
Well see. For me, obviously well be open to any crossovers. Im also aware that Jimmy is launching The Tonight Show, which is no small feat in its own right. I think well 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 well be done every night by 1:37, so if you have plans, you should be able to make it. Im hoping the show will be a good mix of smart and silly.