These days, when Seth Meyers works with his writing team, most of them are on Zoom. But at least he is back in the studio – minus the audience and live band, of course.
“New York is back, you guys!” he said on a recent episode of “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” “It’s beautiful out, and the CDC just said rats don’t have to wear masks!”
Still, he’s feeling grateful: “It is very empty, I will say that. But it is also, my heart is full. Empty studio, full heart.”
After all, when correspondent Rita Braver spoke to him last summer, Meyers was hosting “Late Night” from his vacation house in Connecticut: “I’m doing my own, you know, lighting, sound, makeup – and thank you for the compliment, I do think I look young and healthy!”
Inquiring about his attic/crawlspace home studio, Braver asked, “Could you please tell me why you almost always have a copy of ‘The Thorn Birds’ by your side?”
“It’s very hard to find an attic space in the Northeastern states that doesn’t have a copy of ‘The Thorn Birds,'” he replied. “I’ve tried to get rid of it; it just sort of shows back up.”
And speaking of showing up, how about Meyers’ kids, who’ve run through a shot?
His family has long been part of the show, starting with when his wife came on the show, bringing the dog. “Yep, she is a very good sport, and a very handsome woman,” Meyers said.
Even his parents and brother are semi-regular guests, as when they participated in a game show sketch, “How Well Do You Know Your Meyers?”
Seth: “When Josh and I were little, what would you call us when it was time for us to take a bath?”
Dad: “Dirtball 1 and Dirtball 2?”
Seth: “That’s right!”
Meyers is the kind of guy who will urge a visitor to try out his desk. “Well, do you wanna sit here, get the full vibe? Come on… When are you gonna have this chance? Well, not until it goes into the Smithsonian!”
Seated in the host’s chair, Braver asked, “Well, Seth, do you have anything that you are promoting?”
“I brought a clip!”
In contrast to some other talk show hosts, Meyers’ sunny personality is legendary: Variety has referred to him as “the Tom Hanks of talk show hosts.”
Braver asked, “Do you have a secret dark side that we’re not seeing?”
“I do not have a secret dark side,” he replied.
“This is it?”
“Yeah. Would you wanna hear something that you won’t believe? The secret side of me is even nicer than this!”
In fact, it is. Braver said, “I read a story saying that when NBC stopped paying some of your people that work on your show for a while, that you stepped up and paid them out of your own pocket during the COVID shutdown.”
“Yeah, that’s a personal thing, between me and the crew,” he said.
But Meyers is not always nice. His humor is often political: a favorite target for years: Donald Trump.
“Only Donald Trump can make himself feel better by implying he has a better house than Osama bin Laden. … He only has two emotions: boredom and rage. He’s either staring off into the distance while someone talks about complex policy details, or hissing at reporters like a snake whose nest was just disturbed.”
“I think it’s safe to say that you are not a fan boy?” Braver asked.
“I think that is probably the most accurate way to say it,” Meyers laughed. “I don’t have any of his merch – not one piece of merch, even after all this time!”
“Is the Biden administration funny yet?”
“I think Joe Biden as an idea is funny. I feel very deeply for the people that Major has bit. But it is very in line with Joe Biden that he brought a dog into the White House that clearly is not meant to be there.”
Meyers started doing comedy in high school in New Hampshire, honed it at Northwestern University, and then did improv in Amsterdam and Chicago. He was invited to join “Saturday Night Live” in 2001, playing characters like Michael Caine.
“I thought you did a good Michael Caine,” Braver said.
“I think I did a Michael Caine,” he laughed.
But Meyers, who would eventually become the head writer at “SNL,” believed his fellow cast members were better performers than he was: “The longer I did the show, the less spots I saw where I thought, ‘Oh, the best person for this sketch would be Seth Meyers. So, that’s why I was happy to be at ‘Weekend Update.'”
“A 100-year-old man in California this week married his 93-year-old girlfriend. I don’t know, dude – one woman for the rest of your life?”
“This week children in more than 1,700 schools in North America sang the ‘I Want to Play’ at the same time, while simultaneously in China over a billion kids were doing math.”
Meyers would be at the “Weekend Update” desk for eight years. After 13 years at “SNL,” as his pal Jimmy Fallon was leaving “Late Night” to host “The Tonight Show,” Meyers got a call from Lorne Michaels, executive producer of both “Saturday Night Live” and “Late Night”: “It was another weird, really cryptic call where he said, ‘You know, I think you’d be good at it.’ Like, no previous conversation. And he asked me if I wanted to do it. And I thought about it for a bit, and it just made sense.”
Braver asked, “Was it scary for you to, you know, know that the whole show depended on you instead of a cast of characters?”
“Yeah, very much so. I remember being so in my head and doing a monologue and not actually hearing myself tell the joke as much as thinking, And now, I am telling a joke. And so, it is nice to be looser with it now, and reflect back and realize that progress has been made.”
But this nice guy is willing to share the spotlight, especially with the diverse writers of his show, in the segment “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell,” where he shares the stage with two women, one Black and one lesbian, telling punchlines that Meyers can’t get away with:
Meyers: “A court in Michigan ruled that giving the middle finger to a police officer is an act of free speech.”
Amber: “Said Black people, ‘You first…'”
“Comedy is not just about the material, it’s about the delivery system,” Meyers said. “If you have a lotta different kinds of voices, you can do a lotta different kinds of jokes.”
NBC has just extended Meyers’ contract until 2025, so he’ll have plenty of time to add to his photo collection.
Braver asked, “It must make you feel good every day when you walk by this and think, ‘I did all those shows!'”
“Yes, it is mostly, I feel good to think I have this show and I get to do more of them. It makes me happy to think we’ll keep taking pictures, and ultimately, we’ll ask the network for longer hallways, so that we can hang more of them!”
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Story produced by David Rothman. Editor: Mike Levine.