Seth Meyers on Saturday Night Live | Interview
The SNL head writer and “Weekend Update” anchor brings his stand-up to Just for Laughs Chicago.
Wed Jun 8 2011
Photograph: Mary Ellen Matthews; Photo illustration: Jamie DiVecchio Ramsay
Seth Meyers calls days after he finishes his tenth season on Saturday Night Live. The “Weekend Update” anchor and SNL head writer’s first show was also the first one after September 11. The 37-year-old Northwestern alum returns to Chicago for Just for Laughs, performing stand-up at the Vic on June 18. Caught his searing act at the Donald Trump Roast—er, White House Correspondents’ Dinner? Hopefully, his JFL set is half as good.
During your stand-up at the Correspondents’ Dinner, Trump looked particularly displeased. Did you hear from him afterward?
I’ve run into him since and I thanked him for being a good sport, and he did not move off his public position that my jokes were a little too tough. I worry he doesn’t have a good humor to run a world power.
How disappointed were you when he said he wouldn’t run for President?
Well, I never thought he was gonna run for President [Laughs], so I hadn’t gotten my hopes up. I felt like everything we got from him was gravy [during] his brief time running for President.
With 2012 on the horizon, do you feel campaign season is to you as December is to the Oscars, that it’s when you’re at your best?
Absolutely. But it depends on who’s running. If it’s Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney fighting down to the wire, it probably won’t be a comedy gold mine for us. My heart didn’t hurt when Mitch Daniels dropped out.
You and Obama had an exchange after your Correspondents’ routine. What’d you guys say to each other?
He basically just said I did a good job, and I told him he was a very hard act to follow. While he was performing, I was sweating through my tuxedo because he was killing, and I didn’t want people to say that I didn’t do bad but the President was better. [Laughs] You have to do better than him because if you do just as well, the tiebreaker is: Who is also President?
He didn’t mutter to you that he was gonna get Bin Laden the next day?
He didn’t. I have been joking to people that the last thing I said to him was, “Check Abbottabad.” We were talking about dubbing in audio for “Weekend Update”: “Check Abbottabad. There’s a house there that’s bigger than the others. It just doesn’t feel right.”
What was Seth Meyers like as an undergrad at Northwestern?
He wasn’t a very good student. He tried to get by with as little effort as possible. I started doing improv at Northwestern, and that [was] the first time I had a sense of what I wanted to do with my life.
Growing up in New Hampshire, were you and your brother the jokesters around the family dinner table?
My father is sort of the jokester. My dad is still the funniest guy in our family. The best thing my parents did for us was they let us start watching Monty Python and Saturday Night Live way younger than we should have.
Does your father call you on Sunday and let you know what he thinks about the previous night’s show?
Yes. My dad tells me things that it’s surprising to me that he doesn’t think I would’ve picked up on over the course of the week. He’ll say, like, “Justin Timberlake’s a real talent.” So I go, “Yeah, I’m glad you picked up on that. If only I’d known on Monday.”
He must give constructive criticism as well.
He does. He pointed out that I cross my legs the wrong way on talk shows, so that I expose the underside of my shoe. By the way, it’s a great note.
It has to be tricky writing for stars who have final approval of their sketches on SNL. Is that ever a struggle, working against celebrity ego—where they think something’s funny and you don’t, or vice versa?
It happens but in a very small degree. There are cases where a host will fight for a piece that maybe we wouldn’t try if they didn’t care very deeply about it, but there’s a lot of points during the week where the host can see that maybe they were wrong about something.
Can you give me examples?
I really can’t. [Laughs] I would never.There is a real diplomacy to this job. I’m pretty good at that part.
’Cause as head writer you deal with not just stars’ egos but writers’.
Writers’ egos and cast egos, which, by the way, their egos are valuable things.
After an SNL show, what’s a typical Sunday for you?
Watching television and waiting till: When is it not embarrassing to order Chinese food? Sometimes a bunch of guys from the show, we’ll all have dinner at, like, 10:30, ’cause none of us want to go to bed and wake up and have the stress of Monday.
Seth Meyers plays the Vic June 18 at 7:30pm.