When Seth Meyers left his head-writing role at Saturday Night Live to take over the ‘Late Night’ desk in 2014, who would have guessed the world he was stepping into? From Trump to the COVID pandemic, the ever-expanding use of social media and ongoing efforts for social justice – Meyers has been up to the taking on the challenges and goals of this changing world.
It surely seems that Meyers is not seeking glory or accolades. Sure, he wants to change the name of Rockefeller Center to Seth Meyers Plaza, but that’s a whole other story (which we cover below). His work on ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers‘ has helped usher in a new era of talk shows that are more conscious of needs of the times in which we live. Those who watch him nightly, probably share the feeling that he does not tackle any topic because he has to. Instead, he does it because he knows it’s right and strivs for a better world.
During my interview with him he proved to be modest, authentic, a family man, dedicated to his craft and his audience. And of course, so damn funny.
Tackling all the adversity the pandemic could throw at them, Meyers and his ‘Late Night’ team persevered to successfully deliver uninterrupted, high quality shows without missing a beat. Some would say it is the best work of his career. Not only did Meyers entertain us, his efforts helped navigate viewers through these trying times with intelligence, humor, truth and maybe even a little Sea Captain. After four consecutive Emmy Award nominations (2017-2020) for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series, this season certainly makes a great case for a fifth and even that evasive Outstanding Variety Talk Series nod. Enjoy my interview with Seth Meyers.
Steven Prusakowski: Thank you for doing this today. I appreciate it. I am a big fan of Late Night and your work on SNL.
Seth Meyers: Oh, thank you!
SP: I will jump right in and ask the obvious question. As a child, was your dream to turn a guest spot on Spin City into a lengthy head writing and performing stint at SNL then to leave and become the award-winning host of Late Night franchise, in addition to compiling a long list of prestigious hosting and acting gigs? And if so, what advice do you have for children out there who have the same dream?
Seth Meyers: My only dream was the guest spot on Spin City. And once I got that, everything after that has been gravy. The really funny thing about that was when all this stuff happened with Charlie Sheen. It was Charlie Sheen month, I think we all remember. It took me like, it was like three weeks into it before I realized, ‘Oh, I was in an episode of Spin City with him.’ And it should be noted, he was an absolute gentleman. So we’ll leave it at that.
SP: Yeah, most people didn’t have that experience, it seems. But hey, that was yours. So, leave it up.
Seth Meyers: Leave it on there for the record.
SP: Of course. So how did you steer career lead you to where you are now? Where did it all start? Were you a comedian at home? Did you listen to comedy?
Seth Meyers: I think my dad introduced us to age inappropriate comedy. Far before it was time to do so we listened to either Steve Martin albums, which are, as you know, ultimately pretty safe, and Richard Pryor albums, which ultimately are not. But comedy was very much framed as a noble profession in our family. And SNL was something we watched together. Monty Python was something we watched together. My dad would rent the comedy movies that he liked when he thought we were old enough for them. So it was a big deal. And then, when I went off to college, I saw the university improv troupe and pretty much realized, ‘Oh that, I think for procrastinator this improv thing was perfect.
SP: Your experience was a little different. With my parents, I used to have to sneak SNL on a small TV in my bedroom. And then I had to hijack Canadian radio late on Sunday nights to listen to their weekly comedy show. Where I too would listen to Steve Martin. Maybe I just needed a little more support, and maybe I’d be a host of a late night talk show.
Seth Meyers: I do think my parents probably deserve credit.
SP: Good for them. They did well. I think comedy is not given the proper respect, the ability to turn something and make it comedic shows a deeper understanding of things than just someone who can go repeat back facts.
Seth Meyers: Yes, comedy is exactly half of our existence. So it’s a good muscle to work out.
SP: The show went through a lot this year. You really strive through it though. You went from working in the tiny room with a door and now you’re back in the studio working with no audience. And, I am assuming relatively soon you’ll be back in front of an audience. What were some of the biggest challenges you had this year, not only with the pandemic, but also the political climate?
Seth Meyers: Well, you know, I think that everything with the political climate was, to some degree, what we’ve been going through for the previous four years. So, if I think of anything, so far this year, politically, it’s been the time after the last administration. And, we had always been hopeful that it would leave a little bit more real estate to be silly and frivolous and a little less tied to how awful things were. And so far, we have felt that while also being acutely aware that there’s going to be a long tail, to Donald Trump, and we continue to feel that. And then, to be honest, the other part has just been the technical hiccups of figuring out how to do a show at home. And most of those have been eradicated by being back at the studio. So now, even though we don’t have an audience, it is so liberating to be with a crew of 1000 professionals every day. Focusing on the things that I have any skill in which is writing and performing.
SP: While I’m assuming you’re excited for the audience to come back. Are you nervous at all?
Seth Meyers: I am. Yeah, I think it’ll be very jarring to transition back to having an audience. I’m going to do the Tonight Show soon. And I’m going to be fascinated to see what it feels like to be on a talk show, again, with people in the crowd. It’s been so long that it will feel like a new experience, even though I did in front of a crowd for so long. I don’t think we’ll have audiences back until September at the earliest. And it’s obviously really lucky for us that we get to work in the same building as Jimmy Fallon and have him work the kinks out first. Then just take advantage of what he learned.
SP: So once Trump left office, as you touched upon this, you enter this transition period. There must be challenges, because it seems like you’re going from having a stocked fridge to suddenly becoming a hunter gatherer, I’d assume. What was your plan knowing that change was coming, or more accurately hoping it was coming? And also, what was it like, knowing that Trump was watching you the whole time? Because you know, every single joke he made for four plus years, he was probably watching.
Seth Meyers: I got the sense that he might have been watching less. If there was a show you knew he was watching it was SNL. Because until he realized he wasn’t, he had assumed that he was part of that family. So I think that was always a betrayal for him. I think he probably had less faith that I was ever going to be on his side. Our plan was always just to talk about what’s happening in the day’s news. And, one of the things that made post-Trump that was probably one of the reasons we’re post Trump was you also had this worldwide pandemic going on. And that’s given us plenty to talk about as well. So, even though I do think there’s some truth to that stock fridge analogy, I wouldn’t say that the cupboards are bare, either.
SP: The writers room has changed over the years. And you’re known championing a very diverse writing team. How did you make that happen? Was that a day one decision or did that slowly evolve?
Seth Meyers: I think we went into it knowing that the first time you put together writing staff is when you get to make most choices, because after that, if you choose well, you don’t have that many openings come up over the years. Because your plan is that people will want to stick around. So, we wanted to get people who did things that we didn’t already have in the writing staff. Iit wasn’t just a diversity of people’s backgrounds, it was a diversity of styles as well. Our early staff had people like Michelle Wolf, who were these really accomplished and talented stand ups and people like Conner O’Malley, who were esoteric and funny of a sketch performer you would find, and we’ve continued to try to do that whenever there’s a spot. Which is not to hire somebody who does a version of what we have had, but to try to hire somebody that’s going to do something we’ve never seen on the show before.
SP: How has the chemistry been with the writing staff via the zoom era, rather than being in the room together? Was it difficult to get back into the swing of things?
Seth Meyers: You know, it’s less fun, is the honest truth. I look forward to the time again, when we have a bunch of really funny people in one office. I don’t necessarily think it makes the writing better though. I think our writing staff has done a tremendous job of getting the same quality of work done at home, if not better. It’s just a more fun existence, to be working with people and to have somebody pop into your office, because they have a funny story to tell you. That’s the part I desperately miss, while also really appreciating and feeling really thankful to my writing staff for continuing to deliver high quality stuff day in and day out.
SP: When it comes to guests, you know, it’s definitely a different feel to it. How much more challenging to do interviews via zoom? Just to find the timing alone must be tougher. Even doing this interview alone, there’s a little bit of lag and occasionally the call is breaking up. How did that affect the way you performed and your conducted your interviews?
Seth Meyers: (Inaudible comment). I still think you could have really good zoom interviews. But I think internally, you are just worried you’re going to miss something due to what you just said, the audio drops out for a second, or you thought they were done. And they weren’t. Or, because you were looking into the camera, as opposed to looking at them on screen, you didn’t catch any facial cues. The interesting thing is, if even though they’re a little bit harder to do, I think they might sometimes be better to watch for people at home. I don’t know if you feel this way, but you are getting the guests to look directly at you when you’re at home if they’re looking into the camera. So sometimes, I think if you get the right kind of guests who’s going to tell a really long, uninterrupted funny story, it might be more fun. But, it is definitely a trickier thing to do from the host chair.
SP: Coincidentally, the first sentence of your response got cut off. I didn’t hear a word you said.
Seth Meyers: I said, ‘How dare you ask me that, you son of a bitch.’
SP: Damn it! I knew it. I told my wife, I shouldn’t ask that question. So… I saw your interview with Will Forte. That was fantastic. I think it really works well, when you have those guests with whom you have that built in chemistry. There was no disconnect there. It seems like a difficult job writing and being funny day in and day out. You also have to factor in the political aspect of the last four year. Is it difficult to go in day after day and just be ready to tackle all that and perform? Do you ever have a day wake up and say ‘No, not today’?
Seth Meyers: I think it’s very rare for me to feel, ‘uh, not today.’ I think that in the early days of the pandemic, I was so terrified that we were not going to figure out how to do this show. So anytime I dreaded doing it, or there’s even a tickle of dread, I remember how much worse it could be if there was no show to do.
SP: The use social media has changed the game. Because that is something that wasn’t going on in years past. Letterman didn’t have a YouTube channel, but you do. How do you use that to connect with your audience? And how do you feel that changes who your audience is and how kind of intimate your relationship is with them?
Seth Meyers: Well, one of the nice things about YouTube is for a thing, like ‘A Closer Look.’ It doubles the amount of people who watch the show. And, that is great. The more eyeballs the better. And then, the other element of just hearing and being able to read people’s feedback of the show is hilarious. Mostly, because the more you do it, the more you realize the kind of people who watch your show. You get to like them. I mean, I always liked them, but this year because there hasn’t been a live audience, I realized that I’ve always been doing the show for the people at home more than the people in this video, but you kind of pay more attention to people this video because as a performer that’s what your instincts are. And so it’s been great to have this place to hear what people think about the show and we started doing this online exclusive ‘Corrections,’ where it’s basically go through through people’s nitpicking, which is really, I should say, my favorite part of the week.
SP: I think that’s kind of brave to do, you know, to go out there and say, here are my mistakes. And now, not only are you going to hear them, but they will live on the internet forever.
Seth Meyers: I should have known, but when I started it, I didn’t realize how many mistakes they would find.
SP: It’s a gutsy move, but I think it’s panning out, I’m enjoying ‘Corrections.’ Besides how you think of hotel lobbies, how has becoming a parent changed you as a comedian and as a person?
Seth Meyers: Um, you know, I think that comedy is good when you don’t take it too seriously, even in the doing it. And once you have kids, it’s easy to remember that there are more important things than comedy. It strangely makes you looser, and I hope it is easier to watch. So it’s, again, it’s the best job in the world. So now everything else is just a bonus.
SP: So now you’re in your eighth year? With? What’s your fondest moment of the being the host of Late Night so far?
Seth Meyers: Ah, well, what is my fav? I mean, I will say I got the fact that my son was born in the lobby on a Sunday, and on Monday, I got to be on TV, sharing that story was a really cool thing. And, it’s very nice, that we will sort of have that as a historical record. And then in the non family category, it was day drinking with Rianna.
SP: Oh yeah, that was great.
Seth Meyers: Yeah, yeah.
SP: Yeah, it’s a dream of mine. I don’t know if it’s gonna happen. But I keep pushing for it.
Seth Meyers: Hey, look, man. It was a dream of mine. And it happened. Never give up.
SP: All you have to do is go back in time and get onto ‘Spin City.; And then… maybe… yeah, maybe it’ll all work out.
Seth Meyers: That’s the butterfly flapping its wings.
SP: That’s it. I ask you to step to the side, I step in, and we’ll see how it works out. I was also a huge fan of your work on SNL. Do you ever miss it? I’m sure you’ve been asked that 1000 times.
Seth Meyers: I miss being that age and doing it. You know, I wish I could take a time machine and go spend one more week with that past when we were that age. I will say that I really appreciated it when I was there. I don’t look back on my time and think, ‘Oh, I wish I knew how good I had it.’ I really knew how good I had it and I’m lucky to still be friends with all those people. I would put that cast that I was lucky enough to write for as one of the top three all time on that show. And, so, I only look back on it really fondly.
SP: That’s great. Do you actually go back and watch some of the episodes that you are in? I for one can barely even listen to my interviews afterwards. Can you sit back and turn on an old episode?
Seth Meyers: I can. I can watch. I don’t enjoy watching things that I was in, but probably not a week goes by that I don’t watch an old digital short. I can watch things I wrote, that I like, but I don’t enjoy watching my face say the words.
SP: Man, that’s why we’re doing a phoner right now. (jokingly) Even though you begged, ‘Steven, please, let’s do video,’ I had to say no. It’s the worst thing on earth.
Seth Meyers: (Laughs) It’s nice.
SP: So you were saying you were in one of your three favorite casts ever. I’m on board with that. If you can go back in time, and if you could be on one cast, besides yours, which would have been?
Seth Meyers: I guess, it’s an argument where well, maybe the first cast is a little coke-y.
SP: So like the carbonated beverage, I guess?
Seth Meyers: Yeah, they were drinking a lot of America’s favorite soft drink. I would, I guess, say get me in there at that time that it would be sort toward end the Dana Carvey beginning of Mike Myers – that time. That timeline in there.
SPi: There are so many great seasons to choose from. If you were in that season, is there a skit that you would want to be in?
Seth Meyers: Well, that’s a good question. One of my favorites – so I grew up in the same hometown as Adam Sandler, or I should say, a neighboring town. So anytime Adam Sandler did anything, I was over the moon. Even though I always believed since Adam Sandler was on the show, that meant that I would never be on the show, because they weren’t gonna have two people from my part of New Hampshire, then. Then Sarah Silverman was on the show. And she’s also from our town. But, Adam Sandler did a sketch called ‘You Can’t Get There From Here,’ which was a game show about people in New England giving directions. And, they mentioned my town. I felt more famous from my town being mentioned on SNL than i maybe felt when I got hired on SNL.
SP: Well, before we wrap up, I just want to say one thing and then just a quick closing question. First of all, I just want to say thank you. Now I’m getting a little emotional, which is really weird, but I will push through. Luckily, this isn’t on video. During the last five years, you were a beacon of sanity and hope. As the world became crazier and crazier and we were witnessing these things that made us feel – this is just not right. So few were calling it out, you know, and speaking up about it. You’d stand up and say exactly where you stood. And tell people, ‘hey there are other people who feel like you do. If you’re feeling this, you’re right. This isn’t normal. You don’t need to feel alone.’ Not just that, but you were also educating us about all the things that were going on that we didn’t see because they weren’t making the headlines. And, at the same time, you made us laugh, which was desperately needed at the time. So I just want to say thank you for that. It’s been a crazy five years. But what you did for viewers, wasn’t just a talk show. It was more important than that. Excuse me.
Seth Meyers: That is, it is deeply meaningful to me to hear you say that. So thank you so much for sharing.
SP: Thank you for the work you did. Let me finish with this. I’m going to ask right now we have a time machine – you can choose to go to the past or to the future. Which one did you go to? And then, I’ll follow that up with a very cliche question.
Seth Meyers: Oh, man. That’s such a good one. One, I’m going to go to the future. I’m so curious to see the world that my kids are going to live in.
SP: All right. So you go forward to a time past your death – that you’ve long since passed. What do you hope that you’re remembered for?
Seth Meyers: I hope that… these are good questions. (pause) I don’t care what anybody remembers me for I just hope that my family misses me and that they’re doing all right. I just, I just hope that they… mostly that’s all I hope.
SP: Alright. Wait a second. Do I take that one or not? That seems like a bit of a sidestep. But you threw in the word family there. So then, if I don’t take it I’ll be considered a real jerk. Right?
Seth Meyers: I will say this. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if 30 Rock was called Seth Meyers Plaza, I mean the Rockefellers have had the name long enough, you know?
SP: You’re so right. It’s really getting to the point – like, with the whole tree thing. ‘yeah, we get it!’
Seth Meyers: It’s like hacky, its hacky.
SP: That’s what we say every year when we go there and get pushed through the crowds. And my kids are begging for those hot nuts things. I’m like, ‘Someday this be Seth Meyers Plaza.’ (laughs) Why is it that you’re not back to live audiences yet?
Seth Meyers: We genuinely wanted to see what happened with other shows going back. And and you know, we didn’t know what the what it would be like with testing and the like.
SP: But was it offered? Did you have that opportunity?
Seth Meyers: Oh, yeah, I think at this point, we could have them back. I’m willing to bet we might be one of the last people to have them back.
SP: Yeah, well, if this if it’s working, there’s no not a huge rush. I don’t think you have that issue.
Seth Meyers: And, I think the other thing is, once we go back to an audience, God willing, there’ll never be a reason to go back to this ever again. So we really are aware that it’s a one way traffic decision.
SP: That’s true. And, if it goes to back to this, it’s just gonna be day drinking minus Rhianna.
Seth Meyers: Day drinking with the Sea Captain.
SP: Can I ask you just another quick question?
Seth Meyers: Yeah go for it!
SP: Just curious what you’re watching and listening to right now. What are your favorite current shows? movies? And songs or artists?
Seth Meyers: Oh, God. That’s a good question. I feel like I don’t listen to songs anymore… from adults. I think that’s one of the prices of having children. I will say my wife and I really enjoyed Mare of Easttown. Oh, yeah, we’re very much enjoying the French comedy Call My Agent. Have you seen this show?
SP: It’s in my queue. I haven’t watched it yet.
Seth Meyers: It’s wonderful. So that, and the other – I’m not always watching French shows – but after a million people recommended it, I knocked out the French spy show The Bureau which was also wonderful. And God! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie. I actually don’t even know how to answer it.
SP: Do you mean you haven’t sat down to watch a movie or you haven’t gone to a theater?
Seth Meyers: I feel like I haven’t sat down, I mean, I think that my wife and I watch a lot of TV in bed, because as parents sometimes movies are just too daunting with our level of alertness. So yeah, we mostly just do like 20 minutes of a television show.
SP: All right, sir. I appreciate your time.
Seth Meyers: It was really, really wonderful talking to you.
SP: Thank you again. Best of luck with the show and the Emmys.
(This interview was edited for brevity and clarity purposes).