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Interview: Seth Meyers On Reinventing His ‘Late Night’ Show And His Emmy-Nominated CORRECTIONS

Seth Meyers knows a thing or two about reinvention. When he first started Late Night with Seth Meyers in 2014, he was feeling out the show’s identity.

Meyers said of those first 18 months, “I didn’t have much of a plan looking back other than survival, which is not where the best creativity is born from … you kind of have to do the show to learn the show.” So, he experimented with stand-up monologues talk show hosts are known for, remote segments like Day Drinking, and interviewed a range of guests.

As our society rapidly changed heading into the 2016 election, so did Meyers’ format. The host ditched the old stand-up, got behind the desk, and talked directly to the viewers about the 24 hr news cycle, just like he had in his SNL Weekend Update days.

Meyers and his team of writers developed A Closer Look, a segment running anywhere from 10 – 20 mins long, allowing the host to commentate on a range of topics happening in our nation, from police reform to the phrase alternative facts. As we headed into dark days, with Trump being elected as president, the show’s staple turned out to be something viewers responded to in a big way, with many of the daily Closer Looks amassing millions upon millions of online views.

Then, the pandemic came and asked all of us to be nimble and pivot in our daily lives. Meyers, once again, had to reinvent to establish a new format that would work without a studio audience. The host traded the suit and tie for flannel and filmed from his attic, doing his own makeup and lighting. When he returned to the studio, he was one of the last of the late night hosts to allow audiences back in.

One of the most enjoyable segments born out of the pandemic is the Emmy-nominated online short CORRECTIONS. The segment, which solely exists on YouTube is an extension of the show in a way. In the online short, Meyers addresses the online comments he receives about his weekly blunders. Essentially, he found a way to turn the online equivalent of hate mail into successful content, “apologizing” for his mispronunciations on the show or idioms gone wrong. The host said that the popular segment — which just celebrated its 50th episode — was a way to connect with the audience when everyone was at home.

“The realization was, there’s nothing funnier than trying to make everybody online happy,” said Meyers.

Seth Meyers sat with Awards Radar to discuss the 50th episode of CORRECTIONS, Day Drinking with celebrities, and Late Night‘s trajectory.

Niki Cruz: When thinking about how you wanted to approach Late Night in 2014, did you have a vision for how it would look or feel?

Seth Meyers: I didn’t have much of a plan looking back other than just survival, which is not where the best creativity is born from. I had very little time between SNL and Late Night. Not that I think more time would have helped because every idea we had before we started doing the show didn’t work. I didn’t necessarily think that was what my future held when I was at SNL, to do a Late Night show, but then I also didn’t know what to do after SNL. It made sense to do something where you were lucky enough to put together a staff of writers that you liked. It took a full 18 months before we landed on what the show should be. 18 months [in], and it was like, I’m going to sit down, and that was the first sort of massive change. Then obviously, we leaned into politics because politics became impossible for us to ignore during the 2016 election. That became sort of like the second change. The pandemic was the third major change, which kind of like gave us this opportunity to reshape the show without an audience around. We weirdly got to do our first album fifth. We got to do this like Lo Fi punk album after we were an established Late Night Show.

NC: In terms of finding that political voice, people turned to talk show hosts for that information. A Closer Look found the right balance of funny and informative. Did that take some time to develop?

SM: I mean, originally, I think we wrote a piece about maybe the Greek debt crisis and just threw the title, A Closer Look, on it. You do something, and then you hear from a lot of people that liked it. More than anything else you’ve done up to that point. And so, I think we did maybe one the next month, and then we did two a month, and then very slowly, it sort of built into a thing that we realized we liked doing it more than anything else … you could just throw your entire day into writing jokes and shaping this piece that has a beginning, middle, and end. It’s viewed by a great deal of people independent of the rest of the show because it’s online.

NC: For your third reinvention, having developed a show without a live audience to bounce off of, I imagine at first that’s terrifying, but you really found a different kind of rhythm without a live audience, and now they’re back, did you have to establish different ground rules? Aside from losing the suit and tie.

SM: I don’t know if we established any ground rules. We had a lot of trepidation about having the audience back because we did find a way that we really liked with the show, and it was authentically what we wanted to do. When there’s no audience, it’s amazing how you don’t pander to them.

I think that first show back, we were all a little nervous, and then I walked out and said hi to the audience before the show started. It was genuinely emotional that first night back because when I walked out, I realized they were the same people who had been watching during the pandemic. It was the only time I’ve been doing a show where I felt like, “Oh, we were all going through it.” Obviously, we all experienced the pandemic differently, but no one wasn’t going through it. No one wasn’t having their lives affected by it. So, it was a real shared experience of doing a talk show during that time. And then we came back and saw everybody, and it was like, “Hey! I was the guy in the attic! We were all in the equivalent of our attics — so cool to see you!”

NC: You talked about experimenting and finding that voice. Does that come from your SNL days when everything is just changing and having the foresight to know that something’s just hit in a weird way online?

SM: Yeah, one of the things [that’s] a challenge about A Closer Look is sometimes you’re talking about some pretty gnarly subject matter. We’re never trying to tell you, “Hey, this isn’t that bad.” That said, we are trying to make you feel better about the fact that other people know it’s really bad. And sometimes, the fun of A Closer Look is just giving yourself permission to take wild tangents, do half baked impressions, and make it feel like the most palatable way to spend time talking about these things. We certainly leaned into that where the audience was gone, and then it did work online.

NC: On the other side of the spectrum, you have Day Drinking, particularly the Rihanna episode, which has 16 million views, which is insane to me.

SM: Because you think it should be double that? I agree. [Laughs]

NC: Of course! That segment is great because it wipes the facade of anything Hollywood-esque about a person. You’re getting to know them by having a drink. How does something like that even get pitched?

SM: We were trying to figure out remote pieces. We’ve had a lot of success using my family on the show. So, the first time we were drinking it was just my brother [Josh], and it was really fun. It was also like multiple locations around Brooklyn. We were in a van driving around more than we were actually drinking. Then we did one with my mom. Then it was Retta, the wonderful comedian Retta, who wanted to do it. We had never thought about pitching it to guests because it takes a unique kind of person who wants to go get bombed in the middle of the afternoon on camera.

It’s amazing how often these things are not well laid out plans. It’s more like just being able to recognize a hit when it happens accidentally. Then you just kind of get different people like Kelly Clarkson, Ina Garten, and you’re slowly working towards Rihanna, and then after she does it, we have to say no, far more than we say yes. Just in consideration of my liver.

NC: Do you have any wild experiences within that particular series?

SM: The wild experiences are only how often I embarrass myself at the end of them. I remember saying to my producer Mike Shoemaker, Kelly Clarkson left, and I was like, “Oh my god, I forgot to say goodbye to her.” And he said, “You’ve said goodbye to her twice the exact same way, completely forgetting that you’ve done it.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s not good.” The picture my wife texts me the most — I feel like she saves on her phone to shame me — When I came home from Rihanna, I just fell asleep in the hallway. She put a glass of water next to me went to bed. [Laughs]

NC: I wouldn’t feel too bad about saying goodbye to Kelly Clarkson twice in the same way. I’m half Italian, and Italians do that all the time. It takes us 30 minutes to say goodbye to someone at a party.

SM: I think if we could take anything away from this, it’s the more drunk I get, the more Italian I get. [Laughs]

NC: That’s going be the pull quote. That may actually be the title. [Laughs] Given how rapid everything changes, how do you keep segments fresh? You also have the add on of thinking about exclusive online content like CORRECTIONS.

SM: During the pandemic, the only way to interact with an audience was online. The problem with negativity online is it doesn’t take many for you to have a negative experience. The reality is most people are pretty positive online, so you could just get over the hump of the assholes, but [CORRECTIONS] is pretty fun. We realized we had a lot of fans who liked the show. They were watching the show, but then they were really hilariously nitpicky about certain things, like certain pronunciations or the fact that we pluralized Legos, which I guess is some giant crime in fucking Scandinavia. Every time I tried to apologize and correct myself, I would somehow make the second error.

It started as a very small thing that spun out of control, but part of the fun, of course, is performing someone spinning out of control because now it is this crowdsource. Everyone is performing a role. I’m performing the put upon host who’s getting criticized online, and people online are performing, as people who are curious that I can’t pronounce the name Tintin correctly [laughs] And that’s where we are.

NC: You just had a celebration of 50th CORRECTIONS with star studded cameos from Jeff Goldblum, Nathan Lane, Christine Baranski, Harvey Fierstein, and so many others. What was it like putting that together? I imagine it took some planning.

SM: It took planning, but I tried to make sure very few people knew what was going on. I wrote letters to 10 people because you can’t start from the assumption that people know. I have to literally be like “Dear Ben and Jerry’s. Will you film yourself announcing that you have made an ice cream for James Corden, instead?” They deserve so much praise not only did they send the video they made the label and sent it to us. [Laughs]

I went to the Head of Wardrobe and said, “Hey, I need one of my tuxedos.” Meanwhile, this poor man has been putting me in sweaters for 2 1/2 years.

NC: John Mulaney led a really good suit intervention for you the other night. How did your relationship develop? I imagine it goes back to SNL.

SM: Yeah. I was lucky enough to be there when he started. He was one of those unique talents that sort of changed the trajectory of the show and the time they were there. We’ve been really lucky to maintain a friendship over the years, and those are the best guests. That was a special night because it wasn’t just John; it was Jenny Slate, who I overlapped with as well on the show. It’s another cool thing about doing this for years, it’s not just the new talent that you see on TV, and you’re so excited to meet it’s about the people you’ve just known forever that you’re lucky enough to have as guests as well.

NC: I thought it was very lovely of you to give him a platform to unpack his year. If you’re going to navigate the press of the year he had, might as well do it in a space and in a chair of someone you trust.

SM: Absolutely. And I think it’s nice to have a place for people when they want to promote something, want to tell jokes, but also when they want to unpack. We try to make it a home for any kind of guest, at any point in their lives.

NC: We’ve been talking a lot about reinvention. Where do you take the show from here?

SM: I guess the only thing I’d say about that is I would never have predicted any of the previous trajectories. And so as far as planning where it goes, I don’t think we’ve had any success at that, but I do think the longer we do this, the better we are at adapting to any given moment. And I think for anyone that has a long run at one of these shows that’s the skill you have to learn is how to adapt and not just adapt to make the show better, but you have to constantly adapt and make sure you’re still having fun because these things are only fun to watch if you can tell the host is having fun doing it.

Watch Seth Meyers Specjackular: A Celebration of CORRECTIONS! below:

[This interview was edited for length and clarity.]


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Written by Niki Cruz

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