Seth Meyers already had his dream job. As the host of Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update, "I sort of had already accomplished the job I never thought I would accomplish," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. He joined the cast in 2001 and was there for 12 years.
But in one of the recent rounds of musical chairs/desks in the late-night talk show scene, Meyers landed Late Night. Lorne Michaels, executive producer of Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show and Late Night, encouraged Meyers to host the 12:30 a.m. spot and make it his own. Meyers took it over when Jimmy Fallon moved to The Tonight Show.
"My biggest fear with any job coming after SNL was that the next job would be boring compared to SNL," Meyers says. "So when this came up, I was thrilled at the idea that it would be something that would move as fast as SNL, as well as being in the same building, so I didn't have to get a new ID photo."
On his first week hosting Late Night
They have to put a mark on the floor where you're supposed to end up every night, and just the stress of hitting that mark, I think the whole first week I couldn't even bear to watch myself walk out because I felt like I would look like an insane person, just staring at a spot on the floor.
... I've done standup for a long time but even in standup the main difference is holding a microphone. The trickiest part of this job the first week was just figuring out what to do with my hands. I think one of the great discoveries I made at the show was the memory of pockets. I was like, "OK, I can put one of these away."
I as a person in conversation tend to use my hands a great deal, and I think my first couple of monologues I looked like someone on a desert island trying to signal for a passing plane.
It's weird, a few people said, a friend even after the first couple of shows, "You seemed a little nervous the first night." To which I replied, "Yeah, I was a little nervous, that's why. You nailed it."
On his Late Night desk
The first [desk] I thought was a bit — didn't quite have much personality. I sort of like this Danish modern desk. We did a little bit of work to it because originally you could see my feet, which turns out, I think accurately was criticized as being a mistake. Especially because I realize I tap my foot to keep time. ... I think just to keep my own internal rhythm, if that makes sense, to keep joke time. That's something I noticed, because at Weekend Update I felt like my foot was always tapping, even when I was talking — which you realize when you're doing a monologue, you've got to stop, lest you look like Fred Astaire getting ready to start a big number.
... The thing I like about the desk is that the right-hand side of the desk that leans toward the guest is smaller than the left-hand side, which leans away from it. What we wanted to do was have it be a little more intimate as far as talking to the guests — and the physics of the desk draw me toward the guests, which I like.
On missing SNL
I do [miss it]. I miss it a little bit less every day, which is nice. The thing I was so worried about leaving SNL was just the family and the routine and all of the wonderful people that I got to spend so much time with. And obviously as you build a new show like we have, you find there are other really lovely people that you get to sort of build a new family with. I do miss the rush of SNL, and on Saturday at 11:30 [p.m.] when I'm sitting at home I feel phantom limbs, if that's the right expression, of just wanting to be out there.
The part you miss the most not being on the show anymore is Wednesday, which was the table read where you basically had to watch 40 pieces all with varying degrees of success. I remember when people like Kristen Wiig left, or people like Andy Samberg left, the thing that I felt so lucky about was that I got to see everything they tried to do for a seven- or eight-year period. Like all their failures, all their successes, you got to see everything in the incubator stage to the final product, and that part of the job is so wonderful.
On hosting the White House Correspondents' Dinner the day before Osama bin Laden's assassination
It's one thing that [Obama] was planning this crazy assassination that to some degree would define his presidency in history books. But the fact that he could be planning that and also go out and just knock it dead at the Correspondents' Dinner, that made me very jealous — because it required 110 percent of my concentration to do the job I did.
... I felt so good about the job that I did at the Correspondents' Dinner, and I remember taking the Acela [train] back to New York with my father, and it was Sunday afternoon, and we were sort of sitting around feeling just on cloud nine about how [it went] — this is a story of hubris.
... And we were feeling so good I remember thinking, "When the news comes on Monday, all they're going to do is talk about how funny I was on Saturday night. As long as nothing happens on Sunday, a notoriously slow news day — Monday belongs to Seth Meyers." It was a really funny thing that I think of everybody in the country upon hearing that bin Laden had been assassinated I was the one guy who was like, "Aw, tonight? They got him tonight?"
On making jokes about Obama — while sitting next to him
We approached it knowing that [Obama] has a very good sense of humor, and even if he doesn't, he has a very smart quality, which is he knows that if you tell a joke about him, it's more attractive to laugh at that joke, get caught laughing than get caught simmering. We knew if the jokes were good enough and smart enough that we'd probably have him on our side. It was fun.
Also, I think to some degree we realized that — lose the president, lose the room, because it is very unique in a performance. ... If it was him in the front row, that's one thing, but him next to you means the entire audience can watch him as well. So to some degree, it might be more interesting to listen to me tell jokes and watch the president than it would be to listen and watch me.