JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, the presidential campaign is often ripe fodder for comedians and late night TV. But this year, you might say, is a little different. The campaign season brought Seth Meyers, who cut his teeth as a head writer at “Saturday Night Live”, to Washington this week where he has been hosting his “Late Night” program for NBC.
Jeffrey Brown joined him at the Warner Theater.
SETH MEYERS, “Late Night With Seth Meyers”: My new set, it’s technically really just the same furniture in a different place.
JEFFREY BROWN: You even brought your own desk.
SETH MEYERS: My own desk, yes. When a man hosts a show he builds a relationship with the desk, and you can’t just–
JEFFREY BROWN: Not just any desk.
SETH MEYERS: You can’t be promiscuous with the desk. You have to be loyal to one desk.
So yeah, we brought it down.
Good evening, everybody. I’m Seth Meyers. This is “Late Night”. We’re in Washington D.C.
JEFFREY BROWN: The nation’s capital: a destination, Seth Meyers told me, that fits with the DNA of his show.
SETH MEYERS: They thought it was totally normally to just start walking off the stage while Hillary was giving an answer.
Where is he going? What’s back there, the ash heap of history?
JEFFREY BROWN: Biting, direct, sometimes using raw language — Meyers’ monologues have become increasingly political.
DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Candidate: Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.
SETH MEYERS: President Obama was born in the United States, period? (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you, exclamation point!
JEFFREY BROWN: Targeting Donald Trump in particular.
When we met in the Warner Theater last Friday, just before the leak of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape, I asked about the daily focus on Trump.
SETH MEYERS: Well, it’s really because of what he’s doing. You know, we’re not going out and sort of — we don’t feel like we’re making ad hominem attacks on him and just every day saying, “We got to find something on him.” You know, it’s on the front page of the paper every day. You know, we do feel pretty strongly about everything. You know, I feel like comedy these days particularly is allowed to have a point of view.
JEFFREY BROWN: What do you mean “these days?” as opposed to?
SETH MEYERS: Well, I think when you go back to Johnny Carson, I think there was a real sense that you didn’t really know exactly what he felt. And Jay Leno, you didn’t really know exactly what he felt. And I think that for that era, those guys were making the right decision.
Now, you know, there’s so many shows like mine. There are shows that live a little bit more by that Carson model, and then there are shows like mine that can — thanks to Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” thanks to the “Colbert Report” — like we can live in a world now where people tune in and they do want to know what we’re thinking, and we’ve certainly taken advantage of that this election.
What a great time to be in Washington. The Nationals won yesterday.
The Redskins won yesterday!
And the orange skin lost.
JEFFREY BROWN: Traditionally, to entertain, make us laugh, to help us end the day to, help us go to sleep.
SETH MEYERS: Sure.
JEFFREY BROWN: OK. But that’s not what you’re doing.
SETH MEYERS: Yes. I mean, we want to be informative, and we want to talk about issues that we care about and we also think other people care about. But we really, I can’t stress enough, if we can’t get enough jokes in them, we will cut it that night — like we have to also be entertaining.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, but I watch, I see that there’s a lot of jokes, but there’s also a lot of very serious what you could call political analysis in it.
SETH MEYERS: I would say we try to explain with jokes and probably some analysis comes out every now and then. I don’t know if I would take it to the bank though. You should double — you should back up everything that you see on our show with another source.
JEFFREY BROWN: You’re not going that far. No “trust everything we say.”
SETH MEYERS: I will say we try very hard to be fair as far as what we present, as far as being factually correct. I’m sure people — I’m sure there’s plenty of people who watch my show that don’t think we’re fair at all because we hold a contrasting point of view to what they have, and I think that I completely respect and they’re entitled to that position.
JEFFREY BROWN: Do you think or do you want to influence people in this election? You clearly support one candidate over another. At least that’s the appearance.
SETH MEYERS: I think if you go back, we have not been particularly supportive of Hillary Clinton.
How many emails does Hillary Clinton have that she can just miss 15,000? Oh, no, is she one of those weirdoes has them unread on her phone?
But we’ve certainly been harder on Donald Trump.
I don’t think in comedy, support is a particularly funny position to have. I think it’s far more — it’s far funnier to point out people’s flaws as opposed to pointing out their strengths. This is an election where one has so many more flaws than the other that it’s naturally drawn our focus to that.
JEFFREY BROWN: But conversely, have you ever felt that you wanted to go a little easier on Hillary Clinton because you’re afraid of pushing people toward Trump?
SETH MEYERS: I don’t. I really don’t think we have that kind of influence. So, I really haven’t thought about it that way.
JEFFREY BROWN: You don’t think you have that influence.
SETH MEYERS: I don’t think we have that influence.
JEFFREY BROWN: But what about when most every late night host seems to be taking off after Trump night after night?
MAN: We’ve barely scratched the surface of this scandal.
JEFFREY BROWN: When Jimmy Fallon served up a more traditional friendly late night interview with Trump, sharp criticism came from another late night host, Samantha Bee.
SAMANTHA BEE, Late Night Host: NBC tacitly condoned a race-baiting demagogue.
JEFFREY BROWN: Some commentators, including “New York Times” columnist Ross Douthat, are critical of a late night “echo chamber,” and note a feeling by Trump supporters of, quote, “being suffocated by the left’s cultural dominance.”
SETH MEYERS: We try very hard not to be an echo chamber, and I hope people don’t take us as that. And I really do respect the fact that for some people, my show might be frustrating for them to watch based on what they believe in, and I respect those beliefs. But again, I don’t want to have to try to change my show to something I don’t believe in.
And again, you know, there’s so many options for people to watch television right now. There’s so many places to go.
Take away the fact that you might not like any of your late night options on a given night, people are I’m sure just going to Netflix and watching some documentary.
JEFFREY BROWN: Or just go to sleep.
SETH MEYERS: That’s our biggest competition. Don’t ever think that it’s not sleep.
JEFFREY BROWN: You are of course in a ratings business. Have you seen any impact of what you’re doing in this?
SETH MEYERS: We haven’t. We really haven’t.
JEFFREY BROWN: So you don’t get any pressure to tone it down.
SETH MEYERS: No. Again, it’s hard to say. This is a complete hypothetical, because we haven’t seen anything. I mean, I would assume that if our ratings plummeted based on anything we were doing, the network would politely let me know. I can tell you up to this point they haven’t. And they have my number, and they know where my office is.
JEFFREY BROWN: They know how to reach you.
SETH MEYERS: Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: Seth Meyers, thank you very much.
SETH MEYERS: And thank you for having me at the coolest bar in Washington, D.C.
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