With his new project The Awesomes, Seth Meyers is approaching Ryan Seacrest levels of ubiquity. The longtime head writer of SNL will be returning to his “Weekend Update” desk this fall, then exiting in time for the debut of Late Night with Seth Meyers in 2014. (Seth is replacing Jimmy Fallon, who’s been bumped up to The Tonight Show.) And then there’s The Awesomes, which marks both Meyers’s and Hulu’s first foray into original animation. Created with SNL vet Mike Shoemaker, The Awesomes chronicles the formation of a new superhero team, composed of heroes rejected from other teams for things like “mommy issues” and “age.” Meyers and Shoemaker essentially made the show by following their friends around with microphones; the voice actors include Saturday Night Live cast members Taran Killam, Bill Hader, and Kenan Thompson; SNL writers Paula Pell and Emily Spivey; MADTV’s Ike Barinholtz, Bobby Lee, and Josh Meyers; and Parks and Rec’s Rashida Jones. Meyers and Shoemaker called us from the TCAs to talk about their passion project, which toiled in development hell for seven years before being picked up by Hulu. It premieres today with new episodes every Wednesday.
I was hoping that maybe Seth might do a little bit of role-playing with me.
Meyers: Oh, wonderful.
So I’m going to be Seth Meyers, host of Late Night With Seth Meyers, and you’re going to be my guest, Seth Meyers, creator of The Awesomes.
Meyers: Wait, so you’re the only one role-playing.
I guess that’s true. Basically, I’m wondering what Seth, late-night host, would ask Seth, Awesomes creator.
Meyers: Got it. I think he’d say, like, “When did you realize you were touching perfection?” No, one of the things I would ask is, “How much did the cast inspire the characters?” Because I think what we’re happiest with in the show is how well-matched the voice actors are to each of the characters. And the answer to that question would be: “From the very beginning, we had in mind the people that we were friends with, the people we were fans of, that we wanted to be the voice of each specific character. And the way that’s worked has been great for us.”
That’s probably why the characters seem so original — like Paula Pell’s forties superhero with the old-lady voice.
Meyers: She’s great. And then I would ask, “Is creating this cartoon just a naked grab to meet ladies?” [Laughs.] What else would I ask? I’m trying to think of questions we weren’t asked, because Seth Meyers, late-night host, would be really original in his questions.
Right. That’s why I thought I’d make you do the work on this one.
Meyers: Thank you so much. I would say, “What’s it like seeing your voice on a superhero? Like, is that weird? Is that exciting?” And then my answer would be like, “I would like to point out that I put my voice on one of the least powerful superheroes, because at no point in my life have I thought that this voice that you’re hearing right now would ever be believable as a strong person. But also, as somebody who grew up watching cartoons and reading comic books, it’s been really exciting to see my voice on a cartoon character.”
“Prock” is the perfect nerdy superhero name.
Shoemaker: He was originally Professor Doctor Awesome, and the first drawing we had was labeled “TBA.” And then one day, one of us said, “Oh, Prock, for Professor Doctor.” And we knew we had it.
Meyers: If a second season ever happens, we do want to develop that “Prock” is what people use as a swear word. You prock something up. And he doesn’t realize people have been doing it.
Did you ever write superhero comics as a kid?
Shoemaker: Seth and I have both written actual comics for a very short time. Seth did an issue of Spider-Man I did a couple of The Legion of Superheroes. We’re hardcore comic fans, and we were able to convince both DC and Marvel to let us in the door a couple times. It was pretty great.
Meyers: We’ve written for DC and Marvel and yet our friendship continues.
You say that the superheroes in The Awesomes are based closely on the people doing the voices. If each of your cast members actually had a superpower, what would it be?
Meyers: Taran’s power would be to charm you through dance. Paula’s power would be to have an army of rescue dogs that she rescued from pounds. Emily Spivey’s power would be a fatal, withering sarcasm. Ike Barinholtz’s power would be hyperbole. I’ve known Ike for over ten years, and I’ve been with him while he’s had the best meal he’s ever had in his life over 200 times. Rashida Jones’s power would be to make every man, woman, and child fall in love with her immediately.
Mike, what would Seth’s power be?
Shoemaker: Oh God. To be able to look at his phone all the time without having people be annoyed at it. He’d have Google glasses installed in his eyes so he could surf the web when the conversation lags, and not have someone say, “Hey, pay attention, I’m here!” That would be his power.
Seth, what would Mike’s be?
Meyers: Mike’s superpower would be to tell me the hard truths I need to hear without breaking my heart. [Laughs.] He’s really good at it.
Shoemaker: That turned out to be my actual power.
Meyers: I met Mike at the perfect time in my life where I needed to sort of be told some things that would have been very hurtful coming from other people.
I know you said that struggled with getting The Awesomes on a network until Hulu picked it up. Is there specific reason that it was a hard sell?
Meyers: The serialized storytelling was one of the bigger ones. When we were first pitching it in 2006 or 2007, I don’t think there were any serialized cartoons. That was the biggest one we ran up against.
Last question: I heard a rumor that there’s an SNL cast member who has a naked oil painting of himself over his bed. Any comment?
Meyers: Oh, wow! If that’s true, I don’t know who that would be.
Shoemaker: I wish, wish, wish that it was Seth and he just now revealed it. [Laughs.]
Meyers: Well, now that I’ve heard it, I’ll probably get it from my fiancée as a wedding present. So in two months, the answer is me. But as of right now, I don’t know who it is.
Well, now every cast member will want one, and no one will ever know who started it.
Meyers: Yeah. That’s what Lorne gives you as a cast present. A naked oil painting of yourself.