It’s only been on the air for two weeks, but Late Night with Seth Meyers already has a best-of reel and its own dedicated (sometimes intense) fans. A sizzle reel of interviews and clips of the new show kicked of the “Inside Late Night” panel at South by Southwest on Saturday afternoon, and the packed auditorium was filled with long-time fans of the former “Weekend Update” host, including one who told Meyers, “I wish I had your face so I had a girlfriend.” Meyers was joined by Late Night producer (and longtime SNL writer) Mike Shoemaker and moderator Olivia Munn to discuss the new show, which Meyers called a work-in-progress, as well as Fred Armisen, and what he plans to steal from Saturday Night Live.
On having SNL friends on the show:
Seth: We’re trying to be careful not to, because we could obviously have an SNL person on every night.Mike: We’re right next door, so they’re all around all the time, and the temptation is crazy. You just want to drag them in, but we’re trying to temper it a bit.
Seth: Well, on the desk, I have a Stefon nesting doll that was given to me as a gift. So Stefon is on camera every night, which makes me very happy […] We’ve been very clear with Lorne that we don’t have any intention to poach SNL characters, and if you want to see an SNL character, you still have to find it on SNL… except for Stefon. So, at some point, he will show up on the show.
On Fred Armisen as a band leader:
Seth: It’s amazing, because he was a drummer before he was a comedian, and now he’s a guitarist in a late night band. It was Lorne’s idea. And we were really two weeks out.Mike: The show was about to start, like two weeks away, and we hadn’t solved it, and Lorne said, ‘What about Fred?’ I said, ‘Yes. Oh yeah.’ And he said, ‘No, he’ll be…’ And I said, ‘No, we know what it is. We get it. He’ll lead the band, yeah. Perfect.’Olivia: But he has his own show, how can he…Seth: Yeah, that was the understanding we had with Fred from the beginning was, you know, because he was like, ‘I’ll do this, but I can’t do it full time.’ He’s not going to be able to do the 40-weeks we do the show, but I think we’ll be lucky if we get him for 20, 25 weeks a year.Mike: He’ll be there whenever he can be. He’s enjoying it so much, I think he’ll be there more than even he thought he’d be there.
On the difference between doing SNL and LNSM:
Seth: The whole week at SNL is just - you don’t get any release until Saturday, it’s just building pressure, and as each day goes, you sort of become more aware of what hasn’t been done yet, and more aware of what the problems are with the problem of like, each day passing, you have less time to fix it. With that said, every show feels like this giant event and this huge release. This, the nicest thing is just that, as soon as its over, it’s only 23 hours until you sort of get another trip to the plate. And that’s been really fun, is just knowing that you can kind of find a better rhythm in a show like this, where, SNL is sort of giant highs and lows. SNL as well is more impacted by whoever the guest host is every week, whereas with your own show, you get to be the host every week, so there gets to be a little bit more consistency.Mike: And we get to do a show every day, which is really the best part of doing this, is that, at the end, there’s a show. And the fact that you get to do one each day … It’s hard, but then it’s like, oh, it’s people laughing and applauding. So that is the best thing, and you get five of those as opposed to one.
On why he didn’t like being in sketches on SNL:
Seth: I like being near sketches and writing sketches; I didn’t like being in them. I always look like me wearing a wig. Like, Kristen Wiig - not to use a person who’s last name is Wiig, I don’t think that’s why - but some people are just transformative. Fred Armisen puts on a wig and he becomes a different person. I look like a guy who, like, found a wig.
On his SNL characters that didn’t work:
Seth: I got “Little Sleuths” on once, and then failed like the next nine times. We did an Encyclopedia Brown-type thing, me and Amy Poehler in our first season, on our fourth show. And we were like kid detectives who solved grisly murders. It was a great sketch, and then, we went like 0 for 8 getting it on a second time. And after the first time it aired, we were, like, already spending the “Little Sleuths” movie money. We were like, “We got a franchise! Wait until the ‘Little Sleuths’ T-shirts are in the NBC store.”Olivia: Do you hope that on SNL, that you can do something that could turn into a movie?Seth: I don’t think people want it to turn into a movie anymore. When you’re a cast member on SNL, having a franchise makes it so much easier. I remember once, Andy Samberg had this thing, it was like a Make-A-Wish kid who was in a football booth, and all he said, “That’ll move the chains.” Like, over and over. “That’ll move the chains.” And then like a month later, he said, “I think we’re thinking about doing another ‘That’ll move the chains.’” And I went, “Another ‘That’ll move the chains?’” And he looked at me and goes, “We don’t all have ‘Weekend Update!”’
On the advice he would give to his younger self:
Seth: The thing I always tell younger people, improvisers or standups who are trying to break in, even writers, I think the improtant thing is like, when you’re starting and you’re young, that is the perfect age to fail all the time. You learn so much from your familiars. Even now, I’m very happy to say that the last sketch I wrote at SNL in the Melissa McCarthy show, I had the last sketch at dress. I pitched this idea that, she had ordered wings to a Super Bowl party, and she wouldn’t pay the delivery guy until she did a full count of the 300 wings. And it played to silence. And I was just under the bleachers, I’ve been here 12 and a half years, I’ve probably written a thousand sketches, and my last one is a total zero. Which is just a good reminder that this is not a thing you ever “figure out.” Perfection is a crazy idea, but the thing that is important is improvement.
On his dream guests:
Seth: I guess, Putin, Obama, and Merkel, just to figure everything out. No, I don’t know. I will say - and I’m not trying to be coy - I guess this question a lot, they’re all dream. The fact that anyone will come to your show and sit there and listen to your questions and answer them is a dream. I certainly wouldn’t have said Ice-T and Coco were my dream guests, but they were my dream guests. Talking to them was the best.
On keeping things versus changing after Fallon:
Seth: It’s weird because, it’s not like his show is gone forever. I think everything that was worth maintaining about his show, he took, in a good way. The things that he was great at on his show, I could never do as well as him. So it’s been nice because, I don’t think anyone’s like, ‘Aw, where did Jimmy Fallon go?’ He just went [motions slight to the right] there. So we can kind of do whatever we want without having to worry about that, and that’s been very sort of freeing.Questioner: You did try to copy his “Thank You Notes.”Seth: Just once, just that once of the top. It was an homage. One of my writers pitched “You’re Welcome Notes.”
On hosting the White House Correspondents’ Dinner:
Seth: We wrote so many jokes for that. We wrote hundreds and hundreds of jokes that we culled down to the ones we told. We definitely knew we had a few in there that we were kind of hoping would make people all kind of grown/gasp. I think that’s part of the fun of doing a room like that, so we didn’t worry about political correctness too much.Mike: No, but each one, you judge, like, “Is this the right thing to do, standing next to the president, standing next to the First Lady?” You do keep in mind the importance of it, and the fact that like, three years later, people still refer to it and look at it. And that was the filter really.Seth: Right. And I pulled a few jokes during it. I had a bunch of jokes about, like, at the time, it was all the people who were in the Republican primary, and jokes making fun of all them. And I noticed as I was doing them that the President wasn’t - I felt like he didn’t want to get caught laughing at people like Michelle Bachmann or Herman Cain, and I will say that those jokes also felt a little easy because those people were punchlines. [Laughs] So those were less fun, so I just on the fly pulled that section.
Photo credit: Seth Olenick