This week, as Seth Meyers moves from his Late Night Studio 8G back to Saturday Night Live’s Studio 8H, it’s worth remembering some of the things he accomplished during his unusually long tenure at SNL. Longtime fans and cast members may remember Meyers best as a supportive personality — a background player, a keen editor, or a Weekend Update host shuttling Stefon or Drunk Uncle in or out of the guest chair. But over the course of his 12 years, Meyers found time to get goofy onstage and write a number of memorable sketches (many of which fell in the latter days of his tenure). Here’s a look at some of Meyers’s best, as both a writer and a performer.
Like its tiny, Encyclopedia Brown-like heroes, this sketch gets an A for effort and enduring appeal for a small portion of the population. “Little Sleuths,” which cemented Meyers’s friendship with Amy Poehler, was one Meyers fought for during his first year at SNL. In it, two child detectives help a police officer (John Goodman) solve a grisly murder. Though both Meyers and Poehler were baffled when it didn’t become SNL’s next big character franchise, it’s an early starring role for Meyers that shows his silly side. (It’s an aspect of his sensibility that reached its apotheosis with those “Zinger” sketches.) As a bonus, it flips the script on a standard sketch trope — indoctrinating innocent kids into a cruel world — and gives the adult a lesson, inexplicable as it is.
The Couple That Should Be Divorced / The Needlers
There’s something a little unsettling about this, one of Meyers’s few recurring sketches. Yes, the titular, sniping couple always ends up having sex somewhere just offstage, but their toxic attitude toward one another keeps things a little bleak. Even the crowd in 30 Rock seems a little uncertain about when, and how hard, to laugh. But the truth is, this couple exists in the world. And though everyone knows that Meyers and Poehler are buddies, they’re also very good at portraying these terrible people. Once you get past the initial discomfort of the scenes, the sharp writing and the ping-pong of the performances emerge. In particular, the very first edition of this sketch (in which the pair encounters a marriage counselor at a class reunion) walks the line between pain and pleasure pretty well.
Meyers rarely got the chance to outright chew the scenery at SNL, but it did happen. He played a mama’s boy opposite Megan Mullally’s mom and a googly-eyed adolescent Ron Weasley as Lindsay Lohan showed her cleavage as Hermione. Then, there’s “Sears Photographers.” Meyers and Hugh Jackman play flamboyant former French Vogue photographers who sadly landed themselves at a suburban Sears photo department after a drug bust. A patient family (Chris Kattan, Ana Gasteyer, and Rachel Dratch as the grandma) listen to the wild rants of the Spaniards while dutifully removing their Christmas sweaters and holding hands in front of their faces. It’s completely over-the-top, but it’s nice to see Meyers flap his feathers — and he’s having a ball.
The Adventures of Michael Caine and Peter O’Toole
Meyers is not a man about his impressions. While at SNL, he managed to craft credible approximations of wooden, staid figures including John Kerry and Anderson Cooper. He was not, however, a go-to for nuanced portrayals of celebrities. Now, when Jude Law hosted the show in 2004, the two of them played two of Britain’s most revered thespians. The drunken duo wanders into a Taco Bell-Pizza Hut in tuxes and hosts an impromptu talk show, to the befuddlement of all the customers. Even Michael Caine does a Michael Caine impression, so Meyers isn’t really stretching here, but the whole thing is ridiculous fun and it’s clear Meyers is having a good time going broad.
You Call This a House Do Ya?
This sketch takes any one of a gazillion home-makeover shows, transplants it to rural Ireland, and puts it in the hands of the genial Buildin’ Finn McQuinn (Meyers). Ultimately it’s not the tiny home that proves challenging, it’s the suspicious, prickly beneficiary of his labors, Lorken McArdle (Liam Neeson). Even after cramming each wee cliché about the brawlin’, drinkin’, baby-makin’, jiggin’ Irish into five minutes, the sketch still manages to feel fun rather than mean-spirited. At the center, Meyers’s accent may falter, but his enthusiasm never does.
Though Meyers was a really giving and supportive straight man behind the Update desk, he also provided himself plenty of opportunities to just have fun. This recurring bit with Amy Poehler is more of a segment than a sketch, but it gave Meyers a regular opportunity to vent his spleen and play with Poehler — something both he and Poehler clearly enjoyed. Now, it might be thought of as a precursor to Meyers’s long-running Late Night segment “A Closer Look,” an extended monologue which delves into the political news of the day, or the more playful feature “Ya Burnt.” This was his most consistent and most popular recurring bit, and there’s a reason for it. It didn’t much matter what the topic of “Really!?!” was — Christmas toys, Michael Vick, Kanye West — the jokes were crisp and the glee apparent.
Special Mention: Fathers & Sons
Given Meyers’s history with Donald Trump — in particular, earning himself a permanent place on Trump’s shit list for his barbs at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and possibly prompting Trump’s presidential bid —this 2004 sketch is a fascinating thing to watch. In it, Meyers plays a kid eager to talk with his dad while Trump plays a bullying patriarch with absolutely nothing good to say about his family. (Presumably, it ain’t far off from Trump as a father.) Yes, Trump is leaden and not funny in the least, and yes, it becomes an entirely different giggle-fest as soon as Horatio Sanz and Jimmy Fallon come on. It’s not a great sketch, but there’s something unsettling about watching it in context, up to and including the Meyers-Trump hug at the end.
When asked about the sketches featuring then vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin, Meyers has been quick to point out that an entire team of writers helped with rewrites. Nevertheless, he was the consistent voice in their creation, and by all accounts is the guy who wrote “And I can see Russia from my house!” That line is particularly important, because as Tina Fey began to cloud voters’ understanding of Palin, many people thought this was something that Palin actually said. (She talked about Russia’s proximity to Alaska and it being visible from certain islands, but she wasn’t quite so dopey about it.) Tina Fey’s performance is a stellar one, but it wouldn’t have worked without excellent material to back it up.
In another collaboration with Fey, Meyers parodied the HBO series by introducing a character that would literally slap sense into the impotent, self-involved characters of Lena Dunham’s Brooklyn. Fey plays Blerta, an Albanian peasant who is nonplussed by the minutiae that seem to overwhelm Hannah and the gang. “Don’t speak,” she tells the chatty Shoshanna (Vanessa Bayer) after delivering a slap across her face. “If you speak, they will know you are simple. If they know you are simple, they will drown you in river.” Note for note, it’s an outstanding parody that understands exactly what the Girls girls are missing: A cold splash of reality delivered by a woman who got her clothes from “a fire.” Meyers produced several great filmed parodies in his latter days at SNL, including a Carrie Diaries-Sopranos mash-up and a clever play on Louie involving Abraham Lincoln.
History of Punk
This sketch is smart, savvy, and though it is certainly niche, it’s a winner. It’s a mini-mockumentary that explores the history of an English punk outfit clearly modeled on the Sex Pistols. Lead singer Ian Rubbish (Fred Armisen) is a savage, brutal figure who hates all forms of government and its repressive figureheads — that is, until Margaret Thatcher comes along. For some reason, Rubbish has a soft spot for Thatcher, which ruins his music and his partnership with his bandmates. The production on this is fantastic, but Meyers does a particularly great job with the lyrics, which feel weirdly plausible. And he clearly helped spark something in Armisen and Bill Hader, as the sketch inspired the Armisen-Hader IFC collaboration Documentary Now!
United Way PSA
As if to prove he could collaborate with every segment of the SNL writing population, Meyers worked with the Lonely Island guys to produce this digital short the week Peyton Manning hosted the show. The premise is straightforward: While on the surface promoting teamwork and positivity in kids, Manning’s United Way campaign is really about him bullying them, nailing them with footballs (when they don’t turn fast enough in a post pattern) and otherwise using them to his advantage. It’s always enjoyable to see all-American icons work against their images, and in this sketch, Meyers knows how best to do it.
Darrell’s House I & II
This two-part sketch wins as a bit of sheer weirdo experimentation smuggled onto a major network. Meyers read host Zach Galifianakis just right by asking him to play aggro cable access host Darrell, an unprepared soul who plans on fixing each one of his many problems in post-production. In Part I, raw footage captures Darrell as he flubs his lines, has no snacks to offer his guests, and makes a friend pretend to be Jon Hamm; in Part II, terrible edits cover Darrell’s flubs, there are plenty of snacks, and Hamm miraculously shows up (with a too-cool Darrell pretending to be busy in the background). It’s about five minutes of setup for 90 seconds of punch lines, with several commercial breaks separating the two.