tv review

In Lobby Baby, Seth Meyers Transforms Into His Truest Self: Consummate Wife Guy

Seth Meyers in Lobby Baby. Photo: David Schnack/Netflix

Seth Meyers’s new special Lobby Baby, his first Netflix stand-up project, is a sweet, endearing wash of cuteness. It is also good. The special is tightly wound, carefully observed, well-shot, and snappy. But its dominant impression is of being extremely cute, in a way that usually means Aww, it’s really a cute special! but which occasionally veers into something closer to a self-aware impish cutesiness. In a few places it’s a touch naughty, with a toothless subversiveness that feels less Aww cute! and more, Aha. Cute. As a whole, though, it’s polished and sincere enough that those winking bits of flippant cuteness get subsumed in the larger sense that Lobby Baby is sweetly adorable.

Seth Meyers is a Wife Guy. There’s just no other way to say it. Wife Guys, if this is the first you’re hearing about them, are men whose personalities and public personas are derived mainly from celebrating, describing, co-opting, and otherwise mining content from their wives. They come in many flavors and varieties ranging from hollow to exploitative to super endearing. Brief viral sensation Cliff Wife Guy, for instance, is solidly in gross, weird, exploitative territory; Serena Williams’s husband, Alexis Ohanian, meanwhile, lands in the pleasantly endearing category for, among other things, shadily representing for Williams’s side in a long-term grudge while watching her in the U.S. Open.

Meyers, happily, falls almost uniformly on the appealing side of the Wife Guy spectrum. He is awed by his wife, simultaneously dismayed and overwhelmed by her competence and hilarity. One of the main set pieces of the special, Meyers’s story about the titular Lobby Baby, is a long and well-crafted narrative about the birth of his second son. Meyers positions his wife as the central heroic figure. Firefighters and doormen add color and humor. Meyers himself, meanwhile, is the hilariously useless observer on the side, capable of nothing but cracking wise while his wife does all the work.

That’s not the way he positions himself in this one story, either; it is the overarching structure of nearly every joke he tells. In every scenario, there are heroes and admirable people and loathsome people and impossible situations (usually of the mundane-impossible variety, like having many toddlers or trying to find yogurt in the fridge). In every scenario, Meyers places himself firmly off to the side, laughing at himself and his presumed, false importance. He is the jerk at his own wedding, failing to sympathize with his extremely ill wife. He’s the guy looking for parent friends more calm and unperturbed than he knows how to be. He’s always a little bit useless.

Lobby Baby circles this idea constantly, and it’s underlined by Neal Brennan’s effective directing, which frequently positions Meyers as literally off-center in the frame. There are some shots of him standing alone on a giant stage, yes, but more often than not, he’s at odd angles, with a camera either slightly too high or too low, denying viewers any grandstanding glory shots. Visually and narratively, Lobby Baby makes Meyers a sidekick in his own life, culminating in a closing sequence that feels both masterful and eye-rollingly inevitable given how much material he’s already done about his wife. For the final several minutes of the show, Meyers becomes his wife, playing her as a character who’s doing a whole stand-up set about him.

It should be dumb or obnoxious. It should be the bad kind of cute to take on the persona of your spouse and then do a long run of material about how much you, yourself, suck. Except damned if it doesn’t jump over the border from annoying and stick the landing into Aww cute! territory. Meyers doesn’t do the act as a bad impression, and he doesn’t use the gag to take cheap shots at his wife or to make her seem anything worse than just very exasperated with him. He performs her as, frankly, a hypercompetent stand-up comedian, generously giving the Meyers-as-his-own-wife character some pretty great lines. It’s so cannily done that you could almost forget that Meyers himself is still there, and that in dunking on himself so relentlessly, he’s also still the comedian, the celebrity, the guy standing in front of a huge audience bathing in approval and applause.

The bit of Lobby Baby that dives most sharply into Aha cuteness comes about two-thirds of the way in, as Meyers announces that he’s about to do some Trump material. He knows that this will put some people off, he says. He knows that there may be some people who disagree with him, or even more people who belong to the Keep Politics Out of Comedy school of (willfully blinkered) thinking. For those people, he tells the audience, there will be a “Skip Politics” button in the corner of the screen, a Netflix option that will allow them to skip the Trump material entirely and have a fully Wife Guy experience of Lobby Baby, unsullied by contemporary partisanship. Sure enough, the button appears. If you don’t press it, you get a solid but not especially revelatory run of jokes about the odd position of being a comedian in the Trump era. If you do press the button, the Netflix special leaps several minutes ahead onto a joke Meyers has crafted to make fun of the whole politics-skipping business. As a shtick, it works, but it’s also too cute for its own good.

The thing is that while the “Skip Politics” button appears to allow viewers the option to sidestep pointed political commentary, Meyers’s insistence on displacing himself from the center of his own life is its own stubborn, defiant kind of politics. It’s a politics of admitting your privilege, of pointing to the privilege and laughing at it and agreeing that it is the result of a lopsided, unfair system.

It’s not a wholesale revolution. The guy onstage is still Seth Meyers; he has not fully ceded the spotlight the way he regularly does in his “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell” segment on Late Night. But it’s a concession of sorts. It’s a way for Meyers to keep the stage while also arguing for his own irrelevance. It’s the sort of thing that could so easily seem falsely humble or insincere, but, wow … that guy really loves his wife. And by the end of Lobby Baby, as the credits close with an image of Meyers that immediately, yes, does shift from his face and then focus directly on his wife’s face, it’s hard not to feel persuaded by it. It’s just so dang cute.

Lobby Baby Review: Seth Meyers Is a Wife Guy