Small talks with big people: Seth Meyers
Sam Stryker | Sunday, September 9, 2012
On Friday evening, “Saturday Night Live” head writer and “Weekend Update” host Seth Meyers performed a one-hour standup set to a full house in the Stepan Center in this year’s installment of “Comedy on the Quad”. After the show, The Observer’s Sam Stryker sat down with Meyers for an exclusive interview – and no subject was off the table.
Sam Stryker: So first, a generic question. When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in comedy?
Seth Meyers: I guess by college I had a sense it was something I wanted to do. My parents were really funny people, and they introduced us to “SNL” and stuff like “Monty Python” when we were really young. My brother and I would do shows in high school. Then in college, I started to do an improv show at Northwestern and that was when I was like, “I want to try to do this at least for a little while.” I started going to Chicago and taking classes.
SS: So you were more looking to pursue the comedy route than a career on television?
SM: Yeah. I went to college as a radio, TV, film major so I thought I would maybe write and direct stuff. I didn’t really think on-camera was really my future. I kind of backed into that a little bit.
SS: And did you ever have a moment where you were like, “I made it”?
SM: No, I don’t really know. I feel more comfortable now that I’ve been on the show [SNL] long enough, but for the first five years I kept thinking someone would come knock on my door and ask for my security pass and slowly guide me to the elevators.
SS: Do you have any advice for kids looking to pursue a career in comedy or television or the entertainment business?
SM: I think the best thing you can do, for comedians certainly, as young as you can, you have to just get on stage and try to figure out what your voice is going to be. It’s really important, because you are going to have failures, and it’s better to get them out of the way when you’re young then when you get older. It’s better to knock out the failures. You learn more from them than you do the successes.
SS: I’m going to jump right into election stuff, because you touched upon it [in your show] and I know it is a big part of your routine. What are your general thoughts on this year’s election, maybe as opposed to the last one?
SM: Well, for us it’s always a little more exciting when there is no incumbent. That means all of the characters are sort of new. So in 2000 or 2008, you get to have people you have never seen before or do impressions you have never seen. Obviously last election was real lightning in the bottle for us with Sarah Palin looking like the most famous person who had ever been on our show, so that’s not going to happen this time. But I do feel like the next couple of months will really sort of shape the dialogue of what type of election we are really looking at. For us at “SNL” we pay a lot of attention to the conventions that happen, but the reality is when our show comes on Sept. 15, I don’t think people will be talking about the conventions anymore. They might be talking about Clint Eastwood talked to an empty chair, at least I hope they do, I hope they remember that.
SS: Do you have someone [involved in the election] you most look forward to writing for on the show, in terms of the races?
SM: One person we haven’t done an impersonation of is Paul Ryan. So it will be fun if we can find some fun in him.
SS: So would you be playing him maybe?
SM: I won’t, no. It will be somebody else.
SS: What is your favorite part about working at “SNL”?
SM: The people you work with are really fun. You slave away on a Tuesday night, trying to write a couple of funny things, and it is really hard, and nothing is less funny than having trouble writing something funny. But the nice thing is on Wednesday, you know you have your two things, but you also get to hear 30 things that were written in the other rooms. That is really fun. Getting to see things done for the first time at a read-through is really great.
SS: Do you have a favorite person who has hosted the show?
SM: I have a lot of favorite hosts. I’ll say my favorite host from last year was probably Melissa McCarthy. She was really great. It’s always fun when old cast members come back. Last year we had Jimmy [Fallon] and Maya [Rudolph] and the year before we had Amy [Poehler] and that’s always really fun.
SS: Do you have any weird host stories that stand out to you?
SM: It’s always weird to spend a week with someone who has maybe been your hero. I think my first year I shared a very long, quiet elevator ride with Robert De Niro. It was only 17 floors but it felt like a thousand.
SS: And do you have a dream person to host, dead or alive? You can pick anyone in history.
SS: And how about someone more recent?
SM: You know, he killed it earlier this week – Bill Clinton would be so much fun. He’s never hosted, never cameo-ed. That would be great.
SS: Do you have a character or role that is your favorite to play?
SM: Doing “Weekend Update” is my favorite. It’s kind of the thing I most wanted to do on the show. Doing that, and especially with someone like Bill [Hader] is doing Stefon, or Bobby [Moynihan] is doing Drunk Uncle or Andy [Samberg] is doing Nic Cage, like being out with your friends and being able to be silly behind the desk is really great.
SS: Do you have a dream acting role beyond “SNL”?
SM: I feel way more comfortable playing Seth Meyers than I do other people, so my dream would be if I could continue to do that.
SS: Building on that, do you want to stay on “SNL”?
SM: I’d say through this season. I’d say I’m kind of the grey beard there now, so I don’t know how much longer I can stay. I’m so worried what I do next will be sort of boring. I’ve never been bored at “SNL”.
SS: Who is the funniest cast member you have ever worked with?
SM: [Amy] Poehler, I’m going to say Poehler. Fred Armisen is another who probably makes us laugh the most in the office.
SS: And what is a weird fact that people don’t know about you?
SM: I have a nine-pound Italian greyhound named ‘Frisbee’.
SS: If Tina Fey and Amy Poehler got into a cage match, who do you think would win?
SM: I think all of humanity would be dead and gone while they were still going at it. Two immortal forces.
SS: One last thing. You talked about humorous experiences throughout your life [in your show]. Do you see something and say, “This is funny” or “This would make for a great joke”? Is that how you see the world?
SM: I think when you have something funny happen in your life and then you have friends you tell it to, there are times when you are like “Oh this is funny. This might be something to work with for people who aren’t my friends.”
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