Early in the afternoon, hundreds of fans of comics and comedy lined up and filed into one of the larger panel rooms at NYCC for a conversation with “Late Night” host Seth Meyers. As an avid comic book fan (the guy’s Twitter avatar is a Kevin Maguire drawing of himself as Blue Beetle), the “Saturday Night Live” alum and NBC talk show host felt at home at the convention.
The panel kicked off with a sizzle reel of “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” highlighting the show’s notable guests, moments and one-liners. Clips of Jon Snow at a dinner party and Andy Samberg and Meyers fighting with lightsabers were among the footage shown. Meyers then entered the stage to a round of applause along with moderator Jesse David Fox of Vulture.
Meyers talked about coming to Comic Con, saying that he show a bit for the show that’ll air next week. When he talked about cosplay, Meyers said he’d cosplay as something in “the Green Lantern realm.”
Fox opened up by asking Meyers about his decision to start doing his monologues sitting down at a desk. “There was only three weeks from my last Weekend Update to my first ‘Late Night’ and I wanted to show people I wasn’t going to do the same thing. After a year and a half I realized I was so much better at the thing I was doing,” said Meyers. “This is my strength and it’s something I realized, I felt more comfortable. At that hour, people want to see someone comfortable. They don’t even want to see someone standing. For years people weren’t sure I had legs.” Meyers said the change felt good immediately. He added that having over the shoulder graphics has helped him deliver monologue jokes since they give more set up information for jokes. The sit down monologue also differentiates himself from his lead in, Jimmy Fallon.
Meyers said he wants a strength of his show to be to talk about politics in the first act. Fox noted that recent ones focused on Planned Parenthood and Syria. “I think one of the things I did at Weekend Update with Amy [Poehler] was ‘Really?!?,’ and what played best with that was us being incredulous. That incredulity is what plays now. Sometimes we do stuff that’s an explainer, those are well and good, but I think people shifted in late night in no small part because of John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, people want to know the host’s point of view.”
On the topic of Trump, Meyers said, “When it started, you can roll back the tape and I said he was just pretending to be president and he wouldn’t file the papers or debate. I do contend that he’s as surprised as we are. I thought 2011 would be it [for his presidential aspirations].” Meyers said that there’s no such thing as someone being “too funny” that you can’t make jokes about him; Trump provides a lot of ripe material despite being perceived as a joke.
Meyers then talked about the process of taping the show, which shoots at 6:30 every evening. The day begins at 9, and they have a sketch meeting where they read everything that’s been written for the next three nights that aren’t monologue jokes. Meyers meets with segment producers to discuss their pre-interviews with guests. Monologue jokes come in at 2 pm, which goes from 150 jokes down to 20. There are PAs that go around 30 Rock and pull people in for a monologue rehearsal. “I do them for about 40 people which gives us a sense of what works and doesn’t.” Meyers said Fallon does this as well.
“I did learn you have to ask how many people are from another country,” said Meyers, who recounted a time that all the jokes failed and he found out everyone was from Norway. The monologue rehearsal finishes at 5 pm, cue cards come in, and then at 6:15 he says hello to the guests before hand. “Sometimes it’s helpful if it’s a guest you’ve never met, just saying hi for two or three minutes gives you a sense of how the interview will go,” said Meyers.
Fox asked Meyers about the writers’ room environment. “The biggest difference at ‘SNL’ was that I wasn’t the final say, it was Lorne’s,” said Meyers. “Now I’m responsible. Writers’ rooms are fun because you’re sitting in a room with people that are great at heightening jokes, but you have to worry about heightening past where it makes sense. You have to remember that we also have to have structure behind it because it doesn’t come with a DVD commentary track.”
“Late Night” writers Andrew Law and Michelle Wolf submitted questions for Seth. Andrew asked who Meyers’ favorite writer is and if it was him or Michelle. “I’m going to say it’s Seth Reiss because that’ll make them the angriest.” Meyers then answered a question about the work day, saying that his favorite part is performing for the hour of the show. “It will have to remain my favorite hour for the show to keep going.”
Meyers talked about Mike Shoemaker, his producer and a longtime worker at “SNL.” “Mike and I are close friends and we run a show together. We bicker like a married couple. We will scream at each other in front of our writers while they sit there with scripts in hand. We at ‘SNL’ used to get promotional gifts and one time we had an Optimus Prime helmet. Tuesday night’s we’d stay up all night and when he came in on Wednesday I would give him the sketches I worked.” Meyers said that one time when he went in to give his scripts, he walked in on a naked man, Shoemaker, wearing just the Optimus Prime helmet.
Meyers talked about the worst he ever bombed, which was at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. “You perform from one to four in the morning, the Late Line show we did was all local people. We were trying to do improv in a standup comedy room, to absolute silence. Then, in the back row, we heard someone yell, ‘Yer shite!'” Fox noted that that heckler guy probably did well, and Meyers confirmed that “he did well.”
Fox talked about the vibe of the show and how important it is to make the show seem fun. “Our show is on at 12:35 at night and it has a legacy of being hte looser of the late night shows,” said Meyers. “I want it to be a fun place to work. My writers make fun of me more than I make fun of them. Every now and then I’ll say a word wrong on air. Sometimes I talk to fast and I fuck up on TV and I can see my writers’ silhouettes laughing. I’d never want to work at an office with a closed door.”
Fox brought up Meyers’ other projects, which includes the Hulu series “The Awesomes” and IFC’s “Documentary Now.” “That was over a month, finding every second you can to write. If I have free time, a hobby for me is writing something other than ‘Late Night.'” Meyers said that “Late Night” is specific so he likes to keep his other muscles working. “Writing itself is the worst,” said Meyers. “All of us feel unhappy when we write. But when it’s done, when you finish it it’s the best feeling in the world. Especially when you get to have really creative people produce it.”
“The Awesomes” features a team of heroes, which Meyers said was analogous to his time at “SNL.” “Everyone brings their baggage and issues but when they work together, they have this capacity to be super,” said Meyers. “A lot of the voices are ‘SNL’ cast members. When I read comics, I loved teams. I loved X-Men and Justice League for that reason. Superman on his own is less interesting than Superman with Batman.” Fox then asked Meyers about his favorite X-Men and Justice League teams; Meyers called out the Blue Beetle/Booster Gold “Justice League” run and Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men.”
Meyers talked about the “Awesomes” voice cast, saying that Andy Samberg is “someone he should never laugh at that he laughs at every time.” He talked about a sketch of Samberg’s that bombed hard, involving a guy trying to get someone else to go to the bathroom with him at a party. “I remember thinking this was so dumb, what’s wrong with this guy, but by page five I was crying because there was no second beat and no heightening.”
“Instead of coming up with a villain, we come up with which one of our friends do we want to play it,” said Meyers. “When we got Will Forte, we wanted a guy who screamed because he’s funny when he does that. We wanted Maya Rudolph to play a super villain’s wife and do a sketch character that we loved. Maya’s voice is the best voice.”
Meyers said he has no desire to write a superhero movie. “That is a thing I tried to do and was not good at and I don’t think I want to do it again,” said Meyers. “I was halfway through writing a movie for a studio when I got ‘Late Night,’ and when I got it I called the studio and said I was done with it and would give them their money back and that it wasn’t going to be a movie, ‘Goodbye.'”
Fox introduced a moment from the series “Documentary Now” featuring Bill Hader and Fred Armisen playing aging Chicago rock and rollers reuniting after 30 years apart. “When I watch it, I never think those are my two friends,” said Meyers. Fox noted that there’s no real joke in the end of the clip. “Those guys, through the whole process, all the episodes we try hard never to be jokey with behavior,” said Meyers. “Bill told me afterwards they thought it was low energy, but the director knew they’d be happy with it. It’s a real testament to those guys as actors and our directors for knowing that would work.”
Fox asked what Meyers has learned about Hader and Armisen. “You never give them direction, you give them scripts and they will make better choices than you could have told them,” said Meyers. “There were two types of actors at ‘SNL’ who wanted direction and then Bill and Fred who would say, ‘Okay cool’ when they got scripts.” Meyers talked about the Iceland episode, saying that Fred had the “Freddest idea.” “In Northern Europe there’s a lot of love for America but getting it wrong, so his idea was an Icelandic town that had an Al Capone festival,” said Meyers. “It was funny because we kept pitching it to IFC but they’d say they didn’t like that idea.” Meyers said they just cast Icelandic actors who were improvising in their native tongue, and when they translated it they realized they were being hilarious. “If you see the right five minutes of it, you’ll think it’s a travelogue show and then you’d see Fred and be like, ‘Wait a minute.'” Meyers said that he’s going to LA for a few days to discuss what documentaries they want to take on for season two. “I think one of our biggest conversations will be doing exact parodies or something else,” said Meyers.
Meyers commented on watching “SNL” now, saying that seeing the new hires is weird for him. “I feel a thousand years old, meeting these young people who are on ‘SNL,’ like an old guy at a college reunion saying, ‘That dorm used to be over there!'” Meyers said he now watches the show on Sunday, but he tried to watch the show on Saturdays when he first left the show, but his initial reaction was, “There are too many commercials!” Meyers thinks he’d be a terrible host, and he thinks Lorne agrees. “I started as a sketch actor and Lorne wanted me to sit at a desk every week.”
Fox asked Meyers a “nerdy” sketch question: “How do you approach ending a sketch?” “You can’t ‘Hee-Haw’ it, like in the ’60s sketches ended with someone looking into the camera and saying ‘Say what?’ You can’t do that now. There’s no definite way to end.”
During the lightning round, Meyers said that Bill and Fred make him laugh the most, he misses writing for Will Forte, he would rather have Batman as a guest on the show than Superman, Adam Horowitz from the Beastie Boys was the surprisingly funniest guest he’s had on the show, Juno Diaz’ fiction is a non-comedy thing that inspires him, his favorite sandwich is a Philly Cheesesteak — no, actually chicken parm. He thinks Marco Rubio will get the Republican nomination. “Didn’t say I was psyched about it.” The last time he cried was when he thought his dog died, but “He didn’t, he was fine.” Meyers said that he was shooting photos at 30 Rock and threw a tennis ball down the hall, which had super slick floors, and his dog crashed his head into the wall — but was fine. And lastly, Obama has a firmer handshake than Lorne Michaels.
During audience questions, Meyers revealed that he wants to have Vladimir Putin on the show because “he’s great at impressions.” Meyers also said that only six hosts at “SNL” during his tenure were nightmares — no names. He said among the best were Jon Hamm and Melissa McCarthy. A high school senior then asked Seth what they should major in to be a comedian, to which Meyers said, “Don’t trust a Comedy Major.” His advice was surrounding yourself with creative people in your major and to be part of a community. “The one thing I’ll say is, there are places that do teach comedy but they aren’t our universities. They’re places like the UCB.” After two in a row, getting a selfie with Meyers became a regular thing after asking him a question.
Meyers talked about the first time he was starstruck at “SNL,” and it was Robert DeNiro. He ended up getting on an elevator with just DeNiro; “It was the quietest elevator ride. I did write something that we read at the read through and when we got to the second floor he said, ‘Did you write that?’ And I said, ‘yeah,’ and he said after a pause, ‘It’s funny.’ The best moment of my life until I got married.”
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