[Q+A] Before His Stand-Up Performance At Dallas’ Majestic Theatre, The Host Of Late Night With Seth Meyers Pulls Back The Curtain Some On His Process.
For the last five years, as the host of NBC’s Late Night franchise, Seth Meyers has been broadcast into the homes of Americans five nights a week — an uptick from the one night per week he had beforehand as the host (or co-host) of Saturday Night Live‘s “Weekend Update” segment since 2006, and for five years before that as a member of the greater show’s cast at large.
So, clearly, he’s a familiar personality to most.
But he’s switching things up some these days and trying something new. On Saturday, April 19, Meyers will stop through Dallas for a one-off stand-up comedy performance at the Majestic Theatre. It’s a deliberate switch-up in formats for the comic, who fans have come to recognize as a behind-the-desk anchor/host type, or as a player in a comedy sketch. Seeing him alone on a stage, riffing about personal gripes and whatnot? It’s pretty new territory for Meyers to trek.
That’s something even he himself admits, as he did during a recent phone conversation we shared with Meyers in advance of his Dallas show. Over the course of that midweek call, which came as Meyers and his staff were putting the final touches on one of his Late Night shows, we discussed the differences between hosting and stand-up — among other things, like how he attempts to liven up the dated late-night television interview format, and what tidbits of day drinking wisdom he’s picked up over the course of taping his show’s recurring “Day Drinking With Seth” segments.
Hey, Seth! Appreciate you taking the time to speak with us in the middle of the work day. I imagine you’re in the process of readying tonight’s show, right? What time do you normally tape things? Where are we in the process?
It’s 3:30 now, and we tape at 6:30. Right when we wrap up this phone call, I will roll down to the studios from our offices, and we will basically round up about 30 or 40 people — tourists, mostly — in the building, and read on paper the mologue jokes and the “Closer Look” to them — just to get a sense of it. It basically serves as a dress rehearsal, and then we just start making cuts and trying to get it into show shape — because we have to lock everything by about 5:30.
How long have you been doing this now? About five years, right?
We just skipped over five years in February.
Five years of interviewing celebrities on TV. That reminds me of something I forgot to ask earlier: Are there any anecdotes you’d like me to set up for you to tell in this interview?
[Laughs.] Y’know, I gotta be honest, more than anything, I feel like when you’re doing an interview, you try to come in with a little bit of a road map as far as what kind of plan you want. And, at the same time, you try to be a good listener and see if you can take it somewhere that maybe both you and the subject didn’t know it was going to go. But, certainly, the difference between this interview we’re doing now and my show is, y’know, a segment producer would have talked to the guest ahead of time, and nobody with your outlet did any legwork with me. [Laughs.] That’s probably for the best, though! The other difference is, when you’re on TV, you basically have seven or eight minutes with people. So you do want to make sure that, if they have a really great story, you’re going to set them up and help them out.
Is that something you think you’ve gotten better at over time, looking back on your earliest days as a host versus now?
Yeah, I do. It was also the skill set that least applied to SNL, which was pretty much my only experience going into it. I interviewed people at the “Weekend Update” desk, but they were not… real people. [Laughs.] And I always knew what they’re going to say — the least with Stefon, but even then I knew 85 percent of what he was going to say.
OK, but when you’re interviewing these people on your show, how much of it is stuff you know you have to hit? Part of your job, as my understanding of it goes, is that, for better or worse, while you want an interesting interview for TV purposes, there’s kind of this unspoken deal where someone is there to specifically promote something. Are those difficult waters to navigate?
No, not really. I mean, I think if you watch late-night interviews these days — and not just our show, but most — you show a clip, which is a reminder to the audience of what they’re there to promote, and then you maybe ask one or two questions about it, and then you move on. People, especially by the time they get to my show, they’ve probably done three or four others. [Laughs.] They’re probably out of interesting stories, as far as what happened on set or how they found the character. So, they get a hit with the clip, and then you get to just talk to them as people.
Is that old model maybe dying down?
I think so. I mean, look, I think that audiences in general can smell inauthenticity more than ever before, and they certainly don’t like being sold anything — or people saying, “I’m about to sell you something!” [Laughs.] Sure, big actors are only free to come on TV shows like ours when they have that time put aside to do press for projects, and so you get them then. But then, y’know, you make the most of it.
I guess I’m asking these questions about the difference between being on TV and off because the show you’re bringing here, it isn’t your TV show. Like, a couple of years back, Conan brought his show to Dallas for stretch — but this isn’t that, right? This is not part of the show.
Right. This is an hour of stand-up. Yes.
I think it’s fair to say that most people are familiar with your work either from being a late-night host or from your time at SNL and “Weekend Update.” For those who aren’t familiar with your stand-up style, how do those two things compare?
Yeah, I think that is fair to say. The biggest difference is my show is about chasing the day’s news, whereas the stand-up evening is about sort of stepping back, and talking about things that are a bit more universal. Things like my personal life, my marriage and my kids. It’s a nice freedom to break away from this daily grind that we’re all living through.
So, it’s not like you aren’t a busy guy. You have a high-profile gig already. You host award shows. Why even do these gigs like the one you’re doing at the Majestic?
Well, y’know, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s different. I remember talking to Craig Ferguson once, who I basically asked the same question you just asked me, which was like, “Why are you still out doing stand-up when you have a show?” And he said, “If you stop doing stand-up for a year, you will never do it again. Doubt will creep in and you’ll forget that you were good at it, and then it’ll just be easier not to do it. And then there’s this skill that you worked on for a really long time that you won’t have anymore.” So, I always took that to heart. And so it’s nice to get out and stretch my legs, and go to different places. It’s a very cool way to travel and see the country.
Are you working toward a special or something along those lines?
Yeah, I think that might be the case. I would say that it’s likely that this is all to hope and to aim towards a special.
So, just looking at some tour dates I found for you online, it looks like you’re just doing these one-off dates where you can. Like, you’ve got a couple of dates in Las Vegas, I saw. There are others just kind of all around the country, too. I would imagine because of your day-to-day schedule, that’s just how it has to be. How frequently are you doing these stand-up dates? Is it monthly? Are you working on your set in New York when you get the chance, too?
The reality is, when you work at a comedy show all day, it’s very hard to come home and tell your wife you’re going to go out and do some more comedy. It’s very reasonable for them to just ask you not to do that. So, for me, I’m trying to do anywhere between like 7 to 10 shows a month. I think the night after I’m in Dallas, supposed to go to Austin and do a couple shows at a festival there. So, it’s nice to have a weekend where you can knock out three or four shows. It’s sort of every other weekend, getting out. That has a nice feel.
I imagine another difference is in the writing, right. You’ve got a whole writing crew for the show. And stand-up, because it’s about your family like you said, it’s much more personal.
Yes. That’s 100 percent true. And it’s another one where I would hate to not exercise that muscle. I’m very, obviously, incredibly lucky to have this show, with this writing staff that will provide — and whether or not I’m feeling it on any given day. [Laughs.] When you go out and do stand-up, you’d better be prepared. And, y’know, I can’t imagine going out and doing someone else’s material in stand-up, whereas I obviously have no problem doing it on this show. And when I host award shows, I have multiple people helping me with jokes. But it’s nice to have the one hour that is entirely true to yourself.
Between your show and your time on the “Weekend Update” desk — and even with the routine you did at the White House correspondents dinner all those years back — I feel like you have a very specific set-up-and-deliver aesthetic to your comedy. Does that apply to your stand-up as well?
I would say yes. Well, save for, I would say there is more of a storytelling aspect to stand-up. But within those stories, I think you will find very familiar delivery, yeah. [Laughs.] But there is the luxury of time you have when you go to do a night of stand-up. There’s nothing else you do where you have the freedom to sort of let things breathe. And that’s an enjoyable part of it as well.
If we can turn back to the TV show for a minute, one of my favorite bits is the “Day Drinking with Seth” series. How did that come about? I know it started out with your family, but it’s extended beyond that. Like, the Kelly Clarkson one is particularly fun. Were you just trying to get out of the office? How did it come about?
Yeah, it started with family, and you’re right — it started with the idea of getting out of the office. There were times earlier in the show where we did, “Oh, today we’re going to go to the Toy Fair!” and filmed something, or “Today, we’re going to do a car show!” and we’d find something. And I found that I didn’t really enjoy those — because I am a bit of a control freak, and getting out of the studio, you lose control. Whereas, if I drink enough, I just don’t care. So it’s like a fun way for me not to be stressing about things. Any time we left the studio, I would be so stressed about, “Are we getting anything? Is this a huge waste of time? Will this edit into anything?” Whereas, ultimately, with day drinking, I just put that part of my brain to sleep, and then they turn out to be pretty fun.
Is it just trusting your editors at that point?
[Laughs.] Yes, and basically realizing that the more I let go, the more fun it’ll be.
Is day drinking something you had a history with before the segment took hold?
I have certainly day-drank in the past. But I will say that I’ve never in my life day-drank with the speed that you find you have to with those segments. Because the issue is you are basically out there filming for two hours, and if the goal is to get drunk, you have to drink so much, so quickly.
You’re not going back to the office after those shoots, are you?
No, we always do them on off-days. But then I get home and it’s always been… well, just my wife is so disappointed when I come in. [Laughs.].
A good day drinking session can be a blast, though! As the segment shows…
Listen, if you can find a day where you can just shut it down pretty early and go after it, it’s a lot of fun.
Well, if it’s not too forced a set-up, I was wondering if we could end this interview with me asking if you had any major tips you could share about how to best go about the day drinking process — considering how you’re such a documented pro at it.
I mean… OK. So, this isn’t for the kids. This is for people who are of age. But you can’t take too long a break between drinks — because you will crash. I think one of the most depressing things about “Day Drinking” is that, while we’re setting up another shot, sometimes I’ll have to take a drink in the middle — when it’s not even being filmed — just to, like, try to ride that wave.
Timing does seem crucial. I think that’s always a tough thing to reconcile when drinking. Like, “Oh, wow. It’s not even 4 p.m. yet?”
The fun is being in, like, as darkly lit a bar as you can be. But then there’s the jarring nature of sunlight that hits when you leave. But, hey, it’s still better to walk out at two in the afternoon than it is to walk out on a Saturday at six in the morning.
Any final day drinking tips before I let you go?
Well, obviously, it’s good to be near enough to some greasy food so that you can get some of that your belly as well. You don’t want to day drink on an empty stomach.
Seth Meyers performs Friday, April 19, at the Majestic Theatre. Head here for tickets and more information.