Seth Meyers is currently the head writer of Saturday Night Live and host of Weekend Update. He delivered a hilarious performance Tuesday at Bailey Hall, where he joked about everything from unsexy futons to his Words With Friends addiction. The Sun sat down with Meyers after the show to talk about SNL, laughing at politics and the intensity of Martha Stewart.
The Sun: Have you always wanted to do this, or was there one moment when you realized you could get paid for being funny?
Seth Meyers: As a kid, what we did as a family was watch comedy. My parents introduced us to Monty Python and SNL probably way younger than they should have. But yeah, that was always the thing I wanted to do. I went to Northwestern and studied radio, TV and film, but I always thought I would be in the comedy realm and kind of figured out by senior year that I wanted to try and be a performer for at least a while.
Sun: Your background is more in improv, so was it difficult to transition from something very group-based to doing something all on your own like stand-up?
S.M.: Well, you know it was weird because I was doing a two person sketch improv group that got me on SNL, and that’s a pretty collaborative place as well, but then it was weird because if you want to do college stuff, it seems like stand-up is the way. I found that doing improv stuff on college campuses was a really hard sell, and I’d always loved stand-up as well. You know when you do SNL, so many people are depending on your performance, it’s nice to go out and have an hour where you’re only responsible for yourself.
Sun: What’s your favorite thing you’ve written for SNL?
S.M.: I have a lot of things I’m really happy with. I really enjoy every time we write one of those “Really?”s with Amy — I like those a lot. I really enjoyed writing the Sarah Palin stuff with Tina, but there are other silly sketches that I’m really proud of. My favorite sketch I wrote this year was with Steve Buscemi, where he played a basketball coach and everyone thinks he’s a pedophile, but he’s not, which I just enjoyed.
Sun: You did the White House Correspondents dinner last year, but you’ve also done a number of episodes of Martha Stewart’s show. Who is more intimidating: the president, or Martha Stewart?
S.M.: That’s a fair question. Martha Stewart’s probably more intimidating in person, but the room at the Correspondents dinner was way more intimidating. It’s the friendliest room when you do Martha Stewart Show — I mean you just look out and it’s all pastels. But it’s fun. I went to Martha Stewart’s house to film a thing with her once and my family got to have lunch with her, and I have never been so aware of my table manners than I was when I was eating in front of Martha Stewart. It was really intense.
Sun: You host Weekend Update, and you played John Kerry in 2004, so has politics always been part of your humor, or more something that came with the job?
S.M.: It’s funny; I grew up in New Hampshire, so when I was in high school, I graduated in ’92, and all the candidates would come and talk at our school. It’s just funny how that primary season rolling around every four years makes you really aware of it at a slightly younger age.
Sun: With this election, are you ever just tempted to transcribe entire debates or some of the more ridiculous things candidates say?
S.M.: This year we found it really interesting because we went into the year so excited about who the Republican candidates were, but they’re almost so silly that it feels mean when you write sketches about them. Whereas a lot of the time, we’re just sort of repeating what they said. Because, if you wrote a sketch about Rick Perry not being able to remember three out of three things it would be mean, but then when it happens you kind of have to.
Sun: Have you had any weird comments or negative reactions from political figures because of sketches?
S.M.: There haven’t really been any weird things, but the nice thing for me is that Lorne instills in us to try and never write a joke that you would be embarrassed to see the person. So it’s funny when you do the Correspondents Dinner and I’ll run into Sarah Palin and say hello, because we met when she did the show and John McCain’s such a friend of the show. I feel like the weird thing is when you make a joke about a liberal, they’re probably more sensitive about it because they assume it’s a safer place for them.
Sun: What do you do, now that you’re the head-writer, when a writer has something that they think is really funny, but no one else does?
S.M.: We have this nice process where we have a table read on Wednesday, so the writer gets to hear their work read for a room full of about 50 people; it’s very hard to argue it’s funny if it hasn’t played for that many people who are especially comedy people, so usually you don’t have to give people really bad news. There are times where something will play well at drafts, but may be the thing the host doesn’t like, and so that doesn’t make air, and sometimes people are disappointed or upset about that, but more often than not there’s a pretty good reason.
Sun: Has that ever happened to you?
S.M.: It did a lot more in my first half of the time I’ve been on the show, but I’ve been a lot more practical with age, like anyone does, and now if I have a thing that I feel is a B-, I’d rather it get pulled. Some of my least favorite things are ones that made the show that I had hoped wouldn’t.
Sun: You’re writing a screenplay — is that a lot different than writing sketches?
S.M.: So much different, so much harder. It’s like the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it’s fun.
Sun: Is that kind of the direction you think you’re moving in, career-wise?
S.M.: I like to try and keep as many options open as possible and that’s a fun one as well.
Sun: I hear Paul Simon is backstage a lot; how do you react to that as a fan?
S.M.: He’s there every so often — he’s a friend of Lorne’s so he’ll show up every now and then. It’s weird. I can’t even express to Paul Simon how much of a fan I am of his. Like if I told him how much his music meant to me, we wouldn’t be able to interact. Graceland is one of my favorite albums of all time, and it’s so weird to meet him and not be able to go like, “I just want you to know, meeting you is just…” The amazing thing was when Paul McCartney did the show. I’ve never seen anyone be better at handling those people, especially because everybody has a story about Paul McCartney, where the moment was more important to them than it was to Paul McCartney, and he makes them feel like it was just as important to him. Which is great.