Jimmy recently said he thinks Johnny Carson would have been happy with what he has in store when he takes over the "Tonight Show." How do you think your predecessors would feel about what you've got up your sleeves?
Well, I think the thing I always loved about that time slot is that the people who have been in charge of those shows know that it’s late and it’s a piece of real estate you can sort of take chances with. People are a little more patient at 12:30, and so we’re trying to have a combination of both really smart stuff, but also silly stuff. I think if we can get that alchemy right, I think we’ll have a really nice show. That’s been the challenge, figuring out what works and deciphering the balance.
Will we get something weirder than Jimmy’s Lick it for $10 segment?
No, I don’t think we’ll get weirder than Lick it for $10. And also budget-wise, I don’t think we can pay more than $5 for anything that gets licked.
Has Jimmy culled together a training guide for you? He had to all that “Tonight Show” drama to ignore while he took on the "Late Night chair.
It was really nice because he hosted the Christmas episode on ["SNL"] so we got to spend a lot of time together. So he’s been giving me the rundown. I think the most important thing he told me to remember is with shows like these, you do a lot of them, so you have to be patient with what you’re trying to do. If you take the integrity of it seriously, people will come around to embrace you and appreciate what you’re bringing.
What about Conan?
Conan, for me, is probably — his era was when I was watching the show the most. He was doing it while I was in college. His "Late Night" is probably the one that has inspired me the most. I love nature, so the masturbating bear was always a favorite. I’m a bit of an animal-ologist.
What sort of host do you think you’re going to be?
I don’t know. One thing that I’ve enjoyed at “Weekend Update” is I like being next to funny people. And I like being the straight man to funny people. And I have no problem when people are funnier than me — and those people are easy to find. That’s a thing we want to do on the show. We want to hire a lot of writers who are also performers. We’d love to have a cast of characters on our show that people will get to know and become excited to see when they come out. That’s an element I’m trying to bring from “Weekend Update.”
Is there ease in knowing you can book some big names considering your "SNL" connection?
I don't know. I'm not that cool. We're aware that there are a bunch of shows in New York and with regards to the pecking order, we’re not at the top of the list. But that’s, I think, a weakness we want to turn into a strength and try to book those quirky, interesting people that maybe aren't on those other talk shows.
Talk about “SNL” as a training ground for this. It’s had a good track record with the turnover to "Late Night."
I certainly have so much appreciation for what Jimmy did. I think his success helped the higher-ups think I could be good for this job. “SNL” is great because you have such very short turnaround. You try to write off what is happening in the news — which is what we want to do with the show. And, also, a thing that Lorne [Michaels] instills in all his writers: Write to the height of your intelligence, even if it’s a dumb idea, try to write the smartest version of it. And try to hire writers with as many different voices so the show doesn’t feel like the same every night.
My metabolism will completely change. The part for me that’s weird, I mean, until Saturday, I really identified myself as a writer on “SNL” — I don’t shave, I wash sparingly. Having to be a host every night, there’s that part of the day that will be the most frustrating for me is sitting in hair and makeup because that’s when you can't be writing, you can’t be fine-tuning. That might be the biggest adjustment.
Wait, let me turn the tables. You were at the Golden Globes. Who was your favorite winner that went backstage?
Probably Jacqueline Bisset. I had no idea what was happening. You need to have her as a guest.
I would have her immediately. She’s somebody who would be so fun to have the next day. If we had her, I would start her sitting at the top row of the audience. Then I would introduce her and it would be so fun if she just walked all the way around. And we’d spend that time talking to another guest, and then cut to break saying, “When we come back, Jacqueline Bisset will have finally made it to the stage.”