A little over a month stands in the way of Seth Meyers making his debut as host of “Late Night,” and he’s trying to work in as much preparation as possible ahead of his unveiling.
“Maybe I should ask the questions?” he said. “I need the practice.”
The 40-year-old comedian makes his transition from “Saturday Night Live” to “Late Night” talk show host on Feb. 24, taking over the chair held by fellow “SNL” alum Jimmy Fallon. It’s a changing of the guard on NBC, with Fallon taking over the “Tonight Show” as Leno gets set to make his exit (once more).
Show Tracker caught up with Meyers on Monday; he was in town for the Golden Globes and making his affiliate rounds. Read on for his thoughts on what kind of host he expects to be, lessons from Fallon, and what he might do if Jacqueline Bisset was on as a guest.
We’re a little over a month away.
Yeah, six weeks.
But who’s counting, right? Do you have a calendar up, crossing off each day?
Now, I think I am. It’s really weird because I got the job last April and everyone was like, “Oh, February, that’s so far away. You’re good.” And now I realize how it’s creeping up because the time frame shrinks every time someone brings it up. Soon it’s going to be like, “Oh, it’s tomorrow” and I am going to get in the fetal position. So, yeah, I’ve started counting. Still haven’t quite locked down whether I’m going to have a band or a DJ since my last interview. I know. I know. I’m so not musical.
Take me back to that day where you basically hear the words, “We want you to be the next host of ‘Late Night.’ ”
It was weird. Really weird. Genuinely, the first thing was like, I mean, it was the first time I realized I wouldn’t be at “SNL” until I died. I had this moment where it wasn’t even thinking about, “Whoa, hosting ‘Late Night.’ ” It was just me hung up on the idea that I’d be moving on. So my first emotion was paralyzing sadness.
But you really didn’t think you’d be at “SNL” until you died, right?
No, I knew I had to leave. But I hadn’t ever thought about what it would be — what would be enough to take me away. I’d gone through this whole cycle where the people I had started with had left, and then people who had come when I was already there had left. I kind of had this feeling like I knew I eventually had to leave. So when this came up, it immediately felt like the right thing to move on to from “SNL.”
Was there much mulling over the idea?
I’m a pretty classic over-thinker. There was pros and cons lists. My wife is very good at laying things out, so the two of us made some of those. There were way more pros than cons.
You enter a heated club. The late-night arena has had its share of clashes. Do you expect to find yourself part of any opposition?
Oh, no, no, no! We joke that if there’s ever another book about late-night wars, we want to be the most boring chapter. That’s what our goal is. Mostly because I would hate to see whom HBO or Netflix or whatever entity casts as me when they make it into a film.
I imagine there’s an overwhelming sense of pressure. You’re stepping into the shoes of Conan O’Brien and your friend Jimmy Fallon, who has managed to make the show his own. And, of course, David Letterman who implored you to change the game.
Yeah, that was — by the way, it’s a great title, “The Tomorrow Show,” but I would never … it would seem so pretentious to change the name of a legacy show. But, yeah, I feel a great deal of pressure. When you do something like “Weekend Update” you think, “Oh, my god, so few people have done this job.” But it’s still four or five times as many who have done this job. You don’t want to be the guy who screws it up. I’m such a fan of the three people who have done it before me. It’ll be the month I forget to pay my Internet bill.
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.”