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Seth Meyers talks to Amy Poehler about his new Late Night gig, doing stand-up for the president, and his addiction to Citi Bike.
Seth Meyers generated enough news in recent months to fill a segment of “Weekend Update,” the Saturday Night Live sketch that made him a household name. In May, it was announced that he would replace Jimmy Fallon as host of Late Night (Fallon is headed to The Tonight Show in 2014); the move catapulted the two SNL alums into the undisputed pole positions for a new generation of comedians. Meyers also launched an animated series on Hulu called The Awesomes, and he even found time to marry his longtime girlfriend, Alexi Ashe, a human rights lawyer.
As Meyers prepares for his last season on Saturday Night Live, where he’s been a cast member for the past 12 years and head writer since 2006, he sat down with fellow improv comic and former SNL cohort Amy Poehler to dish about it all.
Amy Poehler: This is going to be an amazing interview because I’ve done a lot of research on you, Seth.
Seth Meyers: You could have just listened to me in conversations we’ve had the last 12 years, and you wouldn’t have had to do all that research.
AP: I’m a notoriously bad listener.
SM: You don’t remember the first time we met. You interviewed me on stage at ImprovOlympic in Chicago. It was a big deal for me; it was like no deal for you. I was information meat for you and your improv friends to do a performance from.
AP: Well, look at us a dozen years later, and we still really like each other! I bet everybody’s asking as you start your amazing new job—what’s it going to be like to leave SNL? I’m asking as a concerned friend, not an interviewer.
SM: It’s hard to wrap my head around the idea of leaving a place where I’ve lived and breathed for so long. I’d love to go out the Poehler way, which is to just have my water break, drop the mic, and be, like, I’m out of here. Not available to me. I’ll leave fairly quietly because I’ll be back on the network in two weeks.
AP: It’s very good to have a job to go to. That is an awesome feeling and a really good distraction because when you watch that first SNL you’re not in, you feel like you’re watching your own funeral.
SM: I cannot imagine watching as a pure fan again. Because as you know, the greatest joy of working at this show is the Wednesday roundtable, when you get to see all these great people and what their ideas were in any given week and what ones make it to the show. It’s the most wonderful weekly journey that only people who work here get to see.
AP: There are so few terrific jobs in New York, and you will have worked at two of them. And to have your new show out of 30 Rock is so cool.
SM: It’s so great to walk into 30 Rock because it’s one of the few buildings that just feels like television. There are a lot of comedy ghosts here who help you through your day.
AP: Who are some people who congratulated you when they heard about your doing Late Night?
SM: Fallon, [Jimmy] Kimmel, and Jon Stewart. Jay Leno called, which was really touching. It’s nice going in knowing how supportive people will be.
AP: Let’s talk about Mike Shoemaker, who was a producer at SNL and is producing your new show.
SM: Mike is like the angel in the outfield on Fallon—and now on my show. He’s the guy who makes sure you are the best version of yourself night in and night out. He did it with everybody at SNL and is such a big part of the success of Jimmy’s show. He’s not only one of my best friends, but he’s the guy who goes, “Tonight’s going to be great,” and you just believe him. I’m really psyched to be working with him again.
AP: What’s happening in preparation for the show?
SM: Today I sat down with Leo Yoshimura, our incredible SNL set designer, and looked at what the set might look like. It’s super cool, like a diorama. I could look at dioramas all day no matter what kind of dioramas they are. People in this building, and especially everybody we know from our SNL family, are the best in the world at their jobs.
AP: It must be comforting to be able to work with people you already know.
SM: Yes, so comforting. I have such a bad visual imagination. I feel that until I can see where the desk would be, I picture myself hosting this floating in space. Am I going to be able to sit down? Will there be walls? Now it’s all very real.
AP: Will you do a three-guest format?
SM: I think more often two.
AP: Jimmy Fallon is heavily involved in the music aspect of the show; I feel like you’re going to be heavily involved in the writing of it.
SM: I would never want to have a job where there wouldn’t be some sort of writing involved. It’ll be weird to figure out how the day’s timing works, when you have to be camera ready. At SNL you didn’t have to get into makeup until seven o’clock on Saturday night.
AP: Have you thought about what kind of vibe you want in your dressing room?
SM: I would like it to feel like my office on 17—comfortable but also familiar.
AP: We should point out that your SNL office is on the 17th floor; it’s an office where many a young writer has come like a cat in the night and dumped a dead bird on your desk, in hopes that a sketch would make it. It’s a very warm and inviting office, but it’s a place where a lot of work gets done. So you want your dressing room to feel like a place where you can work?
SM: I would like that. Bill Hader started doing a really good impression of the way I act when people come into my office, which is, I take one long final look at whatever I’m working on, and then turn and ask what’s up. I didn’t realize how long I kept people waiting; I don’t even make eye contact. I can’t believe I’ve been that quietly passive aggressive all these years.
AP: Is there anyone you really would love to interview on your show?
SM: I want to get verbal confirmation now that you’re going to be the first guest.
AP: Yes, dude, of course. Are you kidding? I’m going to come on your show and never leave; I’ll hide under your desk.
SM: I want you to be the first guest and the second guest to be huge. I want to offer it to Tom Cruise; I want him to have to fathom [someone asking], “Would you like to be Seth Meyers’s second guest?”
AP: There are going to be so many people who will come sit at your desk, and you’re going to tune out—you can’t be an active listener all the time. How are you going to fake it if you get distracted and don’t hear what someone says?
SM: I remember in college I had to do a 10-minute oral presentation on a German film from the ’20s. I didn’t understand the film, and I remember talking about it, trying to burn 10 minutes. I just hope I’m never in that place. That’s the part of this job that’s going to be most fascinating. People are very nice when they say, “You’re great at interviewing people on SNL.” And I’m like, Yeah, those are characters. It’s a skill you don’t know how good you’re at until you do it.
AP: With SNL you get weirdly used to meeting all the people you admire. Can you think of those who really made you starstruck?
SM: Springsteen. [But] when you spend a whole week with the host, the starstruckedness wears off. They’re visiting, you’re the expert; you’d be more starstruck if you had to spend a week on their set. The other great thing is for those people, no matter what they accomplish, this is a week they always remember. You see people who hosted the show eight, nine years later, and they’ll remember a sketch you wrote for them or a scene you’re in with them. It’s really great.
AP: You did stand-up at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner a few years ago and crushed it, and that’s very difficult because Obama is so funny and they write great jokes for him. Did he say anything to you afterward?
SM: It was pretty brief, but he definitely said good job. There are two terrible parts about following him. He’s a great stand-up and tells great jokes. He’s also the president, so you’re like, wow. Then he doesn’t close with a joke; he closes by telling everybody to think about our men and women serving overseas. If you did that at a comedy club, you’d be like “You’ve can’t close with that because I have to go up right after you and tell jokes.” But you can’t say that to the president.
AP: Tell me about The Awesomes, the new show you’re producing.
SM: It’s an animated series on Hulu, and I voice the main character who is running the world’s greatest superhero team after all the best members have left. It’s been fun. I’ve always loved comic books and cartoons, [but] when you’re preparing for a wedding, nothing makes your bride-to-be more excited than to hear you can’t go cake tasting because you have to go to Comic Con.
AP: When you lived by yourself, there was a lot of framed art from comics, which the ladies are really into. Are they in your new place?
SM: [My wife] Alexi was very sweet, and our entryway has some of my old original comic art.
AP: What’s the best piece you have?
SM: Kevin Maguire, who is my longtime favorite artist, drew a picture of me as my favorite superhero—Blue Beetle.
AP: What did you like about Blue Beetle?
SM: He didn’t have any powers; he was just good with gadgets, and he was mostly in the comic books to have wry observations. He was the guy who was there to say, “This is a bad idea.” I literally associate myself with the most cautious superhero I could find.
AP: Do you remember your first week in New York?
SM: My first week was coming straight to SNL. I moved here in August 2001, and the crazy thing about that was the people I watched perform in Chicago—you, Horatio [Sanz], Tina [Fey], [Rachel] Dratch—it was weird to move to New York and be most excited about being colleagues with people I knew from Chicago.
AP: Where did you live?
SM: On Charles and Washington in an old police building in a tiny garden apartment, which for people who don’t know, garden apartment means you’re basically below ground. It does not in any way, shape, or form, remind you of a garden in Downton Abbey.
AP: What do you still love about New York City 12 years later?
SM: Here, you can have 10 days in a day. And now I’m addicted to Citi Bike.
AP: You really sold me on Citi Bike. What’s going to happen to Citi Bike when it gets cold?
SM: Our friend Alex Baze recently tweeted that he can’t wait for the Instagram pictures of Citi Bikes in the snow. He’s so right—everyone is going to Instagram that picture. I’m going to try to tough it out, though. The great thing about snow in New York is that it doesn’t stay on the ground long; it just turns into an awful coal-black, gray slush.
AP: Do you get mistaken for anybody?
SM: [Jason] Sudeikis or Ben Stiller. I remember once during the writers’ strike, an insane person who was not a writer and had just joined the picket line to belong to something said that I looked like that guy on Seinfeld. To which I said, “Do you mean [Jerry] Seinfeld?” And he said, “Yeah, that’s him.” But I like when people recognize me on the subway because they’re courteous. Every now and then an elderly woman on her way out of the subway will say, “You’re very funny,” not as a compliment as much as an opinion.
AP: Even though this is a New York magazine, you are an avid Boston Red Sox fan. What’s going on with the Red Sox right now?
SM: I can tell you that after one of their worst seasons in recent memory, they hired a new manager. A lot of people got healthy, and they are as of this interview, in first place. I was just in Vegas and made a little bet on the Red Sox to win the World Series at only 8:1 odds.
AP: How much do you win if they win?
SM: I think I bet $200, so I’d win $1,600.
AP: That’s a lot of cash, dude. Well, Seth Meyers, our readers will be happy to know that you are as wonderful a person in person as you seem on TV, and I think you are going to do an amazing job. Lorne Michaels, our benevolent supreme leader, has made a really good choice in you, and he’s such a great arbiter of talent. You’re going to be awesome, and I’m really excited to see your show.
SM: There’s a saying in show business, you know you’ve made it when you can get Amy Poehler to take time out of her busy schedule to interview you, so I’m very thankful.
photography by Williams + hirakawa; Styling by Sam Spector at Stockland Martel; Hair by Bettie O. Rogers; Makeup by Sonia Lee for Exclusive Artists Management using Dior; Tailoring by Custom Men; Shot on location at The James hotel and Jimmy at The James
December 20, 2016