When Saturday Night Live star and writer Seth Meyers moved from the Weekend Update desk that he shared with the likes of Amy Poehler and his insane, gay lover, Stefon, to NBC's Late Night desk, he says he and his team thought the audience would gravitate toward bits and segments that were brief and bright.
He had no idea the most popular comedy segment that's become his "Top Ten List" or Triumph the Insult Comic Dog would be "A Closer Look," a three- to five-minute deep dive into one story from the day's news that's usually about the scandals and controversies surrounding ... well, you know who.
"When we started our show, we would never have thought, 'Oh, you know what's going to be good is a really long-form informational piece,'" Meyers says, ahead of a visit to Dallas this Friday when he'll appear at The Majestic. "I think when we started the show, the conventional wisdom certainly trended more towards things that should be shorter and poppier, and it's nice to see a situation where people have the attention span for this."
Meyers may be best known these days for his nightly political takedowns as NBC's fourth Late Night host and the sharing nature of the Internet and social media. However, he says with a laugh that it takes him a "full 45 minutes before the audience even hears a certain person's name" in his stand-up shows like the one he's doing Friday, April 19 at The Majestic.
The same can also be said about his late night show even if it's sometimes pigeonholed as a political show by both his fans and detractors who support that guy, the guy with the, uh, tie. You know who we mean.
Some of his other regular segments take him day drinking with celebrities like Kelly Clarkson and his younger brother Josh, telling uber-dad jokes that are just setups for ridiculous scenes of "Popsicle Schtick" and joking around with his equally funny family, who take over an entire episode every year on Thanksgiving.
"I kind of go back and forth," Meyers says. "I try to do at least 10 minutes of politics in a show but it's way less. Obviously, there's a nice place for people to go every night to find out how I'm thinking about politics. For me to get out and do something different is part of the reason this makes it worthwhile, to get out and flex different muscles."
He's got plenty of material to mine from his personal life. Meyers' wife Alexi Ashe almost gave birth to their first son, Ashe, around Easter during an Uber ride but made it to the hospital where "half of the room had bunny ears on," he said on his late night show. Their second son, Axel, came into the world in the lobby of their New York City apartment.
"I started doing stand-up in my SNL years and it slowed down a little bit — not just because of the talk show but having kids — and in the fall, it started up again," Meyers says. "I've been doing a mini-tour of sorts every other weekend or so and it's been nice to get out again. Having a wife and kids, I wouldn't be the first comedian to point out that they give you a lot of material."
Meyers came to stand-up and SNL from improv. He scored his first big break in comedy by joining the main stage cast of Amsterdam, the Netherlands' sketch and improv theatre Boom Chicago alongside names like Oscar winner Jordan Peele, actor and director Ike Barinholtz, fellow SNL star Jason Sudeikis and Late Night writer Amber Ruffin. Meyers says when he came back to the States, he put together a college touring improv comedy show that pushed him into stand-up and SNL.
"I was doing a two-person improv show, which is what got me discovered at SNL, and the reality is that it's just really hard to book improv at colleges," Meyers says. "I sort of dabbled in it when I lived overseas in Boom Chicago and slowly built an act mostly doing colleges for the first half of my SNL tenure, and I felt like I aged out of that and started moving on to doing stand-up in theaters."
Meyers came back to stand-up in the latter half of last year and performs around 40 live shows a year in between the demands of doing a late-night talk show five days a week, he says.
"I feel like if you don't go out, it's very easy for a show to get a little dusty," Meyers says. "I remember Craig Ferguson was a guest on my show once and he was doing stand-up and I asked how often he did it and this was when he still had his (talk) show and he was saying, 'I have a real feeling if you take more than a year off, you'll never do it again.'"
It's also a nice change of pace from the endless cycle of news stories that Meyers covers on his show each night. He says no matter what's going on, it would still be just as creatively challenging and tiring to do comedy on a daily basis.
"I think right now if we were living in an era that was more conventional politically, there would still be times when it's tiring to come up with ideas for a show every night, which is the time we were living in when the show started," Meyers says. "It's tiring now in a very different way, but tiring in a way that living through this era feels. There's this weird thing, a redundancy to the news, but every single day is something we've never seen before."
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Then again, Meyers says it's also nice to have someone giving him and his writers lots of material. You know we're talking about President Donald Trump, right?
"One of the nice things about doing a topical show is at least you know where you're looking every day, where you sort of assume newspapers are where you start," Meyers says. "That is, I think, one of the hardest things at SNL, just to write a piece of comedy that's sort of based on nothing really and build it out in a way that it can keep people's attention for five to seven minutes."
Late-night television is also great training for reading and building an audience whether it's around a TV or on a stage behind a microphone, he says.
"One of the nice things is the longer you do this, I would expect most people who are going to come out or are enough of a fan of me to buy a ticket," Meyers says. "So I approach it that way as opposed to when you first start out and no one knows who you are. You think, 'Oh, I've got to aim for this audience,' but I try a little bit more to be honest to the things I want to kind of do."