February 24, 2014 8:37am PT by Lacey Rose
Seth Meyers: 18 Things Left Out of THR's 'Late Night' Cover Story
After eight months of preparation, speculation and a major marketing push, Seth Meyers is ready for his next act.
On Monday night, the former Saturday Night Live head writer and "Weekend Update" anchor will take the reins of Late Night, a gig formerly held by David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and, most recently, Jimmy Fallon. And true to form, Meyers will do so surrounded by familiar faces, from first guest Amy Poehler to bandleader Fred Armisen.
In anticipation, Meyers sat down with The Hollywood Reporter for an expansive interview that resulted in a Feb. 19 cover story. Over the course of the reporting process, which entailed visits to SNL, time in the "Update" writers room, a breakfast with Meyers and more than a dozen conversations with past and present colleagues, much was gleaned about the new face of Late Night. Below are 18 things -- from his favorite book to his Late Night reservations -- that didn't find their way into the cover story.
Meyers' final week at SNL was pretty emotional, with several "lasts" eliciting tears. Among them: his "last" Wednesday table read, which included his female castmates performing a rendition of Salt-n-Pepa's "Whatta Man" and everyone on staff wearing T-shirts with Meyers' face on them. Explained his former "Weekend Update" co-anchor Cecily Strong: "They have these writer parties at the end of the year, and Seth makes T-shirts for everybody that will have an inside joke or a line from a scene that made everyone laugh but maybe didn't make it. So, Taran [Killam] made shirts for all of us that had a picture of Seth making T-shirts and it said, 'Who will make the T-shirts?'"
Meyers had two stipulations before he'd agree to take Late Night. First, he wasn't leaving New York, his home of more than a decade. He acknowledges relocating to Los Angeles -- where he moved briefly pre-SNL to try his hand at pilot season (he landed an episode of Spin City) -- would give him a booking advantage now that Fallon has moved Tonight to Manhattan, but Meyers wasn't interested. The second: leaving SNL last May, when his Late Night gig was made official. He needed time to emotionally prepare for his departure, something he had given little thought to until that point. As the 12-year SNL veteran put it: "I hadn't done any of the work of falling out of love with the show in the way it's helpful to do before you leave." (SNL boss Lorne Michaels wasn't interested in having him leave any earlier than he did either, particularly given that the show was in a "transition" year with regard to its cast.)
Sports is more than simply a hobby for Meyers, which is why his decision to pass up two tickets to this year's Super Bowl was particularly surprising. The reason, he confessed, is that he didn't think he'd be done crying by 5:30 p.m. on that Sunday, which was the day after his final SNL. (Appropriately, he ended up watching the game with fellow SNL castmembers.) The rabid sports fan, who counts the Pittsburgh Steelers (his father is from Pittsburgh), the Boston Red Sox and the Northwestern Wildcats among his teams, has hosted the ESPYs twice, and at one point had ESPN approach him about a potential talk show for the network. He and his college buddies get together every year for a fantasy football draft, and he tweets regularly about whatever game in on. Expect to see athletes as well as sports commentators on his new show, with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson part of his week one guest list.
Ask former SNL colleagues about Meyers, and one theme that comes up often is the role he played as caretaker. Andy Samberg, who made Meyers a groomsmen at his wedding last summer and considers him a "big brother," is one of many who shared a story of the former SNL head writer taking him under his wing when he first arrived at SNL. "Seth went out of his way to look out for me," Samberg recalled. "He'd be like, 'What are you working on? Can I help you?' Or 'Hey man, I'm going to this party, come with me.' My first-ever red carpet of any sort was with Seth. He said, 'There are going to be photographers at this place, so don't worry about it. I'll just tell them you're a new castmember and you'll stand with me and they'll take our picture.'"
And when they're not talking about Meyers "the caretaker," they're going on about Meyers "the fixer." What does that mean, exactly? Said his former SNL castmate and current bandleader Armisen, "If you picture yourself a kid and your video game console isn't working right, he's the one that comes in and says, 'Well, you got to disconnect the AV cables.' He takes things apart and makes things work." Michaels often relied on him to rewrite sketches in the hour-and-a-half window between dress rehearsal and the live show, and his former SNL producer-turned-current Late Night producer Mike Shoemaker suggests Meyers is the guy you go to when you're in a creative bind: "He's a problem-solver: It's Friday, we don't have the monologue; This person is weird; The host wants to play this; We have to deal with this subject."
Meyers' Late Night set took a little longer than expected. The delay: its locale directly above Jimmy Fallon's new Tonight Show studio, which required additional sound proofing thanks to house band The Roots. Meyers' eighth-floor set, which can house 183 audience members in its blue seats, was once home to Rosie O'Donnell's eponymous talk show and The Jane Pauley Show. Another perk: It's some 20 yards from the SNL stage, which will allow Meyers to grab SNL castmembers for Late Night appearances with relative ease.
He's tight with his "Update" replacement, Colin Jost. In fact, it was Jost who threw Meyers his big surprise going-away party on Jan. 30. The bash, which took place in the SNL writers room, was attended by Armisen, Samberg, Tina Fey, Bill Hader and some 70 other past and present colleagues. Meyers joked that he paid his successor back by spilling an entire cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee on the rug of his SNL office mere days before passing it down to Jost.
Meyers is a good host. OK, fine, we haven't seen him in the Late Night chair yet, but evidently he's great at hosting pals at the West Village apartment he shares with wife, Alexi. Meyers' "Weekend Update" head writer-turned-Late Night head writer Alex Baze spoke from experience: "If you go to his house to watch a game, he'll have food, he'll have beverages, he'll have the biggest TV available and he'll have all of the stats pulled up on his computer. He just takes care of people."
As soon as Meyers settles into the Late Night groove, he wants to get back into a pattern of doing stand-up on the weekends. (He's had to lay low since September given his workload at SNL and Late Night, to say nothing of the many affiliate trips.) Don't worry, he's not going to go all Jay Leno on us -- the guy has too many sporting events to watch, after all. But why the extra work? "I really like it" was his first answer. Plus, he pointed out, being "on the road with your wife for a couple days to cool cities is not a bad use of your time." And with a broadcast show airing nightly, his pick of cities and locales is poised to get a nice bounce.
He's a momma's boy … and a daddy's boy. But while Meyers is particularly close to his New Hampshire-based parents, talking to his father two to three times a week and his mother every Sunday, the couple will not be in the audience at Meyers' first Late Night the way Fallon had his parents at his first Tonight. "No one knows me as well as my parents, and I don't think they want to come to a show and see me pulling my hair out," Meyers joked, adding that they'll come once he's settled a month or two in just as they did 12 years earlier when he started out at SNL. (His younger brother Josh, also a comedian, will be in the audience week one.)
When Meyers first heard -- or rather, read in the paper-- his name in connection with the Late Night gig, he didn't give it too much weight. He had come across similar rumors about him replacing Regis Philbin on Kelly Ripa's morning show a year or two earlier, and he was never offered that gig. "I got the sense that this also might have been a case of someone very politely thinking that I'd be a good replacement and throwing it out there," he said. "I didn't put much stake in it being a thing that actually came from NBC." It moved from rumor to reality when Michaels tracked him down by phone while Meyers was on the road doing a stand-up gig last spring.
Though he'd like to claim credit, tapping Armisen as his bandleader wasn't his idea. It was Michaels who presented it to Meyers and producer Shoemaker a month or so ahead of launch. (Michaels reached out to Armisen, too.) "Lorne brought it up as an option and it was one of those things where, when he did, both Shoemaker and I were like, 'Please don't be saying something that you can't deliver because now the idea of it not being Fred would have been really hard to swallow,'" said Meyers. While Armisen remains coy about his role, Meyers confirms you'll eventually see Armisen do character work on his show.
When Michaels made him the Late Night offer, Meyers requested some time to think it over. (It took him about two weeks to get to "yes.") In addition to several conversations with friends including Samberg, Shoemaker and Baze, he and his wife made a list of pros and cons. Among the pros: the gig wouldn't be "boring" by comparison to SNL, he'd be able to use his skill-set, he could continue working with his mentor and he'd be able to stay in NYC. The only foreseeable cons: leaving SNL, by all accounts his dream job, and the camaraderie that comes with it. "You're part of a team as opposed to a mercenary," he said, "and you really feel that on Saturday's more than anything else."
There's something about his hometown. Few would be able to pinpoint Bedford, N.H., on a map, but it turns out the suburb was also home to former SNL staffers Adam Sandler and Sarah Silverman. He didn't know, either.
Meyers' tastes aren't exactly out of the box, but perhaps that's OK for a broadcast host. His favorite TV show? The Wire. Movie: Midnight Run. Album: Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. Book: Catch-22, which he rereads every three years. And comedy heroes: Michaels, Steve Martin, Woody Allen and Monty Python.
A few years into his run at SNL, Meyers found his groove as head writer and on "Update" in the role in which he's most comfortable: himself. The truth, he said, is that he was never very good at impressions, and was relieved when he could leave that job to Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis and the others. He remembers the former becoming clear when he was in his mid-20s doing a two-person show, Pickups & Hiccups, with Jill Benjamin. Said Meyers, "I would say, 'Keep an eye on Jill because she can play an incredible range of characters from all different parts of the world'; and then she would say, 'And keep an eye on Seth because he can play anyone from age 24 to 26.' " (He jokes that years later he'd head over to perform at UCB on Sunday nights with Poehler and even there he'd often play "the voice of reason.")
Meyers considers Michaels his mentor, but it took him awhile before he got to know the guy. In his early years at SNL, which he describes as particularly rough as he questioned his talents and versatility as a performer, he clung to an early quote Michaels had given to a Chicago-area newspaper about him. "He complimented my writing in a way that he'd never complimented me on the writing," Meyers recalled of the seminal interview. "I had so much self‑doubt about my role on the show that that became the thing I hung on to more than anything. Like, at least he thinks that."
Speaking of Michaels, Meyers suggests his SNL experience was vastly different than that of his predecessors. Among the reasons: the SNL impresario was a father during Meyers' run. "It's hard to imagine I got the same experience from Lorne that Dan Aykroyd did [in the late 1970s]," he said, adding: "[Lorne] was always someone I desperately sought approval from, but also over the years he got better and better at sort of giving it."