Seth Meyers on His Orlando Shooting Response, 'Late Night' Changes

"Everything we figured out in those first three weeks [before the show premiered] didn't work, and we only knew it didn't work from doing the show."
Courtesy of The Paley Center for Media
Seth Meyers and John Mulaney during their Paley Center talk in New York on Monday.

Just minutes after taping his Monday episode of Late Night, Seth Meyers joined his former Saturday Night Live colleague John Mulaney for a conversation at New York's Paley Center for Media. Amid catching up and reminiscing about their days on SNL, Meyers talked about how his version of Late Night has evolved since it first premiered in February 2014.

The set changed dramatically fairly early on; Meyers last year abandoned doing a traditional stand-up monologue for a set of opening jokes seated at his desk; and he's most recently started doing more "Closer Look" segments, in which he takes a deep dive into a topic in the news, often a political issue.

Monday night's show even opened with a "Closer Look," as opposed to his seated monologue, as Meyers devoted the first few minutes of the program to discussing the Orlando shooting that occurred the day before. Speaking with Mulaney, Meyers said he felt he "had to talk about it."

"We thought it would be a very strange thing to do a monologue without it and then get to it, so we opened with a 'Closer Look' tonight and we told the audience before the show started," Meyers explained. "We ended up having the perfect audience for it because I think they were respectful for the first five minutes and it did not ruin the rest of the experience for them in that they were great for the comedy … I think it was a very hard thing, especially for our show that talks about things in the news, it would have been weird to skip it."

He added, "There was a lot of talking today about what were the right words to use when talking about Orlando … It was about, is that really the message we want to give?"

While the "Closer Look" segments have been a part of Meyers' version of Late Night since he took over as host, the show initially did them only once or twice a month, with Meyers pointing out to Mulaney that initially they all came solely from him.

"So I would have to find the time to pull the piece together and find the research, which was really hard, so they weren't sustainable as a recurring thing with any regularity until we brought in people who were really good at it," he said.

Earlier on the red carpet, Meyers told The Hollywood Reporter that with additional writers they've been able to do those segments more frequently, aiming now to do them three or four times a week.

"As we hired new staff members, we started bringing in people that were more attuned to writing those kinds of pieces," he said. "We always liked them when we did it, I just didn't have the staff in place."

Meyers also spent the first year and a half of his show doing a traditional stand-up monologue at the top of the program, sitting down at his desk to open the show last August, in an unannounced move that led to a flurry of articles about him abandoning a late-night talk-show staple.

During their conversation, Mulaney and Meyers joked about the switch to Late Night's seated monologue being "moon-landing news," but in the 10 months since he sat down he hasn't gone back to standing up and Meyers told THR that his only regret about the switch is that he waited so long to make it.

"When I look back, I mostly reflect on how stubborn I was to wait that long to do it in the first place," he said. "Because as soon as I did it, it felt really natural and unforced and relieved every night that that's how it starts."

Speaking to Mulaney, Meyers reiterated what he's said in the past about feeling uncomfortable standing onstage and wondering what to do with his hands. While he still gestures with his hands at his desk, he feels like his hands can sort of "rest" there and when he was standing onstage delivering his monologue, Meyers joked that the opening "looked like a guy swatting bees."

The opening monologue is just one of many changes Meyers' Late Night has made in its 16 months on the air, including abandoning a lot of the SNL alum and his staff's initial ideas.

Meyers explained that since he wanted to stay at SNL for the first half of its 2013-2014 season, he only had three weeks working full-time with his Late Night writers before that show premiered. But that short development period turned out to be somewhat of a blessing.

"Everything we figured out in those first three weeks didn't work, and we only knew it didn't work from doing the show," Meyers said. "So if we'd had eight months, I think we just would have come up with eight months' worth of stuff [that didn't work]. … We had a different idea of what we thought the show would be. And you just have to learn by doing."

For example, Meyers pointed out that the show's initial plan to have his desk on a rotating arm so it could move as far downstage as possible to be close to the audience was an ill-conceived, dangerous idea.

He explained that going over to his desk after he delivered the monologue and introduced the band required him to run and move around the arm and jump onto the desk while it was moving.

"I think with all late night shows there's a thing of, 'We are settling in to something that is comfortable and familiar,'" he said. "No one wants to watch that person do an American Ninja Warrior-type thing: 'And now I will briefly risk my life and then jokes. But first the jump.'"

In fact, Meyers' initial set as a whole was completely redesigned during a break the show took when Meyers hosted the 2014 Emmys.

Meyers recalled that SNL and Late Night executive producer Lorne Michaels delivered a stinging critique of the set from Alec Baldwin.

"Alec says the show's great and you're going to be great, but he said the set looks like a sushi restaurant in Burbank," Meyers said, imitating Michaels.

Now that Meyers has settled into his current version of Late Night, there are aspects of it that seem conventional, but the host argued there's a reason for that.

"I think you hear a lot with talk shows, 'Oh, it's the same old thing.' But there's a lot of things that talk shows do because they work very well."

As for whether Meyers plans to do anything unusual, like have one guest for an entire show or do sketches outside, he admitted that there was one public figure he'd let takeover the whole hour and that there are a couple of reasons why his show doesn't do more things outside.

"My second show we had Kanye [West] on and we talked to him for two segments. I think if Kanye ever came back, I would happily give him the whole show. For real, it was so fascinating," Meyers said.

As for braving the concrete jungle of New York, Meyers first argued that Conan O'Brien is so good at outdoor bits that he doesn't want to compete, and, he said, laughing, "It's scary being outside for me," recalling a St. Patrick's Day excursion for Late Night in which he wanted to go back into the building after about two minutes.

Hulu, the official media sponsor of Monday's PaleyLive NY event, will make video of the conversation available for subscribers in a few days.