I was fortunate enough to get tickets to see the live taping of Late Night with Seth Meyers on Wednesday, April 2, 2014, just a few weeks since the show debuted with Seth Meyers as the host on February 17, 2014.
While I was living in London for 10 years, I missed Seth’s rise and reign at Saturday Night Live for 12 years beginning in 2001. He started as a cast member, then became the Head Writer, and was the longest running Anchor of Weekend Update from 2006 – 2013. He was on SNL longer than anyone else in the cast except for Daryl Hammond (1995 – 2009, best known for his Bill Clinton impersonation).
With all the press leading up to his debut, I was curious to learn more about Seth, the person, since all I knew of him was his 10 minute bit on Weekend Update. I did not realize he wrote such brilliant skits like The Palin Rap with a very pregnant Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton, rapping about Sarah Palin, in front of the real Sarah Palin. Audacious and brilliant. He was happiest behind the jokes watching the performers flourish. It was entertaining to watch him visit Martha Stewart’s farm and being completely disoriented since he’s more comfortable in a city (which I can relate to). One of his best friends, Amy Poehler, shares why Seth was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
What I discovered seems to be a humble 40-year old comedian who cannot believe his good fortune… from recently getting married to Alexi Ashe, to having his dream job at SNL, then being offered the job to host Late Night, which is the second most coveted position behind hosting The Tonight Show. He owes a lifetime of gratitude to his influential fairy godfather, Lorne Michaels, Creator of Saturday Night Live, who chose him for the enviable job.
I set my DVR to record The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and Late Night with Seth Meyers during their first few weeks on the air in February, making mental notes of how the two hosts and shows differ. It was tiresome to keep up with both. In the end, for me, Seth Meyers won out. As silly and fun as Jimmy can be with his guests, with karaoke battles, playing Pictionary and performing with Justin Timberlake, I realize that I learn nothing about his guests. Aside from Jimmy drooling over his guests with comments like “YOU’RE SO GREAT”, there was not much depth to what he had to say.
On the other hand, Seth Meyers, is intelligent, focused, pays attention, and asks relevant questions. Seems simple enough but no one does it very well on these talk shows. The interview should be about the guests, not the hosts, which most hosts seem to overlook. His genuine interest and quick wit serve him well, establishing a comfortable rapport and mutual respect with his guests.
A memorable moment was on his very first show, when Seth talked about how he and his wife went away for a romantic weekend at an inn. After breakfast, they discovered their car had a flat tire. “Here’s what I know about cars. When you have a flat tire, you call AAA,” suggested Seth the expert. They could not get cell service on their phones so his wife had to ask for help at the diner they ate at. A man comes out only to discover Seth, the husband, sitting in the car, playing scrabble on an iPad. He had to get out of the car holding their tiny dog, Frisbee, wearing a sweater, as he watched another man change the tire. His wife took a photo for posterity and evidence of Seth’s masculinity or lack thereof. It was an endearing story that gave you a glimpse of who he is – Mr. Self Deprecating, who is close to his family and friends.
“The articulate comic whose charm is deftly walking the balance beam between cool guy and geek was at his best when he was simply conversing.” A critic’s review on Metacritic.
One of my favorite shows in his first week on the air was when British actors and close friends, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, took over The Late Show – unexpected and spontaneous glee from seemingly serious 70 year old thespians.
Watching Seth Meyers LIVE
As I sat in the third row facing Seth Meyer’s desk, I was thrilled to have such a close view inside NBC’s Studio 8G at 30 Rockefeller Center. The intimate studio which seats less than 190 people looks much more spacious on tv with the wide angles of the camera. First, a comedian welcomed everyone and warmed up the crowd.
Then, The 8G Band led by SNL alum, Fred Armisen (star of Portlandia), came out and played an old throwback, Billy Idol’s Dancing with Myself. Fred was singing as if he was his SNL character Ian Rubbish, the British Rocker, created for Fred by his friend, Seth Meyers. Fred bid farewell to SNL after 11 years in May 2013 and is now the band leader of The 8G Band. Each night he and Seth have an ongoing improv about Fred making things up in conversation like this week’s amusement park called “Clayland” in Arizona and a dessert called “water indulgence” which is cold water served in a shallow dish. Last night, Fred talked about a spa in the Chicago suburbs where you sit around a model of the Chicago suburbs for 20 minutes as a treatment, making you feel larger than life? Peculiar but funny and true to Fred Armisen’s sense of humor, as seen in Portlandia.
Before the show started taping, Seth came out to say hello to the audience – a nice personal touch.
NBC Sports Anchor Bob Costas was the first guest and had a ‘minder’ come in and put the Stanley Cup (hockey trophy) on Seth’s desk for a quick second. The hilarious Steve Coogan came to promote his upcoming Alan Partridge movie, a British character he has played for over 20 years. When they showed the movie clip on the screens, it was not pixelated to mask Mr. Coogan’s private parts in all their glory, as opposed to the taped PG-version that aired on tv (thank goodness). The Kratt Brothers came out with a Burmese python, lemur and baby kangaroo. Seth looked amusingly uncomfortable. I was afraid that the lemur or kangaroo were going to leap towards the audience, but they did not.
There is so much hype behind The Tonight Show’s band, The Roots, from Philadelphia. During the commercial breaks, Late Night’s 8G Band held their own and entertained the crowd, as Seth Meyers stood on the sidelines bopping his head to the music.
While the South African band, Kongos, set up, Seth Meyers came over to the audience and opened it up to questions that he answered. Very kind of him. The Kongos played their most popular song, Come With Me Now.
The production was a well-oiled machine. Happy to contribute with laughs, claps and cheers.
Timeline of The Tonight Show and Late Night Hosts
It has been quite the merry-go-round of talk show hosts and Saturday Night Live alums in recent months. Let’s review a brief history of talk show hosts and drama stemming from the popularity contests (ratings).
The Tonight Show, airs 11:35pm on NBC
1962 – 1992: Hosted by Johnny Carson, King of Talk Show Hosts for 30 years; first 10 years of the show were filmed in New York and moved to California in 1972
1992 – 2009: Hosted by Jay Leno (17 years)
June 2009 – January 2010: Briefly hosted by Conan O’Brien (an 8-month stint); Conan moved on to host his own show on cable network TBS
March 2010 – February 2014: Return of host Jay Leno (4 years)
February 2014 – present: Hosted by Jimmy Fallon and back in Studio 6B at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York, where Johnny Carson originally hosted the show from 1962 – 1972; Lorne Michaels, Executive Producer and Founder of Saturday Night Live in 1975, was instrumental in choosing Jimmy Fallon for The Late Show, which he produced and now continues producing for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
The Late Show, airs 12:35pm on NBC
1982 – 1993: Hosted by David Letterman, who was rumored to take over The Tonight Show in 1992 when Johnny Carson retired; Here is a look into the tv archives of Johnny Carson asking Dave how he felt about not taking over for him; Dave moved on to host his own show on CBS, Late Show with David Letterman for over 20 years; he announced that he is planning to retire in 2015 and Stephen Colbert will be his successor
1993 – 2009: Hosted by Conan O’Brien (a Saturday Night Live writer from 1987 – 1991), who was an unknown chosen by SNL Executive Producer, Lorne Michaels; Conan left New York to host The Tonight Show in California when Jay Leno moved to a show at an earlier time slot, but was quickly replaced by Jay Leno who returned to his old post; not fair to Conan (Note: I showed my support for Team Conan by watching his comedy tour)
2009 – 2014: Hosted by Jimmy Fallon, who was part of the Saturday Night Live cast from 1998 – 2004; he was also chosen by SNL Executive Producer, Lorne Michaels, to host the show; in his 5-year tenure, Jimmy’s popular (musical) skits and games went viral on social media, with NBC executives taking notice of the younger audience Jimmy was attracting
2014 – present: Hosted by Seth Meyers in Studio 8G at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York, where the Rosie O’Donnell and Phil Donahue shows were taped previously; once again, Lorne Michaels, Saturday Night Live (SNL) Founder, also handpicked his loyal SNL Head Writer, Seth Meyers, to be the new host of The Late Show, which he serves as Executive Producer, along with Mike Shoemaker, a former SNL Producer