‘Late Night’s Seth Meyers Talks 1,000 Shows, ‘A Closer Look’, Amber Ruffin, ‘The Thorn Birds’ & Weighing A Return To The Studio
Seth Meyers has, like the rest of the late-night community, been doing his NBC talkshow from his own house since the end of March.
Late Night With Seth Meyers, filmed in the comedian’s attic, has been gaining particular steam thanks to his A Closer Look segments, which dissect the craziness of the news, as well as Amber Ruffin’s takeover of the start of his show following the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests against police brutality.
Taking over from Jimmy Fallon in 2014, Meyers has now made more than 1,000 episodes of his show, which is run by Mike Shoemaker and exec produced by Lorne Michaels.
Deadline spoke to Meyers during his two-week hiatus, which he said he was enjoying but admitted that he was “chomping at the bit” to return to structure, even if wasn’t the structure he was used to.
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DEADLINE: Congratulations on 1,000 shows; I bet you didn’t think six years ago, you’d be doing this from your attic.
Seth Meyers: If you’d have said what was more likely, to hit 1,000 episodes or I’d do any shows from my attic, I’d have picked 1,000. The nice thing was that it stopped us having to do anything celebratory, which I always find awkward and I don’t know how to respond to so it was nice to just quietly do it.
DEADLINE: You’re not the new boy in late-night television anymore, it seems.
Seth Meyers: It was shocking how quickly it changed. I felt like I was a new guy in late night for like five minutes because so many dominoes fell when I started doing it. John Oliver was just after me, James Corden and Trevor Noah and a handful of others. I didn’t get to be the new guy for long but equally I didn’t expect to hit 1,000 this quickly.
DEADLINE: Now you’re doing the show from your attic rather than Studio 8G in 30 Rock, how has your day changed?
Seth Meyers: I know it’s strange to talk about things that are a little bit nicer during these awful times but because of the necessity of having to upload things sooner, because people are doing graphics from their apartments with less than optimal internet to get it to the network, I wrap around 4:30pm rather than getting home at 8:30pm. So, I am seeing my kids more. That’s been nice, they’re not bad people. My wife was right, I just had to spend some time with them. They’re going to think it’s such bullshit when this thing is over and I tell them I have to go to an office building. They’re going to say ‘wait a second, I just think you want an office with a door, you just want to go to somewhere where someone else can get you coffee’.
DEADLINE: Your ‘A Closer Look Segments’ really seem to be popping, I guess helped by the craziness in the news right now.
Seth Meyers: It’s enjoyable and cathartic to process through the news that way. It takes up the biggest share of our show and can run up to 15 minutes and it’s the most work that we put into any element of the show, so it’s rewarding that it’s something that people like and it’s thrilling to put together so quickly. When we started this show in 2014, I don’t need to tell anyone who’s reading that it was a different time, you felt some responsibility to pay some attention during the weekend or hiatus week for things you’d want to talk about when you got back. But the reality is, I really don’t need to know what is going on today. For instance, these Supreme Court cases are probably not going to be news when we get back to work on Monday, there’ll be something else happening. It’s both terrifying but also provides freedom to tune out when there’s not a show that night.
DEADLINE: The news cycle is so crazy, I imagine Sal Gentile, who writes that segment is just writing 24 hours a day.
Seth Meyers: Sal has a new born, so he spent two weeks, I presume, shouting the news at his four month old so it will be a great service to that child’s development to get Sal back in front of a computer.
DEADLINE: ‘A Closer Look’ now accounts for nearly 60% of the shows YouTube views in the time-frame, averaging over 3.3M views per instalment. Do you mind people watching the show on YouTube?
Seth Meyers: God, no. The conventional wisdom when we started our show was that the most successful things online were shorter pieces and it wasn’t going to be something that you could hold their attention for as long as we’re lucky to with A Closer Look. We’re happy people consume it and the reality is, we’re not particularly good at the flashier affair so the fact that people are willing to go along with us that provides context about the news, that we hope is both entertaining and helpful, has been great.
DEADLINE: How has your team, including showrunner Mike Shoemaker and head writer Alex Baze adapted to the new way of working?
Seth Meyers: We adapted to that part pretty quickly. The way it worked was Sal would write a first draft and you’d either get it the night before or the morning of, then Baze and I would take a pass at it and then we’d all get together at noon with a seven person Closer Look team, and read through it one last time, looking for cuts and seeing if the new jokes work. It’s all just slid forward an hour and we’re doing a Zoom call at 11am, which is basically serving the same purpose as it did before. The adjustment hasn’t been that hard because so much of it was based on Sal’s individual skills as a writer, which he can continue to exercise remotely and then Baze and I going in and adding jokes, so Zoom has been a serviceable solution.
DEADLINE: Amber Ruffin really stepped up to another level recently. How do you think she’s grown on the show?
Seth Meyers: She came in fully formed so growth, it’s more like we’ve come to understand that she can do anything. Her and Jenny Hagel, who she does the lion’s share of her writing with, they’re just self-starters, which is the most you could ask for. Every now and then, something will happen and we’ll say ‘I think Amber and Jenny could come up with something good for this’ and by the time we get to their office, they’ve already written it because they could smell it before we could. She’s an incredible mix, a great writer, very funny, exudes this joyous optimism, yet she’s really good at talking about these things that are heartbreaking and real and she is a person who loves life. When she speaks about the things that are painful, people listen to her in a way that is really resonant.
DEADLINE: Her segments when she took over the top of the show at the start of the Black Lives Matters protests were particularly powerful.
Seth Meyers: We asked a lot of her. Amber could have written something for me, she has that skill and she does it often but it didn’t feel like it would have the same strength unless it was coming from her. She also quickly suggested that she could do this every day this week and it wasn’t just a case of being four times as powerful, it was exponentially more powerful that somebody like Amber, you couldn’t believe they would have these interactions.
DEADLINE: Jokes Seth Can’t Tell also seems particularly relevant right now.
Seth Meyers: They, of course, knew it was relevant long before we did. The really fun part and my favourite part of sitting between them, many of their jokes are way too close to the bone but they’re so charming they survive through it. I’m sure if I told those same jokes, I’d be carried out and tossed into the Hudson river.
DEADLINE: How are you finding telling jokes in an empty room?
Seth Meyers: I’m a little scared about this because I’m really coming to like it. It might be like the way that Jack Nicholson thought he wrote a great book in The Shining, it wasn’t until someone else read it that he got the sense that it wasn’t as good as he thought it was. It is really fun to be alone in the attic.
DEADLINE: One of the challenges that seems to be looming is getting guests on the show with few people having anything to promote. How will you manage?
Seth Meyers: It does provide us with an opportunity to get guests that might not have had the same opportunity to be on late night to talk about issues. The more these issues permeate, they’re right at the front of the queue, if you will. What I definitely feel the most is being in person with someone, it’s a lot harder [online], just that half second delay, where you think ‘I’m not going to interject because it might lead to one of those strange, ‘you go, no I go’ moments. Of all the technical shortcomings, that’s by far the hardest. Even just being able to go backstage before a show and say hi to someone, I miss that as well. That’s a good way of clocking, especially if I haven’t met them before, what a person is like.
DEADLINE: Are you able to think past this year? You’re contracted through to 2021.
Seth Meyers: The only thing I think about now is schools in the fall because as a parent, that’s where your heads at and how is this going to affect the future of the show. That all seems small compared to the future of our families and our health. I don’t think I’m alone in having those fears as opposed to when we’re going to get back to the studio.
DEADLINE: Have you thought about when you will return to the studio?
Seth Meyers: We’ve had conversations. The biggest thing to weigh is that you don’t want to put anyone’s health in jeopardy for the sake of being back in the studio. I think we’ll be ok because other shows will do it and we’ll learn from them. No one who has a show like mine is going to put anyone at risk so it will be interesting to watch as it moves forward, what safety measures people put in place.
DEADLINE: Have you spoken to your late-night peers about this?
Seth Meyers: When this started we all talked a fair amount. Especially in a situation like this, I don’t think any of us are competitive when it comes to the safety of the people we work with so it’s nice to have conversations about that.
DEADLINE: Conan has started doing his show in a Largo; are there any empty comedy clubs near you that you could use?
Seth Meyers: No, but I do think when this is over I’m going to turn the attic into a comedy club because of the acoustics.
DEADLINE: Or a bookshop given the focus on The Thorn Birds book you have on your desk.That’s a joke that keeps giving.
Seth Meyers: I tip my cap in your kindness of calling it a joke. I would say at its absolutely height, it’s whimsy. It is amazing what has the capacity to tickle you when you’re slowly losing your mind. It came from the idea that the earliest observation of this time was what books have people got and it struck me as the funniest book to have because I feel you just can’t figure out what I’m trying to say.
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