When reached by phone at his office last week on the eighth floor of 30 Rock in downtown Manhattan, Seth Meyers sounded relaxed and in his element. It was three and a half hours before that night’s taping of Late Night With Seth Meyers, the second episode after a restful spring break in mid-April. During his two weeks away from the show, Meyers, 43, took a necessary breather from the relentless Trump news cycle, a constant source of material for Meyers’ politically minded iteration of the Late Night franchise. But now that he was back, Meyers actually felt relieved that he once again had an outlet for processing the madness of the last three months.
“It’s not that I’m sitting there watching the news and thinking, ‘Oh, I wish we could be on to get the sweet jokes that this is providing,'” Meyers says. “It’s more that telling the same story with jokes is a nice way to break it down and make it easier for me to digest.”
He adds wryly, “Hopefully we provide a service to the audience as well.”
It’s only been three years and some change since Meyers assumed Jimmy Fallon’s chair on Late Night in February 2014 (after a 13-year stint as a writer and cast member on Saturday Night Live). But in a late-night field that was destabilized in the wake of an older generation’s departure — Leno, Letterman, Stewart — Meyers has already attained a certain gravitas that sets him apart from the pack. Along with Stephen Colbert, as well as weekly hosts John Oliver and Samantha Bee, Meyers has established himself as a nightly source for smart, incisive and occasionally infuriated political comedy. His “A Closer Look” segment — launched in September 2015 and modeled after the “jokes plus surprisingly thorough reporting” monologues pioneered by Stewart — has become a valuable source of viral content for a show that initially struggled to make a digital imprint in the shadow of Fallon’s celebrity-driven Tonight Show. While Meyers wasn’t sure at first if viewers would still be engaged with politics after the election, “A Closer Look” has remained a near-nightly staple on Late Night, and helped generate reams of positive press for the affable but tough Meyers.
At times, the line between comedian and journalist has blurred for Meyers, perhaps even more than it did for Stewart. Late Night‘s most celebrated moment of 2017 thus far was a rigorous interview that Meyers conducted with Kellyanne Conway just hours after CNN published a sensational dossier charging that the Russians had compromising personal and financial information on Donald Trump. Meyers was widely praised for politely yet aggressively questioning the ever-elusive Conway, in a manner that was more reminiscent of Jake Tapper than Meyers’ easy-going Late Night predecessor, Jimmy Fallon. In fact, as Meyers has become a media darling, reporters have often praised Meyers by criticizing Fallon, whose infamous Tonight Show segment with Trump from last September continues to haunt him.
During a break before in his day before that night’s taping, Meyers spoke about pacing himself during the maelstrom of Trump’s first 100 days, feeling more comfortable about getting angry on-camera, whether there’s a rivalry between him and Fallon, and why Trump is justified if he thinks Meyers is a “smug f*ucker.”
Amazingly, we’re only about three months into the Trump administration. It already feels like two years.
Yeah, I was thinking that pretty early on we did “A Closer Look” about the Carrier air conditioner factory. That feels like the Teapot Dome scandal.
This is obviously a great time for political comedy, as for the audience being engaged. But do you worry that we’re on the verge of burnout? We can’t keep up this pace forever.
I really want to stress how wrong I’ve been at predicting the future over the course of the last few years, because I actually thought when he won that people wouldn’t want to watch the kind of hosts that talk about this stuff. That they’d be so bummed out that it went this way, that we’d be in trouble because of that. It turns out that I was wrong and it’s been really refreshing that people do want have the news be the crux of shows like mine, which is great.
I do always doubt the permanence of anything with shows like this, and I’m very aware that people, at some point, might say, “You know what? Enough. I don’t really wanna take any more ‘Closer Looks.’ I wanna step back.” The nice thing for us is we’re only good at the one thing, so we have to do it no matter what. Hopefully, people will maintain [the appetite] for it.
Do you ever feel hemmed in by politics? You and Stephen Colbert are the two hosts with nightly shows that people expect to comment on whatever happens during the day. Do you personally ever get burned out by the deathless Trump news cycle?
Early in my run on this show, I ran into Paul Shaffer, and I was saying to him, “I’ve been doing this for a year and I actually like this schedule more than SNL,” and he just looked at me sideways and said, “Yeah, you’ve been doing it for a year, you can’t talk about how easy it is.” In general, even talking about Trump, we’re very early on in it. I do think there’s a chance of burnout for us, but right now, we think what’s happening is important. We like talking about important things. We feel like that makes our show for us, both the writing and the performing of it feel a little bit more vital. It’s a lot harder when you’re kind of going to page eight or nine of the New York Times for your story.
We certainly are still pretty fresh in regards to our energy for doing this kind of show. Again, I’m not particularly good at looking very far into the distance. I think we’re happy that we’re doing it tonight, and I’m happy we will do it tomorrow, and we’ll see how it feels months from now.