Seth Meyers Rates the Presidential Candidates as ‘Late Night’ Guests

Seth Meyers Political Candidates
Courtesy of NBC

Just about every presidential contender has appeared on “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” except one.

But some would say it’s no wonder Donald Trump hasn’t parted the curtains on the NBC talk show. As Trump assumed the status of Republican front runner this winter, Meyers got renewed attention for his role as the featured entertainer at the White House Correspondents Assn. dinner in 2011, in which he and President Obama skewered and mocked Trump, who was in the room and did not look happy. The New York Times even cited the moment as a source of Trump’s drive to be taken seriously, and not be humiliated again.

Meyers says he doesn’t agree with the premise, and notes that “Late Night” had Trump booked at one point, but that the candidate had to back out “not for any reason outside the normal campaign reasons.” Still, he allows, “I wouldn’t want to put myself in Donald Trump’s head, mostly for lack of synonyms.”

In the two years since he took over “Late Night,” Meyers has given the show a newsier, more political bent. He sits, not stands, for the monologue. He does an extended segment on a single topic, called A Closer Look — and Trump has been a target. This cycle, the show has put a premium on landing the top candidates.

“The best guests are the ones who see [the show] as a break from the monotony of the campaign,” he says. “And the worst guests are the ones who use it as another chapter in the monotony of the campaign — who say, ‘I will say the same things here I say everywhere else, and hopefully we will reach a different audience.’ ”

Ted Cruz, he says, was a “great guest” who was “very agile on his feet in a way that the audience appreciated right away.” Meyers notes that Cruz has a debate-team background, which is helpful, since “being a talk-show guest is about processing information quickly and [formulating] a pithy comeback.”

“In the beginning I probably had too much respect for them as politicians and didn’t cut them off as much as I should have.”
Seth Meyers

But he warns that candidates who arrive with their own scripted humor can end up falling flat. “Lindsey Graham would be a better talk-show guest if he didn’t show up with five jokes in his back pocket,” Meyers says. “Everything I have heard about him is that he is a genuinely funny person, but I remember there was something a little bit hammy about his appearance.”

In a recent return stint on “Late Night,” John Kasich talked about, among other things, the possibility of a contested convention and his mistake of eating pizza with a knife. Kasich still seemed a tad fidgety, but Meyers says that afterward, the Ohio governor said to him, “Oh, that was much easier the second time.’ ”

Meyers says Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tend to be a bit looser when they appear on a late-night show because of the general atmosphere in the studio. “They feel a friendlier audience,” he explains.

The host notes that while candidate appearances are no longer unique, there are still challenges for the guest and for him: The goal is to make entertaining television.

“In general, with politicians, talking for 10 minutes uninterrupted is their dream,” he says. “So strangely, you as a host have to interrupt them, which is a tricky thing to do. In the beginning, I probably had too much respect for them as politicians and didn’t cut them off as much as I should have. I think I have gotten better at it as we have gone along.”

Meyers says that if Trump were to come on the show, he’d “make for very good television,” but he doesn’t believe that’s going to happen. “I think at this point, we are perfectly satisfied with not having him on.”

He says he and Trump had a “nice exchange” two years ago at the “Saturday Night Live” 40th anniversary, but he has little doubt that Trump remembered that 2011 dinner.

“I feel like every year, after the correspondents dinner, he goes on ‘Fox and Friends’ and talks about how good the comedian was compared to me, who was ‘terrible,’ ” Meyers says. “And that, to me, is the highest praise, that he is still upset about it.”

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