×

‘Late Night With Seth Meyers’ Writers on Trump Era Political Comedy, Creating a Network of Support

Political comedy isn’t easy in the Trump era. For “Late Night With Seth Meyers” writers, the process to come up with nightly jokes is already intense — or as Ally Hord describes it, “a masterclass in failure” — but the unpredictability of the Trump administration has exacerbated it tenfold.

“Since Trump became president, he breaks a lot of news at like 6:15 p.m., so sometimes we have a late, late, late deadline right before the show so Seth can get in that one last joke about how [Trump] fired 30 people,” Hord said at a Paley Center for Media panel for the show in New York Tuesday.

The current political climate has changed their dynamic in other ways, too. The day Alabama passed the nation’s strictest abortion law, Karen Chee vividly recalls “waking up feeling like, ‘Oh my god, I don’t have control over my own body.’” She and the other women in the writers’ room found themselves texting on the way to work, already reaching for ways to process the event.

“We were all angry, but we were also like, ‘Yeah, I’ll put some jokes on the Google Doc.’ ‘Yeah, I’ll read your jokes,’” she said. “It felt very therapeutic on what was otherwise a really dark day.” By the time Meyers asked if they wanted to write on the ban, they had already finished two full scripts.

“Since the election, we’ve had so much rage and anger that you don’t know what to do with it,” Hord added, noting the significance of having “a platform where you can sublimate it into something that gets a few laughs and hopefully helps women who are watching take a breath.”

From the Women’s March to the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, Hord said, the show has allowed them “to come out and speak our minds and find an angle that’s funny. I really appreciated that, because it’s helped stop me from drinking a bottle of red wine every night.”

When Jenny Hagel first pitched “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell,” Meyers told Variety, “it was the closest to an audible gasp that we’ve had on ‘Late Night.’ It’s such a clean comedy idea, and it makes so much sense right away — the idea that there are jokes that wouldn’t work if I said them, and yet they’re as good as the ones I can say. It was just such a smart way to minimize waste. Like opening a recycling plant.

His staffers’ insights have also proven invaluable outside of recurring segments and the nightly monologue: He’s learned to trust them “not just in what they write for us, but also in the other writers they bring to us,” he said.

For example, Hagel came to “Late Night” with the backing of Amber Ruffin, who was already on staff.

“I didn’t have an agent, and in my experience, it’s a lot harder for women to get agents than men,” Hagel said. “When women and people of color create networks to help each other out, that tends to lead to those jobs more, whereas the traditional channels are more open to straight white men.”

It was this sense of solidarity that prompted Hagel, Ruffin and Hord to take Chee under their wing when they first met while writing for the Golden Globes.

“I think if you’re a woman who works in comedy, you’ve been the only one in the room,” said Hagel. “You know that feeling of, ‘Oh, I don’t think she knows anybody else here.’ And so, I think we made a point to be like, ‘Oh, we have this assignment, do you want to write with us?’”

Having more women in the room also emboldens them to take risks they might not have otherwise, as they’re in constant contact across email threads and group texts, which they use to test-drive new material.

“Sometimes we’ll throw a joke out, and we can respond like, ‘That’s not too far; that’s great,’” Hord said. “It definitely feels good because someone in the room will get it. I’ll feel heard no matter what.”

 

Pictured: (L-R) Amber Ruffin, Ally Hord, Seth Meyers on “Late Night With Seth Meyers”

More TV

  • T-Pain, Faheem Rashad Najm. T-Pain performs

    TV News Roundup: 'T-Pain's School of Business' Sets August Premiere

    In today’s roundup, “T-Pain’s School of Business” sets an August 6 premiere on Fuse, and OWN greenlights a new talks series. EXECUTIVE NEWS Matt Brodlie is leaving his role as director of original film at Netflix to join the Disney+ content marketing team as senior vice president of international content development. In his new role, [...]

  • Songs for Screens Powered by Mac

    Songs For Screens: Labrinth on Scoring HBO’s Drake-Produced Drama 'Euphoria'

    British singer-songwriter Labrinth (née Timothy Lee McKenzie) has been having one of the biggest years of his nearly decade-long career, from the April release of his collaborative album with L.S.D. (a.k.a. Labrinth Sia & Diplo) to his starring role in the latest campaign for MINI, where he reinterprets Cole Porter’s cowboy classic “Don’t Fence Me [...]

  • The Office

    'The Office' to Stream Exclusively on NBCUniversal Service Beginning in 2021

    NBCUniversal announced Tuesday that it will begin streaming “The Office” exclusively on its standalone streaming service beginning in 2021. The popular comedy series will leave Netflix once the current deal with NBCU expires at the end of 2020, the same year that NBCU plans to launch its ad-supported streaming service. All nine seasons of the [...]

  • 'Lincoln Lawyer' Series in Development at

    'Lincoln Lawyer' Series in Development at CBS from David E. Kelley

    David E. Kelley is returning once more to the court of legal dramas. CBS has issued a series production commitment for “The Lincoln Lawyer,” with Kelley in position to pen and executive produce. Based on the series of bestselling novels by Michael Connelly, the show hails from A+E Studios in association with CBS TV Studios. [...]

  • Patrick Somerville'Maniac' TV Show premiere, London,

    'Maniac' Creator to Helm 'Made for Love,' 'Station Eleven' for WarnerMedia

    “Maniac” creator Patrick Somerville has signed on to helm two new series, “Made for Love” and “Station Eleven,” for WarnerMedia’s upcoming streaming service. “Made for Love,” which will be executive produced and directed by S.J. Clarkson, is a 10-episode, straight-to-series adaptation based on the novel of the same name by Alissa Nutting. The half-hour comedy [...]

  • Naomi Watts and Gretchen Carlson'The Loudest

    ‘The Loudest Voice’ Stars Naomi Watts, Russell Crowe Talk Roger Ailes

    Roger Ailes may have been the force behind the creation of Fox News, but the late newsman’s legacy will forever be his atrocious sexual harassment of several of the network’s female anchors and producers. Showtime premiered its new limited series “The Loudest Voice,” which chronicles Ailes’ rise and fall, on Monday night at the Paris [...]

  • Steve McQueen VSS

    Amazon to Launch Steve McQueen's Anthology Series ‘Small Axe’ in the U.S.

    Amazon has boarded “Small Axe,” the upcoming anthology series from “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen, and will launch the series in the U.S. It will bow on the BBC in the U.K. and BBC Studios is selling it internationally. Amazon’s European content chief Georgia Brown revealed its involvement in the series, Tuesday, at [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content