Seth Meyers has made no secret of his love for Rihanna. As the “Late Night” host told Jimmy Fallon in February, he’s “fully in love” with the pop star slash business mogul (he clarified that his wife is fine with it because “she’s also in love with Rihanna — it’s what we have in common”). And yet he never was able to get Rihanna to come on his show until this week, when Meyers revealed that he had spent Wednesday shooting back tequila with her for his “Day Drinking” segment, in which the host gets ridiculously drunk with a celebrity guest instead of sitting through a traditional interview. (Past guests have included Kelly Clarkson, Ina Garten, and Meyers’ entire family.)
“Day Drinking with Rihanna,” in all its messy glory, aired on Thursday’s show in lieu of a monologue. Within just a few hours of shooting, Meyers and Rihanna downed themed drinks (including the “Bitch Better Have My Bunny,” i.e. a hollow chocolate bunny full of tequila), practiced pickup lines, tried out her Fenty Beauty makeup line, and had a wild, unabashed singalong to her hit song “Work.”
Variety spoke with Meyers the day after the segment dropped to talk about how it all came together, if Rihanna lived up to his sky-high expectations (spoiler: yes), and why the “kids reading this” should not mimic their questionable drinking strategies.
How are you doing? I was impressed that you made it to the show yesterday.
Yes, I think everybody was.
You’ve wanted to have Rihanna on the show for a long time, so how did this happen?!
I give all credit to Jeremiah Silva, who’s our music booker. Obviously, he also was aware how much I wanted Rihanna to be on the show, so over the past two years he’s been telling me that he’s making progress, and that he thought “Day Drinking” would be a good idea. It struck me as wishful thinking, but looking at it now…it paid off.
When was it confirmed that you were going to do this? Did it come together quickly, or had it been in the works for a while?
I think we knew for about six weeks. She gave us a date, and historically when we’ve done “Day Drinking” it’s been on a day without a show, because it goes without saying that it would be impossible to do a show that night. So we actually had to go to the network and say, “hey, we want to show a mid-week rerun,” which we never do, “in order to do Day Drinking with Rihanna.” And it was a very speedy approval from NBC.
I do want to point out that this was only the second time we’ve had to cancel a show, and the other was the birth of my first son. For the birth of my second son, I just went to work the next day. So the order goes, my first son, Rihanna, my second son.
I feel like your second son will understand.
Yeah, he will. Once I introduce him to her work, I think he will applaud the decision.
Having wanted her as a guest for so long, how was it to not just meet her but do something as intense as this bonding experience?
I had said hello to her a few times when she came through at “SNL,” but certainly never had anywhere near the kind of interaction I had within five minutes of day drinking, when I talked to her more than I ever had in my life. The thing about her that didn’t just strike me, but struck every single person who was there, she was immediately so friendly and relatable, and it became clear that she was down for the idea and what it entailed.
You can plan what you think you’re going to do with “Day Drinking,” but you understand that the best moments are going to be what happens in between, and what kind of drinker this person is. We had no intention for her to be chugging beer, but when she did that, I think it was a signal to everyone involved and everyone watching it that we were going to take off full speed ahead.
I’m so stuck on the tequila shooters in the chocolate bunny. I don’t know who came up with it, but I applaud them and am worried for them.
Over the weeks the writers on this piece — Amber Ruffin, Jenny Hagel, Seth Weiss, Ben Warheit, and Mike Karnell was the director — were just coming up with ideas, and [themed drinks] is something we’ve always done, like with Kelly Clarkson. It’s really just a way to start drinking. The thing about “Bitch Better Have My Bunny” is that I said we should have a knife [to open them] and Mike said no, we’ll score it so it’s easy to twist off. I don’t know which writer came up with that very funny idea, but I’m sure whichever one forget to score the second bunny isn’t too upset.
How many hours was it altogether?
Two and a half, three, maybe?
Oh! I thought it would be much longer and now I’m even more concerned about how quickly you drank all that.
I should say, for the kids reading this piece, 1) you shouldn’t drink, and 2) if you do, you shouldn’t drink like this. But you have to get drunk pretty fast for it to cut together well. It’s also like, you can’t say that Rihanna has nothing better to do. Everything she has to do is better than drinking with me! So we were just very cognizant of her time.
Was there anything that you learned about Rihanna that particularly surprised you?
She’s really just a very…I mean, look, if she had never shown up, I also would have been fine. I’ve gotten enough from Rihanna, her just being in the world, I feel I’ll never quite deserve. So the very fact that she showed up and was so game to do it was such an awesome gift to us. But the really nice thing was that in the moments between shooting, she is the easiest person to talk to. That was the fun part.
Of course, I should say that drinking on camera is unfortunately like drinking in real life, in that it’s fun, and then you wake up the next morning and are like, “oh my god, what happened?!” Unlike the times when you drink with your friends at a bar and call them to see how you embarrassed yourself, this was filmed and was going to air a day later so you’ll see exactly what you did. So it’s a very interesting journey.
Was there anything you were sad to lose that you wish could’ve stayed in?
No…I did sing a version of “Only Girl in the World,” but that was pretty rough to listen to. It turns out that a lot of her work is outside my register. To be honest with you, we were looking for other things to cut because it’s long. We did have to drop the monologue for the first time in a while…maybe the first time since the 2016 election?! So it was historic.
Looking back, I almost wish it was two hours longer. The best moments are the ones that are just Rihanna being Rihanna that we never could’ve planned for nor written. I mean, my god, some of her one-liners are better than anything you’ll hear on any comedy show!
Her advice for you and your wife [in which Meyers asks Rihanna how he can blow his wife away and Rihanna answers “you said it: blow her away”] has been getting a lot of pickup.
I genuinely had no idea what she was saying, and then what I realized how perfectly timed it was…I mean, it was so perfectly delivered.
You also have to know she’s pretty game to get in a “Battleship” dig.
Yes! And by the way, I had no intention of making that joke until that very moment and that fully came out of being super drunk, fully appreciating how much fun she was to be around, and being pretty confident that she would have a great reaction.
So how does this experience stack up against your other Day Drinking segments?
Well, I first want to give credit where it’s due to Retta. This was originally supposed to be me drinking with my family, and Retta was the guest who reached out and said, “I want to do this with Seth.” We never thought this would be me drinking with guests. So she started it. They’ve all been really different but very fun. To say yes to this as an idea, you’re already the right kind of person for it.
The thing that I want everyone to watch it to know is that Rihanna was exactly that much fun every minute the camera wasn’t rolling. There’s no on/off switch to her charm or charisma.
Do you have another dream “Day Drinking” guest?
I think I just want to bask in this for a little bit longer, you know? I don’t want Rih to think I’m just moving on that quickly.