Prior to becoming the host of “Late Night” in 2014, Seth Meyers was the head writer on “Saturday Night Live” for 12 and a half years. After returning to host the show in 2018, Meyers said he was humbled.
“I felt like I had to apologize to so many hosts from my time there,” Meyers said on Monday night during a storyteller conversation at the Tribeca Festival. “When I was the head writer there, a lot of times the host would call you into their dressing room and say, ‘I don’t like this joke’ or ‘I don’t like the monologue.’ In the back of my head, all I ever thought was, ‘Fucking shut up and do it… Trust us. Just do it. We wrote it.’”
He continued, “Then I was the host and all of a sudden it was like, ‘Oh, I don’t like this joke. Oh no, I don’t like this sketch.’ When the writers came into my room, I was like, ‘Oh man, [being] the host is terrifying’… I just assumed it was easy and it was a whirlwind.”
Joining Meyers on stage was former “SNL” cast member Aidy Bryant, who joined the sketch comedy series in 2012 when Meyers was still head writer. Although he would exit the show two years later, Bryant raved about how much her writing improved while working under Meyers.
“He really was the most generous, truly kind, helpful,” Bryant told the audience. “I was always so impressed because Seth would read over every single writer’s [and] every cast member’s script on Tuesday night at like five in the morning. And just to give people like ‘Oh, maybe cut this’ or ‘Punch this up, here’s some jokes for this page.’ Not everyone does that.”
After starring on “SNL” for a decade, Bryant left the show last month alongside longtime stars Kate McKinnon, Kyle Mooney and Pete Davidson.
Meyers said that the time he spent on “SNL” flew by. “It either feels like I left yesterday or 100 years ago, but it doesn’t feel like it’s eight years ago,” Meyers told Bryant. “The fact that you have left is crazy to me, somebody that was very much like a new little baby bird fresh out of the egg in the nest.”
Bryant responded, “I was 25, do you think I look the same?”
“You look the same,” Meyers said. “I was 27 and people say now I look 26.”
Bryant asked Meyers a number of questions about his experience hosting “Late Night” over the past eight years. Meyers said that he’s grown fonder of the show as time has gone on.
“In the beginning, I loved the idea that I had a show, but I didn’t love the show,” Meyers said. “It was like, ‘This is great, I love that I have been given this responsibility.’ But now, I genuinely love the show. And the most I’ve loved it is after the pandemic.”
During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, Meyers had to record his shows in the attic of his in-laws’ house. Without the pressures of a live audience, Meyers said he was able to play with new creative ideas.
“Not having an audience in the room allowed us to take these crazy swings, creative leaps of faith that we’ve tried to hold on to since we’ve come back,” Meyers said.
Later on in the discussion, Meyers highlighted how novelists are often never bad talk show guests. “You know what the dirty secret is? The authors who’ve just written the book are almost never [duds],” Meyers said. “Authors are very good talk show guests because most of them are teachers. So they have been in front of somebody far scarier than a studio audience, which is like, fucking high schoolers or college sophomores. They’ve been around people who were so disinterested and think they’re better than you, so when they walk out, I think authors get an incredible jolt.”
Meyers said the reason his audience is usually fascinated by authors is because they like to learn about their specifics of writing and publishing a book.
“You just ask for a writing process and where they get their ideas, and it’s really great because people are fully invested in that,” Meyers said. “It’s also, unlike the movie star or politician… they are 100% responsible for what they’re there to talk about. I think people appreciate that and they realize, ‘Oh, we’re gonna get everything from this person.’ Whereas you know sometimes when you have an actor on for a project, you realize they have less to do with it.”