© 2020 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
NPR Arts & Life

Palling Around With Late-Night TV Host Seth Meyers

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene at our bureau in New York City.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS")

RON MCCLARY: It's "Late Night With Seth Meyers."

GREENE: We spent some time this week at NBC's studios at 30 Rockefeller Center. We were hanging out with "Late Night" host Seth Meyers as he was getting ready for his show Tuesday night. Seth has become something of a regular on our show. And we wanted to give you the chance to get to know him a bit and also see how the sausage is made on late-night television. Let's start at 10 in the morning. We meet Seth in his office. It's filled with Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers paraphernalia. I knew I liked this guy. There's also a framed drawing of Bob Dylan above his desk.

I was struck a few years ago when I would ask some people where they get their news. And many would say Jon Stewart.

SETH MEYERS: Yeah.

GREENE: And I feel like you're doing the kind of things that he did in that realm. I mean, you might do something on Brexit or debt ceiling. And I might hear someone say tomorrow morning that I got my news from Seth Meyers. Is that a good thing?

MEYERS: I don't know if it's a good thing or not. The good thing is I get my news from the news. (Laughter) So...

GREENE: That's a good thing.

MEYERS: ...If you're getting it from me, you're really getting it from the news. I think if people learn something from us, that's really nice. But it's not great if we're not making them laugh.

GREENE: OK, give me the nuts and bolts of how the monologue comes together.

MEYERS: So the monologue right now - we have our joke robots currently...

GREENE: Joke robots?

MEYERS: Yeah, well, we have...

GREENE: These are not actual robots.

MEYERS: No, these are not actual robots.

GREENE: OK.

GREENE: But it's funny because certain writers are just a lot better at jokes. One of the most unique things about what they do is - they have to generate so much material for such a small yield. Like, they'll be writing jokes right now. And we will then do a joke read at 2 in the afternoon, where I'll probably read through, I would say, anywhere between 100 and 150 jokes.

GREENE: You're reading them out loud?

MEYERS: Out loud.

GREENE: OK.

MEYERS: I sit here, where I'm sitting right now, in my office with a stack of paper that has probably about 10 to 15 jokes per page. I've got a highlighter in my hand. And all the monologue joke writers sit in the room as well. I then...

GREENE: That's not pressure or terrifying or anything for them.

MEYERS: You know, I hope it's not. I realize it's awful for them. But the good news is I'm not putting any pressure on them because I think I have a real understanding of how hard it is.

GREENE: So I'm wondering if your joke writers - you read one, and it's just terrible. What look do I get from you? Or what happens...

MEYERS: I just - I keep my head down. Hopefully, they won't listen to this because I do like them to be scared and fearful of me.

GREENE: (Laughter).

MEYERS: Anyway...

GREENE: OK, so we're about to leave Seth's office now. We're going to meet him in a little while at a joke runthrough session, where he literally brings in shoppers from the NBC Store or just people from the streets of Manhattan. He says there's something, though, that he has to look out for.

MEYERS: You'll see today, I have to ask how many people are visiting from out of the country because this is a building that a lot of tourists are in. And when we first started doing this, there would be times where I thought I had great jokes. And they would just bomb. And then I'd find out afterwards that, like, 30 of the 40 people were from Norway and had no understanding of American politics - perfectly good English. They just - it turns out they weren't ready to go on your Ted Cruz joke.

GREENE: OK, so we get down there, and...

MEYERS: Anyone joining us from out of the country today? A lot of people - that's great. What about this row right there?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Norway.

MEYERS: Norway. That's great. I love this. Where in Norway?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Halden.

MEYERS: Halden. OK, so not Oslo?

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: OK, that was the one I know.

GREENE: OK, so at this point, Seth and his writers have whittled the jokes for the monologue down to their favorites. And this is their chance to road test them in front of a small audience.

MEYERS: ...Which is - I'm going to read a bunch of jokes. This is very helpful for me because this is the first time I am saying these jokes out loud.

GREENE: And some work, and some don't.

MEYERS: Experts are saying it may be too late for establishment Republicans to find an alternative candidate to Donald Trump. They're married to him now. And just like in every marriage, they have to pretend he's the one they wanted the whole time.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: No, it was always you, Donald. I mean, can you see me married to Paul Ryan? (Laughter).

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: Ferguson, Mo., yesterday swore in their first African-American police chief. Or as one Ferguson deputy put it, hey, that guy stole a police uniform.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: That was a bummer.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: Good joke, but a bummer.

GREENE: Afterwards, six or seven writers are clustered around Seth's stage desk. And they're talking things through.

MEYERS: You have four? You cutting the first one or are you keeping it?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Only one suit.

MEYERS: Mmhm.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: How many dirty ones do we have? We have a lot...

MEYERS: If we cut number two, we're good.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: OK, thank you very much.

MEYERS: All right, so what happens now?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Now you shower, hair and makeup, and then we shoot this.

GREENE: Seth goes off to take care of all that and get into his suit.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS")

MEYERS: Good evening. I'm Seth Meyers. This is "Late Night." How's everybody doing tonight?

(APPLAUSE)

GREENE: Then it's time. The real show tapes in the early evening. That Ferguson joke did not make the cut. The Trump-Paul Ryan joke did.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS")

MEYERS: No, it was always you, Donald. I mean, can you imagine me married to Paul Ryan? (Laughter).

GREENE: And so did this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS")

MEYERS: Victoria Beckham admitted in a new interview that while performing with the Spice Girls, her microphone was usually turned off. Even crazier, Bernie's mic has been turned off this whole time. (Imitating Bernie Sanders) I don't need it. It's a waste of valuable electricity.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

MEYERS: (Imitating Bernie Sanders) Save your money.

GREENE: After the show, we make our way down to Seth's dressing room, where he's splashing water on his face and his shirt sleeves.

A ton of jokes you tested earlier in the monologue - it felt like you kept in a lot of political jokes. Like, you started out with some politics.

MEYERS: Yeah.

GREENE: Is that just you know that that'll sort of draw people in? It's the campaign.

MEYERS: Again, it's something we brought from Weekend Update, which is - we feel like there's a real weight to it if you can open with the first three to five jokes being about the news. It really helps it feel earned when you sort of move on to cats doing Nazi salutes.

GREENE: (Laughter).

MEYERS: So I think the order is start with news. Move to crazy animal stories.

GREENE: Earned meaning it's like, we'll do the campaign. We'll make you happy, and then stick with us with some of the other stuff.

MEYERS: I mean, again, I think they're happy about the other stuff, too. But I think it just makes it feel like - it's almost like hey, this is the newspaper. And the first page is the front page. And it's about the news of the day. And then in the back, it's sort of sports and what's on TV tonight (laughter).

GREENE: A lot of Donald Trump, not as much Hillary Clinton. She's been in the public eye for so long. Is it hard now to write jokes about her - to find new material?

MEYERS: Well, I mean, I think it's going to become easier when - I think the Trump-Hillary dynamic will be a dynamic that will bring out new Hillary that we haven't seen before. It's less about Hillary being hard and more about Donald Trump being like nothing any monologue writer has ever seen before, as far as how much is generated each day.

GREENE: He's been good for business.

MEYERS: He's been good for business. Yeah, maybe it might be a Pyrrhic victory, but he's been good for business.

GREENE: That's Seth Myers in his dressing room after he taped his show, "Late Night With Seth Meyers." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.