Seth Meyers Is Embracing the Confidence of ‘Late Night’: ‘If a Joke Bombs, Just Talk About How It Bombed’

The talk show host tells TheWrap about finding comfort in the looseness of “Late Night with Seth Meyers”

Lloyd Bishop/NBC

When Seth Meyers first made the jump from “Saturday Night Live” head writer and cast member to talk show host, he was nervous. Particularly, the “SNL” mentality made him feel like every joke he told on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” had to be perfect.

“I thought it’d be so much harder because ‘SNL,’ that’s all I knew,” Meyers said in an interview with TheWrap conducted before the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. “So you get ingrained that everything takes five days and then you do it. [With ‘Late Night’] by design, you can’t put it on a pedestal the same way. You have to churn it out. We’re going to take it seriously, we’re going to put our best effort into it, but it’s disposable.”

Meyers has embraced that looseness of telling topical jokes five nights a week throughout his nearly decade-long tenure on “Late Night,” especially in recent years as the digital-only segment “Corrections” finds Meyers playfully reading “correction” comments left on the show’s YouTube page and confronting the show’s “critiques” one by one.

“In the telling of the jokes, I still have that [Weekend] Update energy where, with Update, you get to tell maybe 10 jokes a week when you were doing it by yourself. If you’re doing it with [Amy] Poehler it’s maybe six jokes, and it’s impossible not to be tight about the jokes,” he said. “Whereas now, and it’s a thing people would say about Carson, you realize if a joke bombs, just talk about how it bombed. The audience is happy to hear it. And by the way, the best thing about the jokes that bomb is usually they’re the ones you liked the most.”

Meyers pointed to jokes written by “Late Night” writer Alex Baze, with whom he worked on “SNL,” as some of his favorites even when they play to a smattering of laughs (or silence) during the show.

“Alex Baze, who was running Update when we were there — best living American joke writer — he’ll sometimes write one and I’ll say, ‘We gotta do it,’ and he’s like, ‘I understand if you don’t want to,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m gonna do it,’ and then it just eats s–t. But anybody that goes back and watches it, they’re gonna see why I did it.”

When Meyers acknowledges a joke didn’t land and, more often than not, defends the joke or playfully lambasts the joke writer, it feels like he is inviting the audience in on a secret. The “facade” of a prefab television show is something Meyers has chipped away at as “Late Night” has evolved and solidified itself as truly unique in the late night landscape, from moving the monologue to the desk to ditching suits.

Freeing himself from the pressure of landing every joke has given Meyers more confidence as “Late Night” has worn on, which is abundantly clear to anyone who watches the show. From the monologue to the tremendously popular politics segment “A Closer Look” to his conversational interviews, “comfortable” is the operative word of “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” And that comfort makes the show all the more inviting and, ultimately, funny.

“It’s so much more relaxed [than ‘SNL’],” Meyers said. “’SNL’ was a deeply fun time in my life. It was fun to be next to Stefon because I didn’t have to do any of the heavy lifting, but telling jokes, I never started Update thinking it would go well. And now with ‘Late Night,’ I’m kind of pretty confident it’s gonna go well, and it’s a great feeling.”