Seth Meyers, who spent 13 years on Saturday Night Live and was best known for SNL’s Weekend Update, opened his first Late Night show with a monologue that was more than evocative of his SNL days. Meyers was head writer for SNL for 10 of his 13 years there, and by his own admission does not have a wide performance range. Instead, it is clear his talent is as a writer. He is credited with being responsible for the last decade’s very funniest scenes on Lorne Michaels’ longstanding sketch comedy show, but Seth Meyers is still Seth Meyers.
Meyers clearly has a keen mind and a range of humor that is as broad as it is sharp—his writing can attest to that. What he may not have, as he confessed on a Today Show interview with Savannah Guthrie, is the breadth of delivery some of his peers have. His reactions to interviewees, whether fictional characters like Stefon on SNL or VP Joseph Biden, Jr. on the new Late Night format, is about the same, with degrees of his smile or laughter gauging his response. He is genuine and seems almost incapable of meanness. Even when poking fun at Toronto mayor, Rob Ford, or insulting nonagenarians, he does it with so much grace and such a warm smile he might be forgiven anything. His pokes are not sharp—rather, they are like Facebook pokes, given with a silent smiley-face.
The new generation of late-night talk-show hosts, Fallon and Meyers, are recognized as being more boyish—in fact, they seem more like boy scouts than the stand-up comics that were their churlish forebears. Still, Seth Meyers is able to be ironic while being Seth Meyers. He may not deliver lines with the cruelty of Carson, the disinterest of Letterman or the sarcasm of Leno, but he delivers them with the eager boyishness of Meyers—like a child who knows he is funny and is waiting for a response. The key here is: he knows he is funny. He is not awaiting the impossible or expecting a response that is out of synch with reality. His jokes, for the most part, are well-thought out, current and different enough than everyone else’s to make them his own.
It has been written about Seth Meyers that he is good at listening to his guests. This will make his show one people are happy to be invited to. His loyalty shows in the fact that his new bandleader on Late Night is Fred Armisen, fellow SNL cohort.
Some comment on the fact that the SNL gang is everywhere, insinuating that Lorne Michaels’ people, shows and productions embrace a sort of nepotism. Still, comedy is not the White House, and Seth Meyers does not need to hide how he got the job, as in situations where transparency is more important and giving friends jobs is frowned upon it happens anyway—it is just that the friend is not Seth Meyers, but someone who pretends to be what he or she is not, instead of exactly what they are.
Cruelty as a form of humor may be on its way out. There is nothing wrong with that. The days of equating someone’s ability to cut down “to size” with their level of intelligence are over. The schoolyard might always have a few bullies, but they are no longer necessarily in charge. They are just what they have always been: kids with big mouths who have a chip on their shoulder. Here is to Meyers and all the little guys who just want to make everyone smile.
Editorial by Julie Mahfood