‘Late Night’s’ Seth Meyers on cover of Time magazineContinue reading.
Watch: Seth Meyers plays it safe in an overall satisfying 'Late Night' debut
Putting pen to paper, Meyers promised Jimmy Fallon he’d treat the show with “respect and dignity, and only use it to do completely original comedy pieces.” The Evanston-born Northwestern alum paused before adding, “Starting now.”
Meyers, 40, has no intention of revolutionizing the late-night talk show model, as further evidenced by his follow-up line, “I’m gonna shake stuff up and open this thing with a monologue.”
Change isn’t always good; there’s something to be said for consistency in post-primetime chatfests. But the longtime fixture on “Saturday Night Live” would have benefited by deviating from his “Weekend Update” routine during his nearly six-minute monologue. It felt like a stripped-down version of the same thing we’ve watched him do for years on “SNL,” minus the news desk, graphics and funny fake guests. (Although Stefon was there in the form of a tiny doll in a bridal veil on Meyers’ equally tiny desk.)
The articulate comic whose charm is deftly walking the balance beam between cool guy and geek was at his best when he was simply conversing. He relayed an endearing, self-deprecating tale about a recent romantic getaway with his wife that ended with a stranger helping them with car trouble.
“It was very hard to feel macho when you’re holding a tiny dog while another man changes your wife’s tire,” Meyers admitted.
The fourth successor to the “Late Night” throne won’t be jamming with Bruce Springsteen or rattling off a bunch of dead-on impressions, but he’s already shown he’s more of a natural when it comes to interviewing guests than Fallon, who often oversteps into fawning territory.
Meyers stacked the deck for his inaugural night by bringing on one of his best friends and former “Weekend Update” co-anchor Amy Poehler as well as Vice President Joe Biden. The two appeared together last season on “Parks and Recreation,” when Poehler’s character Leslie Knope had a major crush on the politician. Judging by her schoolgirl giggles Monday night, Poehler didn’t have to do much acting in that episode with the “gorgeous charm monster.”
“If there was an NRA for finger guns you would be president,” Meyers quipped to Biden.
It all made for a convivial atmosphere on the sleek, modern “Late Night” set, which one astute Tweeter compared to the background of “Jeopardy!” with its background screens of blue boxes in lieu of curtains. Meyers’ desk, as tiny as his aforementioned dog, looked out of place.
— ALEIN (@ALEINsong) February 25, 2014
The cerebral host introduced a desk bit called Venn diagrams that used pairs of overlapping circles to show how two seemingly different things share a common trait. The intersection of the NBA and Russia was revealed to be “Places that are more gay-friendly than Arizona.” (There were a few too many Olympics jokes Monday night from Meyers and his many Chicago-trained writers, whose topical humor usually is a good thing.)
The bit was decent but lacked any sense of the buzz that’s turned so many of Fallon’s skits into overnight viral video sensations. Those watercooler moments might come if Meyers lives up to his promise to use his stable of writer-performer hybrids in front of the camera, too.
There’s no denying that Meyers is a whip-smart guy, which is both a blessing and a curse in his new gig. While I wouldn’t want to see him dumb down his act, he’ll have to be mindful of the show’s late time period. People welcome a bit of lighthearted levity and silliness at that hour, not a reminder that Venn diagrams are something they “may recall from math class.”
In that respect, Meyers scored by getting Fred Armisen to lead the “Late Night” house band, 8G. He’d be wise to make the most of that comedy coup. The former “SNL” star, whose stellar droll comedy series “Portlandia” returns for a fourth season Thursday on IFC, adds a nice dose of whimsy to the show. He’ll allow Meyers to do what Meyers does best: play the straight man.
As with any new show, there will be tinkering in the weeks and months ahead. Meyers seems ready to put in the work.
“If everyone could stick around I’d love to do like five hours of notes,” the iO-trained host said at the end of the telecast.
He won’t get many notes when it comes to interviewing. Earlier in the evening he gamely tried to get the vice president to spill the beans about his political future.
“I was planning on making a major announcement tonight,” Biden said, “but I decided tonight’s your night.”
It was, and despite a few minor fumbles, Meyers made the most of it.
Seth Meyers talks to the Sun-Times about his “Late Night” gig