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The 'Fresh Air' Live Interview With Seth Meyers Of 'Late Night'

Dec 29, 2017
Originally published on January 3, 2018 11:35 am
Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. Today, we continue with our holiday week series collecting some of our favorite interviews of the year. In a while we'll hear from "Daily Show" correspondent Hasan Minhaj. But first we'll start with Seth Meyers, host of NBC's "Late Night" show and former co-host of Weekend Update on "Saturday Night Live." Terry interviewed him in front a live audience in June 2017. This year, FRESH AIR celebrated its 30th anniversary as a daily show on NPR, and this live event was part of that celebration.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST, APPLAUSE)

TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank all of you for coming this evening. You know, it's sometimes hard to sleep at night, and the political chaos isn't making it any easier. The old joke about late-night comedy shows is that they put you to sleep. The way I see it, late night comedy like Seth Meyers' show makes it safe to sleep by helping us laugh at the issues that otherwise would be keeping us awake.

Was I a little annoyed when you started to cross over into my territory and do interviews? Nope. I like his interviews. I became his fan when he started co-anchoring Weekend Update on "Saturday Night Live" back in 2006...

(APPLAUSE)

GROSS: ...After Tina Fey started her series "30 Rock." And by leaving, she did him a big favor because he took over both her jobs. He became the head writer and co-anchor with Amy Poehler of Weekend Update. And of course he returned the favor by later writing hilarious sketches for Tina Fey when she was playing Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign. So to get started, let's watch Seth Meyers' opening monologue on "Late Night" from Monday of this week after returning from a week off. Here we go.

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

SETH MEYERS: President Trump last week announced that he was pulling the country out of the Paris climate agreement. We're pulling out, so now our climate policy is the same as Mike Pence's birth control policy...

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

MEYERS: ...Hundred percent effective. White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today that President Trump will not block former FBI Director James Comey from testifying before Congress. That's a good call because if you block the testimony of the FBI director you praised for investigating Hillary Clinton and then fired for investigating your ties to Russia and then lied about why you fired them and later admitted why you fired him, you might look guilty.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

MEYERS: White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today that President Trump doesn't care what you call his proposed travel ban - OK, racist.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Please welcome Seth Meyers.

(APPLAUSE)

MEYERS: Thank you, everybody.

GROSS: It's so great to have you here. Thank you for doing this.

MEYERS: I am so honored to be here.

GROSS: Oh, it's so great to have you. So you thought probably when you were leaving "Saturday Night Live" and Weekend Update that you'd be taking a step away from political comedy, and you did for a bit.

MEYERS: Yeah.

GROSS: And now you're deep back in...

MEYERS: Yeah.

GROSS: ...With your opening monologue and then A Closer Look, in which you focus on a political subject. And it's usually Trump...

MEYERS: It has been Trump...

GROSS: ...Surprisingly.

MEYERS: ...For a while now, yes.

GROSS: So comedy is going places that it's - political comedy is going places it's never gone before. I don't know if you've made jokes about Ivanka and Donald Trump, but people have been making...

MEYERS: Yeah.

GROSS: ...Kind of incest jokes.

MEYERS: Sure.

GROSS: And then you've done jokes about him being cold to Melania and not caring about his son Eric, and you gave him the finger on TV the other night. And then there was the fake press conference where you were asking the questions, and you cut in his answers. And all of your questions were about his penis because when he talked about his hands, that seemed to open the door...

MEYERS: Yes.

GROSS: ...To his penis, yes. So it - to sum up...

MEYERS: I'm so happy how quickly we have gotten to this, Terry.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: I did not want to waste any time.

MEYERS: (Laughter).

GROSS: I did not want to waste any time.

MEYERS: Everybody said, you know, Terry in person is a lot saucier.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So late-night comedy has changed. Has, like, an unprecedented president opened up the door to unprecedented comedy?

MEYERS: Sure. Well, when the standard of what a president says drops so low...

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: ...It seems silly...

GROSS: When he goes low, you go low (laughter).

(APPLAUSE)

MEYERS: Right, exactly. And I - you know, I always want to stress this because I think a lot of us that do shows like we do - that I do - my many colleagues who are really good at this, too. People say, oh, you're doing the job of journalists. I think it's very important to note that we can't do our job without journalists. Journalists can do their job without late-night comedians. They'd be just fine without us. But we of course use their work every day to build our pieces.

But I do think that comedians have this advantage that journalists don't have right now because thankfully - and I think we're all lucky as a society that journalists are trying to hold this standard and hold this line of what it means to be a journalist and the integrity that it means to be a journalist, whereas comedians are built for the Donald Trump era because we - comedians notoriously have very low levels of integrity.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: OK, so since we've been talking a little bit about humor, about Donald Trump, I think it's only fair that we watch the 2004 sketch that you did with Donald Trump.

MEYERS: Yeah (laughter).

GROSS: In 2004, Donald Trump was the guest host, and there was a sketch called Fathers and Sons. And as you'll see, Donald Trump was the father. Seth Meyers was the son.

MEYERS: This is so eerie and weird that this is a thing.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: OK. Let's roll the tape.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

MEYERS: (As Peter Fleck) Hi. Welcome to Fathers and Sons, the show that teaches and discusses how positive communication between fathers and sons can make this special relationship between two men even better. I'm Peter Fleck, and this is my dad, Gary. There's no reason why sensitivity and warmth can't be key ingredients between fathers and sons. That's why we're here today on Fathers and Sons. Isn't that right, Dad?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (As Gary Fleck) You could really cut that intro in half. Boy, it's way, way too long.

MEYERS: (As Peter Fleck) OK, here we go again. All right. It's a bit long, you're right.

TRUMP: (As Gary Fleck) You don't have to tell me when I'm right. I know when I'm right. Now, let's do it. Come on. This is just a miserable way to spend a Sunday.

MEYERS: (As Peter Fleck) Our first segment is called Father and Son Memories. We've each prepared a story. My story takes place at a little league game when I was 13. A ground ball went through my legs, and dad screamed, hey, fellas, anyone want to lend me their son for the day so I have something to cheer about?

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: (As Peter Fleck) Do you remember that, Dad?

TRUMP: (As Gary Fleck) I don't remember you ever playing baseball.

MEYERS: (As Peter Fleck) I played for eight years.

TRUMP: (As Gary Fleck) Oh, I remember you were on a team. I just don't remember you playing baseball.

MEYERS: (As Peter Fleck) Surprising I wasn't a better player. I mean, we practiced once but then you left 'cause you were worried my sissy was contagious.

TRUMP: (As Gary Fleck) Everything's my fault, isn't it? Maybe I should blame my dad for not being a better parent or blame his dad or go back to blame the caveman for not playing enough dinosaur ball with his kid - or plan B, be responsible for yourself.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: The scary thing is it's basically a campaign platform.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So who wrote that sketch and why was it a father and son sketch? And I'm thinking of all the jokes you've made about his relationship or his lack of relationship, seemingly, with Eric. So why was this a father-son sketch?

MEYERS: Well, I clocked pretty fast that that was the kind of guy he was. And, you know, you spend a couple days at "SNL" or a day and a half, basically, before you have to start writing things. And I always found it was helpful to just sort of pay attention to the host and think, what could they believably do? And especially when they're not actors, you know, they don't come with a lot of different takes on things.

And I thought, well, I bet he could play a father who is pretty not into his kid. And...

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: And it wasn't bad. I will say, the other thing about that week that I remember was - and this is true. I'm not making this up. He carried around - he had cut out the ratings, the Nielsen ratings for that week. And he had them in his pocket.

And I remember he would basically ask everybody a couple questions and then just show it to them. Like, for example, I remember sitting there rehearsing that. He would say, (imitating Donald Trump) do you like this job? And I said, yeah, I do. And he said, (imitating Donald Trump) how long have you been here? I said, three years. And he said, (imitating Donald Trump) did you see the ratings?

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: That is a real thing.

BIANCULLI: We're listening to Terry's interview with NBC "Late Night" host Seth Meyers. It was recorded earlier this year at an event celebrating the 30th anniversary of FRESH AIR as a national radio program. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JUSTIN HURWITZ'S "SURPRISE")

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's interview with NBC "Late Night" host Seth Meyers conducted this past June in front of a live audience at Philadelphia's Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. It was part of our 30th anniversary celebration of FRESH AIR on NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: OK, we have one more Trump place to go.

MEYERS: OK.

GROSS: And this was the White House Correspondents' Dinner from 2011.

MEYERS: (Laughter) Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

GROSS: And this was a very famous evening because Seth Meyers and President Obama both roasted Donald Trump at the White House Correspondents' Dinner that year. And nobody at the dinner knew, except President Obama, that the next day was the day of the bin Laden strike, of the successful strike against Osama bin Laden. You certainly didn't know that (laughter).

MEYERS: You don't have to...

GROSS: He told you, didn't he?

MEYERS: You don't have to say it like that.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So let's watch a couple of minutes of you at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

MEYERS: Happily.

GROSS: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2011 WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS' DINNER)

MEYERS: And then, of course, there's Donald Trump. Donald Trump has been saying that he will run for president as a Republican, which is surprising since I just assumed he was running as a joke.

(APPLAUSE)

MEYERS: Donald Trump often appears on Fox, which is ironic because a fox often appears on Donald Trump's head.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: If you're at The Washington Post table with Trump and you can't finish your entree, don't worry, the fox will eat it.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: And if I can for a moment talk about the birther issue. When did we get so suspicious about where people were born? A USA TODAY poll last week said 38 percent of Americans think the president was definitely born in the U.S.

In the same poll, in the very same poll, only 5 percent more said Donald Trump was definitely born in the U.S. Has it reached the point where Americans only think someone was born here if they saw it? I know I was born here. And I know my younger brother was born here. But when it comes to my older brother, I can only take him at his word.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: Gary Busey said recently that Donald Trump would make a great president. Of course, he said the same thing about an old, rusty bird cage he found.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: Donald Trump owns the Miss USA Pageant, which is great for Republicans because it will streamline their search for a vice president.

(APPLAUSE)

MEYERS: Donald Trump said recently he has a great relationship with the blacks. Though unless the blacks are a family of white people, I bet he's mistaken.

(APPLAUSE)

GROSS: As we could see in the video, there were cutaways to Donald Trump...

MEYERS: Yeah.

GROSS: ...As you were saying that. He did not appear to be laughing.

MEYERS: No.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Some people say that the reason why he decided to make a serious run for president was 'cause he was so offended by the jokes that you and President Obama told that night. Do you think there's any truth to that?

MEYERS: Well, it was funny. In the lead-up to the election, there were some pieces that were written that said as much. And many of those pieces left me out of it and just talked about President Obama's jokes. And I was very confident at the time that Donald Trump was going to lose. And it hurt my feelings that I was left out of being one of the people that tricked this man into running for president.

And then as soon as he won, I realized it was Obama's fault.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: But I don't know. I really don't know. It's very hard to get inside Donald Trump's brain, and I don't want to try. So I don't know the answer to that. But I will say I don't have any regrets about it or anything I did in the lead-up to the election. I think the regrets I would have would be if I had done less, if I had pointed out less. And it was a really fun night.

GROSS: So Lorne was, like, your boss on "Saturday Night Live." He tapped you to host "Late Night"...

MEYERS: Yeah.

GROSS: ...After Jimmy Fallon was tapped by him to host "The Tonight Show." Were you surprised that he asked you?

MEYERS: I was. And actually, it was originally - I think in the New York Post, they printed Seth Meyers is rumored to be the replacement. And Lorne and I had never spoke of it, and I just took it to be a rumor. And then Lorne called me that day. And there's this thing with Lorne where often when you have a conversation with him, it's a follow-up conversation to a conversation that you never had.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: So he's acting like you've already talked about it. And so I just remember he called up and said, look; you'll be fine. I think it'll take some time, but you'll be good at it. And you know, we'll miss you, but...

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: I think it's good. And I just remember thinking, wait a second.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: Did he just offer me "Late Night"? I had no idea what was happening. And - but sure enough, that was what had happened.

GROSS: How has it changed your life?

MEYERS: I mean, it is strange because I do walk into the same building. It is on the same floor as "Saturday Night Live." So there are parts of my life that are very similar, you know, that I did not have to move to a new place or a new, you know, elevator bank.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: But it is - there's this lovely consistency to a job that is the same hours every day and the same schedule every day. And also, you know, at "SNL," they call the guests hosts for a reason because they completely take over the DNA of that week, whereas at your own show, you're the host because the guests ultimately don't change the show that much. And so - and as someone who is obviously every day older, it's nice to be in a place that is a little bit more consistent. That is the part I enjoy the most.

GROSS: Your life has changed so much. You've gone from "Saturday Night Live" to hosting a daily show. And you had your baby about 14 months ago...

MEYERS: Yes.

GROSS: ...you and your wife.

MEYERS: Yeah, a little boy.

GROSS: So, like, you're a father and a relatively new host. It's been - what? - three years.

MEYERS: Yeah. Thank you, everybody.

(APPLAUSE)

GROSS: And you're - what? - 42 now.

MEYERS: Forty-three.

GROSS: You're 43. So you were about 42 when your son was born.

MEYERS: Yeah.

GROSS: Did you expect to be a father?

MEYERS: I did. I always thought I'd be a father. And then I was just, one, way too interested and busy with what I was doing for a living and, two, you know, I hadn't found the right person to have them with. And I did.

GROSS: So, OK, this sounds like a strange question. Why did you want to be a father? 'Cause not everybody does.

MEYERS: Yeah. I don't know. I guess - I really don't. The weirdest thing about being a father is how - because I think, you know, mothers, like, their body for nine months tells them it's coming. And then you just, you aren't a dad and then you just are...

GROSS: Right.

MEYERS: ...Like, the very next day.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: I was - this is a true story. I was filling out paperwork after our baby was born. And it said, mother's name. And I wrote my wife's name. And then it said, father's name. And I wrote my wife's father's name.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: And then it said, father's phone number. And I thought, who knows their father-in-law's phone number? And then I realized, oh, I'm the father.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: OK, so one more question. You have to have a lot of adrenaline every night...

MEYERS: Yeah.

GROSS: ...To do the show. And it's - adrenaline's great when you need it. But it's bad as a chronic thing for your body. You know, bodies don't like to have constant adrenaline.

MEYERS: Yeah.

GROSS: Lots of side effects of that. So what do you do...

MEYERS: I had no idea. This is heartbreaking to me.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: So I'm sorry to end with this, but you are slowly dying.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So what do you do to kind of calm yourself down after getting, you know, worked up, like, you know, like just getting so into it for the show?

MEYERS: You know, you - I basically...

GROSS: Drugs, I know, right.

MEYERS: Just a little, yeah.

GROSS: Lots of drugs.

MEYERS: Handful of pills.

GROSS: Handful of pills.

MEYERS: And - no, I mean, you know, it's nice. I see - I get home about 8:30, 8:00-8:30. I get to have dinner with my wife, which, again, you know, we've been together - we were together through "SNL" as well. And there were - at "SNL," we never saw each other. And this is so much nicer.

And just to spend time with her is the perfect - I love it, I'm like, nothing kills adrenaline like a night with my wife.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: I mean - tell you, it just leaves the body.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: OK, well...

MEYERS: (Laughter) I love you, darling.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: I want to thank you, Seth Meyers. I think you are so great. And I really enjoy your show. It's been wonderful to watch you over the years. You know, all the changes you've gone through, I feel like I've been there in front of my TV (laughter) seeing it. And you're so wonderful in person. Thank you so much. It's just been such an honor to have you...

MEYERS: Thank you.

GROSS: ...Doing this event with us.

MEYERS: And may I say, thank you all very much - so kind.

(APPLAUSE)

MEYERS: I - there are - there were three moments in my career where I thought I had made it - the first time I did David Letterman, the first time I was an answer in a New York Times crossword puzzle...

GROSS: (Laughter).

MEYERS: ...And the first time I did FRESH AIR. And to do it with you live and in person is such a great honor. Every night when I interview people, I am thinking, I wish I could be as good at this as Terry Gross. So thank you so much.

GROSS: Oh, thank you. God, thank you, Seth.

(APPLAUSE)

BIANCULLI: Seth Meyers, host of NBC's "Late Night," was interviewed by Terry Gross last June at Verizon Hall at Philadelphia's Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. FRESH AIR celebrated its 30th anniversary as a daily program on NPR this year, and this event was part of that celebration. After a break, another of our favorite interviews of 2017 with "Daily Show" correspondent Hasan Minhaj. He hosted the most recent White House Correspondents' Dinner, the one President Donald Trump did not attend. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF GHOST TRAIN ORCHESTRA'S "FANTASIE IMPROMPTU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.