PASADENA, Calif. — Thanks to his 12 seasons on “Saturday Night Live” — the lion’s share spent as head writer and “Weekend Update” anchor —
Starting Monday, his showtime will get pushed even further back and his comedy skills will get stretched out over five days as he begins his stint as the host of “Late Night With Seth Meyers” on NBC, inheriting the chair from newly installed “Tonight Show” host and former “SNL” buddy Jimmy Fallon.
The daily grind and later hour represent both a new sense of freedom and a welcome challenge for the New Hampshire-bred comic-writer, 40, who grew up a fan of the man who christened the chair, David Letterman.
That introduction to late-night talk came courtesy of an uncle “who sort of always smelled like a Pink Floyd concert [who] hipped us to Letterman,” Meyers told reporters with a laugh at the recent Television Critics Association press tour. “I remember taping it and watching it. That was a show where you would go to school the next day, and everybody would try to remember as many of the things from the Top 10 list as possible. That was really fun. I do feel like the legacy of “Late Night” is you get to do weird things. People are a little more patient with it, and that’s going to be fun to try to mess around with that.”
Meyers is also looking forward to hopping on topical news that would often grow stale by the time Saturday night rolled around, and chatting with a wider range of guests, fewer of whom will be fictional.
“We want it to be not just creative people in the showbiz world, but we’d also love to have authors, politicians, athletes,” says Meyers, citing Hillary Clinton and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as dream guests. “We are open to everything and hopefully can get interesting people on not only that the audience knows, but the audience can get to know.”
For the past few weeks Meyers has been getting to know a lot of new things. Like his set, which is right next door to “SNL” and directly above “The Tonight Show.” (As such, “Late Night” can’t tape until after “Tonight” does because, Meyers says “You cannot soundproof the Roots. They should put that on their album cover.”)
He’s also been busy hiring and acquainting himself with his writing staff, which includes some old friends and pals from “SNL” but is mostly made up of newbies. “I feel like especially in the early days with these shows you have to bring in people that don’t have too much experience doing another late-night show because you want to build it together.”
And he’s been perfecting the tricky art of the real person interview during test tapings — the only area about which Meyers seemed a little apprehensive, noting he was toggling between “51 percent excited, 49 percent nervous.”
“That’s the one part of it that you have to learn by doing more than anything else,” says Meyers. “For me, the best hosts are the ones that sort of get out of the way.”
If Meyers is feeling any jitters about the new gig, his family and friends have no such worries.
Jill Benjamin, a former castmate with improv troupe Boom Chicago who went on to star with Meyers in the long-running show “Pick-ups & Hiccups,” believes that Meyers is holding several trump cards. “He’s such a good listener compared to some hosts. He’s not going to always throw in his own bits. He’s going to actually listen and let the guest speak. He’s also going to let the guest shine. That’s what he does onstage with you, he lets you look amazing, and I think that’s a real talent.”
(Benjamin, who costars on the Disney Channel series “Austin & Ally,” can also attest to his graciousness. Meyers was discovered by “SNL” while working with Benjamin and she remembers a phone call a few years back. “He called me and said, ‘I just want you to know I’m about to start my 10th season on ‘SNL’ and I needed to call you and tell you thank you because if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be where I am today.’ ”)
“I’ve seen him perform so much in my life and have nothing but confidence in him,” says Meyers’s former “Saturday Night Live” castmate and the newly installed leader and curator of the “Late Night” house band Fred Armisen. “I believe in him like a religion. He never fails. He always wins. I saw him at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and he just killed and he has great people around him. He doubts himself enough that he questions things, so he’s got a perfect sense of all of this.”
That he is doing “Late Night” while simultaneously crafting the second season of his comic animated superhero series “The Awesomes,” which debuts on Hulu in August, doesn’t worry his mother, Hilary.
“He’s a great manager of time,” she says on the phone from New Hampshire. “As a child he would wait until the last minute to get all of his assignments done, but they would always get done. He’d say ‘I got it, I got it.’ And he always did.”
He has brought that assurance to bear throughout his career says his father, Larry — with whom even the briefest conversation reveals from whence the younger Meyers and his brother Josh (“That '70s Show”) inherited their funny bones.
“I was talking to him recently and he was a little concerned that he has to do a monologue every night, but he sounded very confident,” dad says.“I’ll tell you one thing, Seth has great judgment. Even as a kid, he would tell me something and I would always trust him and he’s the hardest worker in the world.”
Given that his three predecessors still have late-night shows on the air, Meyers understands the larger stage onto which he is stepping, but he’s not letting that, or anything else, get inside his head.
“ ‘Weekend Update’ was a big thing to step into. ‘SNL’ was a big thing to step into,” he says. “I think I’ve found over the years, if you get too hung up on the legacy of what you are taking over, it gets in the way a little bit of doing the work. So our goal is just to try to do the funniest thing we can every night and get better each time out.”
And for Larry Meyers, who has clearly read every word written about his son, he’s not worried that this bigger platform will make Seth a bigger target, he’s confident they can both take the heat.
“It’ll be fine as long as they keep paying him,” says the elder Meyers. “It’s a big part of my retirement fund.”