Sitting down with Seth Meyers of ‘Saturday Night Live’

Seth Meyers of “Saturday Night Live” is coming to Assembly Hall on Tuesday as a part of his stand-up comedy tour. Meyers is in his sixth season as SNL’s head writer and “Weekend Update” anchor and his 11th season as an SNL cast member.

A Northwestern University graduate, Meyers has performed at ImprovOlympic and toured internationally with Boom Chicago. Meyers also hosted the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner and the 2010 and 2011 ESPYS Awards. The Daily Illini recently interviewed Meyers about his tour, SNL and comedy in general.

Daily Illini: Could you tell me more about the stand-up tour, and what inspired you to start the tour?

Seth Meyers: I’m not really on tour as much during the SNL season. I only have a few weeks off here and there, but I try to get out and do as much stand-up as possible. I always like doing college shows. It’s such a great audience for me. And so it’s just lucky that Illinois had a date open when I was coming, when I was available.

DI: How does performing stand-up compare to writing for and acting on SNL?

SM: The great thing about writing on SNL is that we have this incredibly talented cast, and it’s such a gift to be able to put words in their mouths. It always makes whatever you write so much better. Whereas the nice part about stand-up is you get to spend time with the audience. It’s just yourself for an hour. And so for me, it’s really nice to be able to step out behind the desk and have that freedom to have a little bit more open interaction with people as opposed to just talking to a camera.

DI: How is writing for SNL during election season?

SM: Four years ago we knew we had something pretty special happening when John McCain picked a running mate that looked exactly like Tina Fey. We were aware that we were probably getting luckier than we had any right to get. This year is also fun, though. It’s a little bit more fun when there’s no incumbent because you have two new kinds of characters enter the political scene. This year obviously we have President Obama, who we’ve spent four years with already, but we have a new actor playing him, so that’s kind of exciting. And then on the other side, we love Jason’s (Sudeikis) Mitt Romney.

DI: I read that you were a member of Phi Gamma Delta at Northwestern. U of I has one of the largest Greek communities in the country; how was your own experience with Greek life?

SM: It was great. I really enjoyed it. Northwestern was a pretty Greek school when I was there. And the friends I made there are still some of my closest friends, although they’re behaving in a much different way than they did when they were in the Greek system. Now they have families and stuff, so, they’ve kind of toned it down.

DI: Who have been your favorite SNL hosts, musical acts and cast members to work with over the years?

SM: My favorite cast member has always been Amy Poehler. We came in together. She was just one of the best people to work with for many reasons. And then hosts — it’s great. Like, anyone will give you a week of their time and just hang out and be an idiot, like they’re the best. John Hamm’s a guy I’ve always really enjoyed working with, obviously Justin Timberlake. You can’t do much better than JT.

DI: How does SNL treat big news stories that break earlier in the week?

SM: For us, it’s great when something happens on a Thursday because that’s enough time for the audience to digest it. The worst thing that can happen is when a story happens on a Friday because it turns out like a lot of our audience just hasn’t heard about it yet …. But the reality is, if we do our job well, we can always find a way to hit a story that’s unique to the way our show approaches things. So we don’t worry about it too much.

DI: SNL is broadcasted to millions of people. How do you get over the nerves of performing to such a large audience?

SM: You never quite get over the nerves, but I think that’s kind of the fun of it. I mean, I think once you get so used to it that you don’t get nervous, that probably means it’s time to move on. Because it’s hard, and it should be. You should be a little nervous.

DI: What initially sparked your interested in comedy?

SM: My parents were really funny people, and they were big fans of the shows like “Monty Python,” “Saturday Night Live,” and Steve Martin and Woody Allen. So at a very young age they sort of introduced us to that stuff, and it was just one of the things where you realize that life’s better than when people are laughing at what you’re doing. At least if you’re trying to make them laugh …. If they’re laughing at you then it’s awful.

DI: You’re originally from Evanston, Ill., and lived in Manchester, N.H. What made you decide to come back to Evanston and go to Northwestern?

SM: That was a bit of good luck. Both of my parents had gone to Northwestern, so it was a school that I was aware of, and I just wanted to go to a school with a good film program, which Northwestern had. And I didn’t necessarily want to go to Los Angeles or New York, so Chicago’s the perfect place to start, and it turned out to be — its closeness to the Chicago improv scene turned out, in retrospect, to be the best thing about going to school there.

DI: What has been your favorite part overall of being a part of SNL?

SM: Just the people you get to work with. Both the ones that come in for a week at a time and the ones you spend years working with. The hardest thing about this year has been not having Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig here. Because the greatest thing was every Wednesday, I would get to be at the table read, where they would try their stuff out for the first time, and I felt really lucky about that.

DI: What advice would you give to students aspiring to be writers, comedians or actors?

SM: As life moves forward, you just have less and less time to take risks and try new things. A lot of comedy is you have to fail a lot to learn how to succeed. So, it’s way better to fail at 21 than it is to fail at 31. So I would just get on stage as much as possible, or write as much as possible. If you’re a writer, the best thing you can do is find the kind of people that will want to perform the things you wrote, and college is the time to meet those people, because obviously you’re surrounded by people your own age.

Alison can be reached at [email protected]