Saturday Night’s Children: Seth Meyers (2001-2014)
Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 38 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member every other week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.
Now that Jimmy Fallon has taken over The Tonight Show, Seth Meyers — whose last SNL episode was just over two weeks ago — is poised to take over for him on Late Night. The post-SNL path to success usually isn’t that simple for veterans of the show, or as Lorne Michaels put it: “You’re a star on SNL. That does not automatically mean you’ll be a star in everything else you touch.” Though he’s best remembered as the suited-up straight man behind the Update desk for eight seasons, Meyers spent half a decade as a regular cast member, where he played an array of drunken Irishmen, reality show hosts, Red Sox fans, Dell dudes, and frat boys.
Born in New Hampshire, Meyers got his start in comedy while attending Chicago’s Northwestern University for film, where he pledged Phi Gamma Delta and later joined the improv troupe Mee-Ow. Like his younger brother Josh, Seth continued with the Chicago improv scene after graduation, performing at the ImprovOlympic as well as Boom Chicago’s Amsterdam troupe overseas. It was there that Meyers collaborated with Boom Chicago member Jill Benjamin and developed a two-person dating-themed comedy show (dubbed an “improvised love affair”) called “Pick-ups and Hiccups,” which the pair debuted back in Chicago at The Live Bait then toured in Edinburgh, London, and even Singapore. The show caught the attention of SNL producers at the 2000 Chicago Improv Festival, and Meyers was hired as a featured player for the start of the 27th season the following year.
Like Amy Poehler, Meyers had the dubious fortune of joining the cast just two and a half weeks after 9/11. He made his first appearance in the Will Ferrell “Patriotic Shorts” sketch and soon found recurring roles with Jimmy Fallon (as DJ Jonathan Feinstein in “Jarret’s Room” and William Fitzpatrick on “Top O’ The Morning”) and Poehler, with whom he exhibited a winning chemistry. They teamed up for the British gossip show “Spy Glass” and played the inexplicably still-married couple Dan and Sally Needler. While mostly supporting or straight-man roles in sketches, Meyers also had a few starring characters of his own like the zinger-loving David Clinger, the shocked “Pranksters” host Zach Ricky, and Nerod, the heard-it-all receptionist at the “Appalachian Emergency Room.” He also impersonated over 30 celebrities during his 13 years on the show including Michael Caine, Carrot Top, Anderson Cooper, John Kerry, and Prince Charles. (Check out a videolist of Meyers’s best sketches here.)
Following Tina Fey’s departure in 2006, Meyers was promoted to co-head writer and joined Poehler at the Weekend Update desk (he had auditioned to co-anchor opposite Fey back in 2004 but lost out to Poehler). The chemistry Poehler and Meyers had developed since their shared baptism-by-fire newbie days paid off in recurring bits like “Really!?! with Seth and Amy” and their willingness to entertain a barrage of Update guest usuals helped make the current news segment the only reason many viewers tuned in, from Fred Armisen’s blind New Jersey governor David Paterson to Bill Hader’s nightclub hopping favorite Stefon, who married Meyers during Hader’s final episode in May 2013. Where Tina and Amy rocked the segment during its lone female-dominated era, Amy and Seth shared a similar buddy-buddy rapport, and Meyers made the perfect foil for Amy’s beamy delivery, often playing the straight man while Poehler provided silly outbursts and the occasional musical performance like her famous Sarah Palin rap.
With a total of 154 episodes, Meyers holds the record as the longest running anchor in Weekend Update history, and his work as head writer helped nurture The Lonely Island’s Digital Shorts and guide the show through the 2008 presidential election. Meyers is also credited for writing the Girls promo parody for host Tina Fey, the Lincoln-focused Louie spoof for Louis C.K., and all of Fey’s lines during her brief return to SNL as Sarah Palin in the late 2000s. Alongside SNL producer Michael Shoemaker, Meyers also created the superhero-themed animated half-hour web series The Awesomes produced by Lorne Michaels’s Broadway Video and available on Hulu. The series features a ton of SNL voice talent including Bill Hader, Paula Pell, Taran Killam, Bobby Moynihan, and producer Steve Higgins.
When it was announced last year that Jimmy Fallon would be succeeding Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show and returning the show to its original NYC home — a move that made Lorne Michaels the head of both NBC late night shows — Meyers was speculated as the frontrunner to take over Late Night. NBC confirmed the news in May, noting Meyers as “one of the brightest, most insightful comedy writers and performers of his generation.” While we’ll have to wait a few more days to see Meyers in action at the Late Night desk, his best SNL moments often came from helping his cast mates shine brighter or bouncing back from a flop Weekend Update joke with charm and style, which will no doubt serve him well in his new gig. “His comedy brain is certainly something that will be missed, but his heart, also,” cast mate Will Forte told Huffington Post earlier this month. “There’s this energy that he brings and a positivity that is such a wonderful thing to have.” That’s still no proof that Meyers will excel beyond the SNL bubble, but considering his willingness to share the spotlight and high reputation among his SNL collaborators, it seems like a sure bet that he will.