“You guys may not know this, but you probably do — I went to fucking school here,” Seth Meyers (Communication ‘96) said when he first came on stage at Cahn Auditorium late Friday night.
Meyers, a head writer for Saturday Night Live best known for his role as anchor on the show’s “Weekend Update,” made an appearance before a sold-out audience at Cahn. He performed a comedy routine touching on a series of issues especially pertinent to college students, running the gamut from futons, study abroad and Chicago weather to porn, texting and drinking.
Later in the set, he discussed a series of American politicians including Sarah Palin, Mark Sanford and fellow Northwestern alumnus Rod Blagojevich. Of Blagojevich’s hair, Meyers said, “It’s like his toupee has a toupee […] The first time I saw him, I thought he was walking away.”
The set was finished with a reading of Weekend Update one-liners that were rejected for air. This was followed by a question and answer session where Meyers revealed he lived in Willard while on campus and became a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. Pertaining to SNL, he divulged that Amy Poehler was his favorite coworker, The Killers were one of his favorite in-house musical acts and Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and John McCain are among some of his favorite hosts.
Before the show, Meyers met with North by Northwestern in the basement green room of Cahn Auditorium to talk about his life at Northwestern and his current comedy career.
You are, of course, a Northwestern alum. Did you have a good experience here?
The best. It really was the best. I loved it here. My parents and my younger brother went here as well. I grew up in New Hampshire, but I wanted to go to a school with a good film program and I didn’t want to go to New York or L.A. It sort of fit a lot of the things I wanted. But then I met some of the best people on earth, and I’m still really good friends with all those college buddies. A lot of history here. It’s weird that I don’t have my own statue.
Any complaints at all?
The weather. I hate to be that guy. And, I hate to show my age, but it seems during my time here, things started to get more regimented, less fun. Like tailgates used to be crazier than they are now.
You were also a member of the Mee-Ow improv troupe. How did that experience shape what we’re seeing from you today?
Mee-Ow is absolutely the reason I am in comedy today. I was at Northwestern, I was a RTVF major, I wasn’t a very good student […] I consider myself an absentee student. But I was in the creative writing program, which I really loved, and I was sort of thinking of getting involved in screenwriting. But my senior year, I got into Mee-Ow and absolutely fell in love with it. Then I started going down to Chicago and doing stuff at Improv Olympic. So when I graduated, I thought, “Well I’m going to keep trying to do this until someone tells me to stop.” My best friend at Northwestern, his name is Pete Gross — he’s the guy who drives in the Sonic commercials, and he writes for The Colbert Report –- but he and I were in Mee-Ow together, we did improv together in Chicago. Then we auditioned and got hired together for a group called Boom Chicago in Amsterdam, which was started by Northwestern guys who were older than us, but who were also Mee-Ow guys. And I think one of the reasons they hired us is because we had that Mee-Ow pedigree. Mee-Ow was key for me in a lot of ways.
Your brother Josh was also in Boom Chicago. The two of you seemed to follow a similar path — you both went to NU, and at one point you were on SNL while he was on MADtv. Same time slot too. Is there any competition in that relationship?
No. He’s my best friend. It was just kind of crazy, all that stuff happening at the same time, but we were never competitive.
How is doing a stand-up show like the one you are doing tonight different than writing or acting for SNL?
A stand-up show is you and your point of view for an hour, whereas writing for SNL, you have the benefit of doing smaller pieces, and using bigger casts. Stand-up is more personal. Doing a show like SNL, you’re obviously writing inside the format that has existed for years. Also, with stand-up, there’s less bells and whistles. It’s just you onstage.
Which do you like more?
I like them both. The stress of SNL is that you know there are six or seven million people watching it live, whereas the stress of this is, there’s fewer people, but if something goes wrong it is definitely your fault.
Andy Samberg [who visited Northwestern in 2008] is hugely popular with college-age populations, having made a name for himself via the SNL digital shorts. What is he like off-camera?
He is one of the sweetest guys I know. His sense of humor in the digital shorts is the same as his sense of humor in real life. It’s like being friends with a meerkat, he’s so fucking nocturnal. He lives in my neighborhood, and every time we make plans to watch football or something, I’ll get a text message at seven o’clock at night saying he just woke up. But he’s a good man.
Some of the most poignant stuff SNL has done in a long time came out during the 2008 election. You are credited with having written Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin routine. You are also an Obama supporter. How does that preference work in the creative process?
We wrote plenty of stuff critical of the Obama administration. But you can never be strident with your politics in comedy writing — certainly on SNL. We do silly better than we do serious. So, Obama, it’s not because I’m a supporter that it’s hard to make fun of him, it’s hard to make fun of him because he is very self-aware, he has a great sense of humor. It makes it hard. You definitely want your politicians to lack awareness. It makes it easier as a comedian. With that said, it’s funny when people ask why we don’t make more fun of Obama. I would like to add, if we did, it’s because I don’t think he’s liberal enough. So they wouldn’t be happy with what I would tease him for.
During your earlier years on SNL, you did some notable impersonations. Do you have any favorites?
No. I’m really glad I don’t have to do impersonations anymore. I like doing the news, I’m way better at being myself than being anyone else. Some comedians are better at disappearing into impersonations of other people, but I always thought that was kind of a stretch for me.
We have a lot of aspiring actors, writers and comedians here at Northwestern. Any advice for them?
Do what you like doing as often as possible for as many people as possible. The reason I’m on SNL is that I was doing a show in Chicago and a SNL scout was there, but it was a show that I had done a hundred times before. But if I had missed that night, they never would have seen me. You just have to increase your own odds as much as possible.