Seth Meyers Marks Ten Years With a Presidential Visit–And Characteristic Humility

Seth Meyers celebrating his tenth anniversary as host of NBC’s Late Night was obviously a major event. One guest preferred to turn up for an interview last night over being interviewed on CBS’s coverage of the Super Bowl.

Of course there was an element of re-living the show’s premiere in 2014 when Joe Biden joined Meyers. And the purpose was initially to have some fun, as when Meyers asked the President if he thought, when he was a guest that first night, it was possible Seth would survive for ten years in the job–Biden said simply: “No.”

And they did some obviously planned bits: Meyers referencing Biden’s embrace of the “dark Brandon” caricature invented by his critics on the right, which the President then punctuated by donning his signature aviator sunglasses, followed by a teed-up question about whether the White House participated with Taylor Swift to rig the outcome of the Super Bowl. Biden said that was “classified.”

But Biden is not just a sitting president, of course, he’s a candidate. And the protocol even for a comic as talk-show host is to slip on the cloak of genuine interviewer for some portion of a conversation with a major-party candidate. Meyers did that in his second segment with the President.

This may not have been the equivalent of whatever an actual news-centric interview on Super Bowl Sunday would have been, presumably conducted by CBS’ evening newscast anchor, Norah O’Donnell. But it was not frivolous either.

Meyers asked Biden some soft-ish questions, like the basis for his perpetual optimism, but he also confronted the age issue—somewhat gently— allowing Biden to cite the age of “the other guy” and note that that guy (Donald Trump, of course) had forgotten his own wife’s name. (At an event last week Trump called Melania “Mercedes.”)

More pointedly, Meyers asked about the conflict over the border and immigration, the threats by Trump to encourage Russia to do whatever it wanted against NATO countries deemed to have not paid their fair share, and most seriously about the disturbing images of civilian deaths in the war in Israel.

The questioning allowed Biden to whale away at Trump, saying things like other world leaders are “scared to death” about Trump’s possible return to power and how his encouragements to Vladimir Putin are “bizarre” and “totally against our interests.”

The show may even have made some news in Biden’s expressions of hope for a “temporary ceasefire” in Israel and some kind of resolution that includes a “two-state solution.”

Given how reticent Biden (and his handlers) have been to expose him to any direct interviews, the President navigated the not-unduly-pressing questions reasonably well, though he still said “Look,” a lot, veered off track in the middle of some answers, and once said what the “2020 agenda” would be when meant the 2024 agenda.

Those moments may be cited by the opposing side as some form of evidence of Biden’s cognitive struggles.

More legitimately, they could complain about favoritism to one candidate and make a justified demand for equal time for their candidate–asuming Trump would actually want equal time on a show that spent the bulk of its monologue and signature Meyers segment “A Closer Look” carving up the former President and current candidate for his golden sneakers gambit, his wish that God could be a “vote-checker,” and his odd penchant for attaching lying behavior to dogs.

Seems unlikely.

Granting that Meyers wears his political preferences on his sleeve (even though, in a break from Seth’s usual attire, that sleeve was hidden on this more formal night by an actual suit jacket), the interview could not be called a Sean Hannity-style exercise in fawning. It contained some legit substance.

By the standard of many anniversary shows in late-night history, this was a comparatively subdued affair. No run of hilarious high points and “best of” clips, just a few photos from earlier nights. Amy Poehler, the guest Meyers has identified as the one he’s most comfortable with (it was her 18th appearance) actually came on as lead guest. (Biden was sort of supposed to be a surprise but news of his appearance leaked early and only the studio audience could have been in the dark. Their standing ovation may have suggested otherwise, but it sounded genuine.)

Poehler was, of course, funny and appealing, because she is always funny and appealing. Though not slipping in their signature “Really!” comedy segment was somewhat disappointing.

She did note that Seth was “weird” in his initial days as host of Late Night, successor to maybe the most formidable TV lineup this side of the ’27 Yankees: Letterman, O’Brien, Fallon. Meyers, as he himself acknowledged, was indeed awkward at the start, not sure whether to host standing or sitting, for example. But new late-nights hosts have that in common. Those previous three all needed seasoning too (well, not Dave so much.)

Meyers has survived and succeeded by slowly molding the show to his own talents:  More verbal, more writing-oriented than performance-oriented (Seth was head writer at Saturday Night Live before he was anchor of “Weekend Update), more willing to cede some of the spotlight, as exemplified by one of his great contributions, “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell,” which features the talents of two of his writers, Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel.

He looks totally comfortable in the role now, which explains how he gets away with skipping the whole suit-and-tie routine. He concluded last night with thanks to the audience for supporting the show and made a point that late-night hosts have frequently cited as the way they remain even-keeled in a job that calls for a new performance of fresh material hundreds of times a year.

“The best thing about today’s show,” Meyers said, “is that there’s another one tomorrow.”

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