Seth Meyers on Ditching the Monologue, and How It Made Him a Better Host

It’s been a staple of most every late night talk show dating back to the fifties, so when Seth Meyers took over NBC’s Late Night a decade ago, it probably went without saying that he’d start each episode with a monologue.

And why wouldn’t he? Meyers, though most famous at the time for anchoring SNL’s Weekend Update, had also performed standup. (He still does — together with John Oliver, he’s currently co-headlining a monthly residency at New York’s Beacon Theatre.)

But for Meyers, performing a series of timely (and often unrelated) jokes was something else entirely.

“It felt very unnatural,” he told Jesse Thorn in an interview for NPR’s Bullseye last week, likening it to performing Weekend Update jokes standing up. “[I was] so bad at those transitions that I feel like the Jay Lenos of the world became very natural with, but having to ask an audience things like, “Have you guys heard this?” was just so… I wasn’t capable of doing that with any authenticity.”

And so, a year and a half into the run of his show — on August 10th, 2015 — Meyers moved his opening monologue behind the desk. 

Reaction to the move was swift and over the top, generating press coverage everywhere from Slate to The Hollywood Reporter to The New York Times. In an interview at the time with Jesse David Fox for Vulture, Meyers quipped of the media attention, “It’s amazing. Who would have thought sitting down would draw so much attention… I’m hoping it will be at least two chapters in Bill Carter’s next book.”

But in a format where it’s often hard to point to a single night as a milepost, for Meyers that night proved pivotal. Restructuring the monologue to use the language of TV news set a new tone for the show, and Meyers’ signature “A Closer Look” came soon after.

As Meyers reflected to NPR’s Thorn, “I think we realized the way our show would work is if the comedy we were doing maybe had some caloric value to it, in that we were going to talk about news and why news was important.”

Late Night With Seth Meyers marks ten years on the air with a special anniversary episode featuring Amy Poehler, the show’s first-ever guest (and maybe someone else who’s been in the news) tonight at 12:37 a.m.on NBC.

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