Comedian Seth Meyers brings the personal and the political to the Balboa Theatre
If you are a fan of Seth Meyers’ comedic skewering of politics here and abroad — first as head writer and “Weekend Update” anchor on “Saturday Night Live” and now as the host of “Late Night with Seth Meyers” — you can thank the U.S. primary-elections schedule and the good people of the Netherlands. In that order.
Before he joined “SNL” in 2001, and long before taking on “Late Night” in 2014, Meyers was a kid growing up in a suburb outside of Manchester, New Hampshire. In addition to being home to the White Mountains and one of the best state mottoes ever (“Live Free or Die”), New Hampshire is also the first state on the long primary-elections trek. This is significant not only in the world of politics, but also in the world of Seth Meyers and his political-comedy career.
"(During the primaries), the entire world comes through Manchester. I didn’t realize until later that not every high school in the country got to meet every presidential candidate every four years,” said Meyers, 45, who brings his stand-up comedy show to the Balboa Theatre on Friday. “It was a really cool thing that you would see somebody at your local diner who was then impersonated on ‘SNL’ that Saturday. I was just kind of infatuated with that part of it.”
So how did a civic fanboy become one of television’s sharpest political commentators? His parents’ willingness to let him watch “Saturday Night Live” at what he realized later was an “age-inappropriate time” was a big help. So was his time in Northwestern University’s Mee-Ow Show comedy and improv group.
But the guy who might have jump-started Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions with the merciless roasting he gave Trump during the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner did some of the most serious honing of his comedic chops in an unlikely place.
Or as they like to say in the comedy business, “Hellooooo Amsterdam!”
“I’ve had a very nice career, but the two years I spent living there and doing comedy as a full-time job, I still think that was probably the peak,” Meyers said of his post-college gig performing at an improv comedy club in the Netherlands capital city.
“The Dutch are not the funniest people, so if you are even OK as a comedian in Holland, you crush. And all jokes aside, they’re a really intelligent audience. So when we did lazy sketches about the red-light district or hash bars, they were disappointed. What they ended up liking more was when we had all lived there longer and all of a sudden had sketches about local Dutch politics and European politics. So that was where the show thrived.”
The intersection of sharp comedy and well-informed political commentary turned out to be Meyers’ sweet spot. Getting his dream job turned out to be exactly as great as his young self thought it would be. It was also a lot more stressful than he could have imagined.
When Meyers joined the “Saturday Night Live” cast, he was 27 years old and more than a little freaked out. He worried that he wasn’t good at impressions. He worried that his writing wasn’t up to par. And he was thoroughly rattled by the terrifying thought that the show he loved as a kid was the show he was going to ruin as an adult.
Fortunately, the terror eventually passed. Meyers was actually quite good at impressions, with an eclectic repertoire that included Anderson Cooper, Tobey Maguire, John Kerry and Carrot Top. He became co-head writer in 2006, a job he shared with Tina Fey and Andrew Steele. He took a solo seat at the “Weekend Update” desk in 2008, the same year Fey made her debut as vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and Meyers wrote that indelible exclamation, “I can see Russia from my house!”
Meyers left “Saturday Night Live” in 2014 to take the “Late Night” reins after Jimmy Fallon moved on to “The Tonight Show.” At which point Meyers got to freak out all over again.
“It was a different kind of terrifying,” Meyers said of his “Late Night” gig. “At ‘SNL,’ I had been on the outside of show business, and all of a sudden, not only was I on the inside, but I was part of an institution that I had grown up watching. Whereas with ‘Late Night,’ I had been doing the job of head writer at ‘SNL,’ and there was this expectation that I would actually know what I was doing now. I quickly found out that I didn’t know what I was doing.
“I resent how right (‘SNL’ and ‘Late Night’ producer) Lorne Michaels is about things. When I started on ‘Late Night,’ he said it would take 18 months (to feel comfortable with the show), and I remember thinking, ‘I’m pretty smart. I bet it will take six months.’ It fully took 18 months.”
What Meyers and his team came up with is a show that features traditional late-night TV touchstones like an opening monologue and celebrity guests while also leaving room for pointed political commentary, much of it aimed directly at the White House.
Recent episodes have found Meyers taking swings at President Trump’s many indicted associates by way of the college admissions scandal (“This group has more criminals in it than a Hollywood PTA meeting.”); wondering why the long-awaited Mueller report was released on a CD-ROM (“Was it a report, or did they just send Congress a mix tape?”); and comparing the president’s idiosyncratic speaking style to “a scientist insisting on giving a TED talk despite a recent massive head wound.”
Hilarious, yet horrifying. Potent, yet polarizing. And for Meyers, pretty much perfect. If you can’t laugh in the face of chaos, you’d better take a seat behind a different desk.
“We didn’t think this was the kind of show we were going to do when we started, but the more we did it, the more we liked it,” Meyers said. “Laughter, in general, is going to put you in a better place mentally. We’re not trying to make people laugh to the point where they forget what’s going on, but there is an absurdity to all of this, and it would be silly to ignore it.”
For his stand-up show, Meyers will be tapping into a different stream of silliness. He’ll spend some time on politics, with a focus on his personal history with the president. He will also be exploring the madness playing out under his own roof. Meyers and his wife, human-rights attorney Alexi Ashe, are the parents of two boys, ages 1 and 3. He will be devoting a lot of time to them and to the insanity of parenting.
It’s not political, but there is an absurdity to all of it that Meyers is way too savvy to ignore.
“It’s universal. Everyone from every walk of life has had similar experiences with children. One thing is just how blown away you are by the things they can do. When a child uses a fork for the first time, everybody loses their minds. My wife is far more impressed by my son using a fork than she was with me using a fork.”
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Balboa Theatre, 868 Fourth Ave., Gaslamp Quarter
Phone: (619) 570-1100
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