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Q&A with SNL star Seth Meyers

BY DAN VERHILLE | AUGUST 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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On Wednesday night, Iowa City was fortunate enough to host the head writer of “Saturday Night Live,” Seth Meyers, as part of the University Lecture Committee series. After an hour of jokes ranging from national politics to Donald Trump’s hairpiece to “dick-pics,” Meyers even had University of Iowa President Sally Mason chuckling along with the rest of the audience. Afterwards, Meyers visited the KRUI studio and staff, along with DI columnist Dan Verhille, for a more intimate question-and-answer session.

DI: How do you divide or assign the workload among your 15-member writing staff and handle collaborations with the actors?

Meyers: We don’t do much assignment writing. We might pick one current event and make sure one writer picks up that piece and writes some version of that, but really, the assignments start Wednesday night after we know what we have in the show. Sometimes you have to be like, “You two guys got to write a monologue, we all need to sit down at a table and find out what the political story of the week is going to be, or maybe we need a couple Weekend Update features.” Those are the sort of only things that get written later in the week and are sort of assignment writing.

DI: As the head writer, do you pay attention to television rankings, and what — if anything — do you take away from statistics that try to quantify something really subjective?

Meyers: Well, the nice thing about our show is our ratings have been fairly consistent … I don’t think we really go up or down like 10 percent in a year. Our show now is a little bit beyond having to worry too much about ratings. That being said, I think if our ratings collapsed, everybody would be pretty panicky, but I don’t think we look at it that way. The interesting thing about us is our show is it’s perfect to watch online, it’s a perfect Internet show. With nbc.com and hulu.com, I think we drive a lot of the traffic there, because when we do something that’s three to five minutes, that’s what people want to watch online. [It’s] been a nice thing that the Internet has been a bigger way to watch television.

DI: Politics can be a heated issue for many Americans — have you ever encountered fans out in the real world who have been irked or taken a joke a bit too seriously, like, “How dare you make fun of this person this way?”

Meyers: You know the funny thing is when you have political people on — like when we had Palin on in 2008 — we had a lot of liberal friends who were really upset that we had her on … like that was an act of supporting her by inviting her on. I’m so glad we did have her on, I feel like she was great, and we treated her really well without it feeling like an endorsement. I do feel like there’s a lot of name-calling now when you take a political position, the other side just calls you out for being biased, and we try to ignore that. We obviously try to write things we believe are true, and when people tell you you’re biased, that’s just their way of saying they just disagree with you. I have not had anybody try to come up and take a swing at me yet.

DI: Keep your fingers crossed.

KRUI: Not even Donald Trump?

Meyers: He’s not happy with me, I have talked to him …

DI: How long can you see yourself staying at “Saturday Night Live”? Could you see yourself going a similar direction to your former cast members Tina Fey and Amy Poehler with shows like “30 Rock” and “Parks and Rec”?

Meyers: I don’t think I could do what those guys do as well as they do it, but I do feel like I’m at the backend of my time at SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. I do feel like I could do one or two more years, but it’s really exciting because its a transition year when new people come in. I think back to 2006 when [Andy] Samberg, Jason [Sudelkis], [Bill] Hader and [Kristen] Wiig all came in, and I think we’re going to have a year like that this year. It’s exciting and it’s nice to be around for that sort of thing, and I would like to leave on a year where the show is stable and good. I think that’s where it is right now.

DI: I’ve heard that some of the Stefon jokes are changed at the last minute. Are you kept in the loop when this happens or are you thrown under the bus?

SM: Not at all! John Mulaney who writes the’Stefons,’ is the only one who does the throwing. He loves to change one or two things every time to keep Bill guessing. It works nicely with Stefon’s demeanor [because] he’s already a guy who is really on edge. It makes sense that even he wouldn’t know what he’s about to say.

DI: I hate to ask this question and point out this fact, but Iowa has dropped three of the last five to your alum Northwestern. Do you have any predictions?

SM: Pretty thrilling games too, I feel like… I feel like I’m not fully focused on college football yet, but here’s a prediction: we will win 100 to nothing.

DI: During the lecture you got asked for a hug, a phone call, and ten seconds of uninterrupted French-kissing…

SM: How many ten second swaths of French-kissing get interrupted?’I wanna kiss for ten seconds, but only two interruptions.’ [Laughs.]

DI:’And only one soda break, then we’re back to it…’ but what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever been asked for when you go to one of these? Are we one of the stranger universities?

SM: I will say Iowa really threw it out there. They let it all hang out. No, that’s about the worst.

To hear the rest of the interview with Seth Meyers, including a day-by-day walkthrough of what it’s like to work at SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and wild anecdote about Meyer’s road trip to Iowa City involving a van, a keg of beer, regurgitated McDonald’s and an Iowa Sheriff, visit out KRUI.FM


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