Head writer for "Saturday Night Live," Seth Meyers, is the Weekend Update anchor on the show, a position formerly shared by Amy Poehler and Tina Fey before they left for prime time television. Mr. Meyers grew up in New Hampshire and both he and his younger brother Josh went into show business. Josh was on "MADtv" before it was canceled.
How much leeway does Lorne Michaels give the writers on SNL, and is he easy to sway?
There is always a dialogue, which is very nice. As a boss Lorne will always let you make your case. There are times where you win and sometimes you lose. We are always allowed to argue something if we believe that it will work.
Is it easier to write for yourself or for others?
When you are a cast member on the show, you are asked to write for yourself more than anybody else. I think why I'm sort of a better writer than a cast member is that I prefer writing for other people. With that said, I like writing jokes for myself on "Weekend Update."
What do you think it was about your upbringing that had both you and your brother going into entertainment?
I guess I blame it on my parents. My father is a really funny guy, a Pittsburgh native. My mother is a really goofy lady. They were just really supportive of everything Josh and I were trying to do. But mostly laughter was how we kind of communicated growing up. They didn't have anything to do with the entertainment industry, but they are both very entertaining, especially at Thanksgiving.
You really hit a home run with the Sarah Palin sketches that Tina Fey brought to life. Did you immediately recognize the ex-governor as a comedy gold mine?
There were a lot of factors. Obviously that we had someone as talented as Tina Fey who was tailor-made to play the governor. She [Palin] was also new in that she was a unique political figure in an election where everybody was paying attention. But yeah, as the campaign went on, I think she provided a lot of opportunities to be comedic.
What do you say to people who think the SNL parodies of certain politicians actually influence public opinion?
Well, I can speak to our approach, and our approach is to be funny. We think less about what sort of impact we are having. When people say stuff like that, it's obviously very flattering, but I don't know if it is that true.
Would you liken it to a live version of a political cartoon?
Wow, I hadn't really thought of it that way. I think with a political cartoon you make one point. The nice thing about a sketch, you can sort of come at it different ways. The best political sketches, you think they are leading one way and then they go the other.
Is it getting easier to make fun of President Obama?
The thing is, the longer you are in charge obviously the more you are going to do that people can poke fun of. And it is a lot easier to campaign than it is to govern. So when people campaign you know it's all about "in a perfect world this is going to be how this is going to turn out." But no matter who you are when you take over, you realize perfection is impossible to attain, and for comedians that's good because it's hard for us when people are perfect.
Was his race ever a factor?
No, not really. It's one of those things that if he had made his race a factor, we would have thought it was in bounds. That's also what we do, especially with political stuff. We try to use people's own momentum against them in a weird way. It's like judo or martial arts [laughing]. It's about balance. You'd rather somebody else bring up something to make fun of, rather than sort of making an ad hominen attack
Are most celebrity hosts willing to make fun of themselves, and how awkward is it when you first approach them with a skit that does exactly that?
The nice thing about a show that's been on this long is that most people know what the score is when they show up. There have been very limited times as long as I have been here that people have not been game to make fun of themselves, which is always a bummer when it happens because that's sort of indicative of how they think this show is going to work.
To be honest, it is better to ask before you write something. It can be a little awkward when you ask, but I think we've learned a way to do it that's polite. And again, with very few exceptions, most people know they are showing up to a comedy show. I think they brace themselves for questions like that.
What is your down time like?
Well, in season, there's not too much of it. But on Sundays I'm almost comatose [laughing]. I manage to turn on football and sort of lie there in a haze. As far as the rest of the year goes, you know, summer, it's just nice to have enough attention span to read books again. In season, all of us can only endure things in very short snippets.
And everything rolls over so quickly.
Yeah, I mean that is, by the way, the great thing about the show as well. I was talking to somebody last night, and he works almost exclusively in the movie business. He said, "If you are nine months into a movie shoot and you get a feeling it's not going very well, you are in a lot of trouble." But if it is Thursday and you are feeling like a sketch isn't going very well, you are probably right, but the good news is you get to start again on Monday.
Are you recognized a lot and what was that like when it started happening to you?
I remember being in a bar in Milwaukee and a guy (it was my first season) kept saying I looked like that guy on "Saturday Night Live," and I said I was that guy. He told me to go to hell. So I've passed that point. People now believe me when I tell them I am who I am. I get recognized a little bit more, every year. But the nice thing about New York, I feel like New Yorkers are -- I don't know if it's there own sort of self-confidence or arrogance or all the things I love about New Yorkers -- but they really can't be bothered.
Tell me how much you love the Steelers and the Penguins?
I've got to be honest with you, I was never much of a hockey fan. I do root for the Penguins, but there's no real passion there. I'm a crazy Steelers fan. I grew up in New Hampshire, so I'm actually a Red Sox fan and a Celtics fan. My father was from Pittsburgh and being a Steelers fan was not negotiable. We were not allowed to be Patriots fans. It's worked out great. Being a Steelers fan is something to be proud of and I've been very lucky. And I met Troy Polamalu when he was on Jimmy Fallon. So that was it. I can die in peace.
Patricia Sheridan can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-2613. First Published January 4, 2010 5:00 AM