Why Is Seth Meyers So Successful?


Saturday Night Live is the weirdest incubator in comedy. It takes a blend of stand-ups, improvisers, and people who succeeded in comedy at Harvard, putting them through crazy hours in order to produce something that is aimed at making 12-year-old kids laugh. (The best SNL cast is always the one that existed when you were 12.) It is a show whose alums can go on to become comedy’s biggest stars — look at Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Adam Sandler, Amy Poehler — and it can chew up and spit out some of the most influential comedians of our time: Sarah Silverman lasted for one season, and Chris Rock hated it, too.

SNL feels, in a way, like the mob. It’s very sink or swim. If you work well there, you can last for years, and capo Lorne Michael will make sure that you have a career. Sometimes Lorne is a good capo: Tina, Amy, etc. Sometimes Lorne’s taste is bad and bland, as his greatest career massaging has been for the series of white guys — “medium talent!” — that make up a significant amount of SNL‘s output. (Trust me, you can’t tell the new white guys apart from the current cast.) It was Jimmy Fallon at one point, Jason Sudeikis at another — remember when he hosted the MTV Movie Awards? Why? — and now former SNL head writer Seth Meyers, a man who was with the company for 13 years, has become the most recent major beneficiary of Lorne’s largesse.

Because who is Seth Meyers, anyway? Can you actually remember any joke that Seth Meyers has made, besides being the straight man to Bill Hader’s Stefon (which he was great at) or his faux outrage in Weekend Update’s “Really?! with Seth and Amy” segment. According to Tina Fey’s Bossypants, he was writing a lot of the great Sarah Palin jokes, but he sure wasn’t delivering them. The man is a writer. Cool. What in the Seth Meyers oeuvre indicates that he’s a charming host of the future, whether it’s in his new show Late Night with Seth Meyers, or the recent announcement that he’s the next host of the Emmy awards? He has no persona except for being a vaguely smug guy in a suit, smug enough that you’d think he went to Harvard (but he’s a Northwestern grad from New Hampshire). No wonder his true Weekend Update successor is SNL‘s current head writer, the evil-seeming robot man Colin Jost, naturally, a Harvard grad who has been with the show since he graduated.

Hosting anything is a thankless job, and synergy means that the Late Show host takes on the Emmys sometimes: Conan’s done it, Jimmy’s done it, and now it falls to Seth. But the thing about Conan is that he has a nerdy, nervous schtick, and he’s a funny guy. You could get a beer with him. Jimmy Fallon’s puppyish need for approval and embrace of memes have given him a second act, after films like Taxi and Fever Pitch flopped — the latter being the reason that Fallon and Drew Barrymore were making out on the field, pulling focus, when the Red Sox finally broke the curse.

But what’s Seth Meyers going to bring to the table? I couldn’t even tell you, that’s how distinctive a personality he is as a host-type guy. His success — he’s “influential,” according to TIME — is sort of baffling, clearly kind of Lorne Michaels’ fault, and it’s too bad. There’s a lot of great, wild comic minds out there that could bring energy, wit, and surprises to something like Late Show or the Emmys, but instead, a boring choice like Seth Meyers persists in his winning mediocrity.