Seth Meyers Talks Stealing Sandwiches, Not Changing Tires, and Broadcasting His 1,000th ‘Late Night’ Episode From His Attic

TV host also reveals how his former “SNL” colleague JB Smoove was the greatest sketch pitcher ever

June 15, 2020

“Saturday Night Live” standout turned late-night host Seth Meyers returned to the Stern Show on Monday, connecting with Howard just a few days after celebrating his 1,000th episode of “Late Night with Seth Meyers” on NBC. While the vast majority of those episodes were taped at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City, the coronavirus quarantine has in recent months forced the comedian, actor, writer, and indefatigable TV star to broadcast out of his own attic.

“It’s the only room in the house that nobody walks through, so I could set up lights and a tri-pod in a way that wouldn’t get knocked over in five minutes,” Seth told Howard on Monday morning’s Stern Show.

“It’s fairly quiet, but it went from fairly cold in March to like a sauna right now,” he continued, explaining he has a fan up there but no air conditioning.

The heat isn’t the only unexpected hurdle he’s been forced to clear, either. Since he’s quarantining away from his staff, Seth has also been forced to become his own cameraman, lighting technician, makeup artist, and wardrobe stylist. “I have been completely complacent in my trust of the people around me to make me look good,” he said.

As the quarantine stretches on, however, he told Howard he’s become less concerned with what he wears on the air. “Now, my only goal is not to repeat the same shirt in a week,” Seth said.

He’s also struggling to adjust to being separated from his longtime cue card holder Wally Feresten, who was a topic of conversation last November. Seth now uses a teleprompter app, which apparently isn’t anywhere near as reliable. “I’m loading a 30 page script into a teleprompter app and … you can’t adjust it on the fly,” he said. “The worst is when you talk too fast and … all of a sudden, you’re going slow. You’re hoping for the next word.”

The quarantine has made writing “Late Night with Seth Meyers” trickier, too. “The deadlines are earlier,” he said, explaining it can take hours to send high-definition video files back and forth to the production team and network.

“NBC is owned by Comcast, which is a giant cable company. It seems like they could run the highest speed internet into the house. It seems like there’s multiple solutions that they haven’t looked into at all,” he said with a laugh.

Thankfully, Seth can at least now spend a bigger chunk of his afternoon with his two young children. “I don’t see my kids at night [when filming in] the city because we tape the show, I get home, and they’re asleep. The silver lining is, you know, I finish at four and I get to spend more time with them,” he told Howard.

Howard was curious about the origins of a “Late Night” segment called “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell,” in which two of his writers Jenny Hagel and Amber Ruffin join him on the air to read provocative jokes that a straight, white male like Seth perhaps shouldn’t tell.

“This came about because they were writing jokes that I thought were really funny,” Seth explained. “I would say, ‘Jenny, this is a great joke, but I really think this is a joke for a lesbian to tell, and I think that it will not be received well if I tell the joke.’”

“She understood that, but she also doesn’t really want to throw away good jokes, and so they pitched this idea of them reading jokes that I cannot tell. So, I read the set-up and they read the punchlines and it’s a lot of fun,” he continued.

Seth’s nightly monologue comes together through a process of its own. “We have six or seven writers who are just dedicated to writing monologue jokes every day and they collectively write 300 that we cut down to 10,” he said. “So, it’s a pretty low yield but they’re amazing generating that many.”

Back when the entire staff worked together, Seth gathered the monologue team in his office every afternoon to go over the work they’d done. “I would read through 200 jokes out loud while they sat there and I would mark the ones I liked with a highlighter. Maybe for 200 jokes I’m marking 20, which means there are 180 jokes I’m basically telling—by not marking—the people who wrote them that I did not like them,” Seth said.

“It is to comedy what pornography is to sex. It is just so workman like,” he added.

“Do the writers laugh hard at their own jokes?” Howard asked.

“No,” Seth responded. “What will happen though is sometimes when a joke really bombs another writer will laugh at how bad it was.”

Seth told Howard his approach to writing monologues was honed while anchoring “Weekend Update” at “Saturday Night Live,” where he also served as head writer until 2014. While discussing “SNL,” Howard wondered if it was true that comedian and fellow Stern Show veteran JB Smoove had excelled there behind-the-scenes.

“Where JB was a stone cold killer—an assassin to a degree I had never seen before or since—was in the pitch on Monday,” Seth said. “It was like a stand-up doing a character of a guy doing pitch ideas.”

Seth and Howard laughed while discussing several of JB’s most memorable pitches, from Spiderman picking up Batman’s dry-cleaning to a detective solving cases by drinking a suspect’s urine. “Another one of my favorites of JB’s is ‘The Helicopter Family.’ Everybody in the family is a helicopter family, so they would come home and they would walk real low and scream real loud,” Seth recalled with a laugh.

He was thrilled when JB found success alongside Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” “I remember the first time when I met Larry David, the first thing I said to him was, ‘I’m so happy that you’ve figured out how to get the essence of JB on television,’” Seth recalled. “There are actual scenes in ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ where basically JB will pitch three crazy ideas, and it’s gold.”

“He was the greatest pitcher that was ever there, and it’s very hard to be the greatest at anything,” he continued.

JB’s backstage talents didn’t end there, either. Seth said “SNL” writers used to get free lunch at work and Smoove apparently had a knack for taking full advantage of the perk. “We would get lunch from the Palm and JB would order two lobsters. He would eat a lobster for lunch—just like a full Palm lobster at the writer’s table—and he’d bring a lobster home for dinner,” he recalled.

JB wasn’t the only one taking home doggy bags from Studio 8H, either. Seth told Howard he sneaked out some sandwiches himself after first getting hired in the early 2000s. “I was making twice as much as I ever thought I’d make, and everything was three-times more expensive,” he said of relocating to New York for the show. “I remember having a paper bag and I put a couple sandwiches in it to take home. I was walking down the hallway and, uh, a couple of writers … like, as a joke, were like, ‘Hey, what’s in that bag!’ And they opened it up and saw what I’d did and they were like, ‘Aww, man.’’

Seth didn’t shy away from self-deprecating anecdotes Monday morning. At one point, he said his wife Alexi is so helpful around the house it makes him look bad by comparison. “You’d be so impressed with her in quarantine, Howard … She’s like the handyman of the house,” he said. “It’s the saddest thing now that when something breaks, the kids go to her … They don’t even think I know where the batteries are.”

Seth explained it’s not just his wife who is handy – her entire family is. He recalled a time when he and Alexi were still dating and his future brother-in-law coming over to fix some things while Seth played video games on the couch. “The doorbell rings and it’s her brother in a tool belt and he said, ‘I’m here to fix some things for Alexi.’ It’s like, while I’m holding an X-Box controller, having to look at this guy and say, ‘Oh yeah, if you want to do it, sure. I was going to get around to that, but if you want to get it started.’”

In another story, Seth recounted being all but useless when he and Alexi got a flat tire. She went into a nearby diner to get help and when a patron lent them a hand Seth just got in the way.

“This very nice man goes out with Alexi and clearly the last thing he expected to see was a man sitting in the car,” he told Howard. “I have a seven-pound, sweatered dog in my lap and I’m playing Scrabble on my phone. This guy like taps on my window. He goes, ‘I’m going to change your tire,’ and I said, ‘Okay,’ and he said, ‘So, you have to get out of the car.’”

“I didn’t even know that part,” Seth laughed.

While Seth might still be struggling on the home improvement and auto repair fronts, there’s no denying what he’s been able to accomplish in broadcasting 1,000 episodes of “Late Night With Seth Meyers.”

“It’s a big deal!” Howard told him once again toward the end of the interview.

“It is a big deal,” Seth agreed. “I can’t believe it either. I genuinely can’t believe it.”

Check out “Late Night with Seth Meyers” weeknights at 12:35 on NBC.