Seth Meyers speaks at Sweet Briar on Nov. 6, 2015.
“So, I am Seth Meyers,” Seth Meyers said to an audience that needed no introduction. After all, many had voted in the Xfinity Professors of Entertainment
contest to bring the SNL alumnus and host of “Late Night with Seth Meyers” to speak at Sweet Briar.
Noting this was his first time teaching a “class,” Meyers, dressed professorially in jeans, a button-down shirt and a sports jacket, leaned casually against the podium while walking the crowd through the milestones of his career. There was the “age-inappropriate” comedy his parents let him watch at a young age, including Saturday Night Live. Film school got him a step closer to doing comedy himself, particularly once he decided to minor in creative writing for the media at Northwestern University. It wasn’t until senior year, after three unsuccessful auditions, that the school’s eight-member improv troupe Mee-Ow thought he was good enough to join the team.
Meyers knew then that comedy was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
Before landing a job on SNL in 2001, he did improv for two years with Boom Chicago in Amsterdam, and later started his own two-person sketch in Chicago. Having to write comedy for a Dutch audience trained him to find topics that were universally funny, he said. Writing and performing about 200 nights a year, he also learned something else.
“Perform as often as you can at the highest level you can,” he said. “You never know who’s in the audience.”
That philosophy paid off when “Pickups and Hiccups,” his Chicago creation, was asked to participate in the Chicago Improv Festival. Two days later, SNL asked him for an audition tape — and then another, six months later. A year later, he was invited to New York, and subsequently offered a role on SNL. In his 12 years on the show, he anchored “Weekend Update” for several seasons, and eventually worked his way up to head writer, the job he is most proud of.
“It was more fun than I can even tell you,” he said. “It was also more stress.”
Outside gigs such as hosting the ESPYS or the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in 2011 made Meyers a perfect candidate when it came time to replace Jimmy Fallon on “Late Night.” While it was hard to leave SNL behind, Meyers said he felt lucky to host his own show, especially one that was “exactly as exciting” as SNL.
Following his introduction, Sweet Briar students, faculty, staff and alumnae had a chance to ask Meyers some additional questions. There were many, and not all had to do with Stefon, a popular character on SNL (although it is interesting to note that “Kevin!” is Meyers’ favorite among Stefon’s “hottest new clubs” in the city, a recurring segment on “Weekend Update”).
Meyers answered many questions from the audience.
What was his dream job in college, someone asked.
“To be writing for a living,” Meyers responded.
His superpower of choice?
Being able to fly, he said, “for commuting purposes.”
Mint chocolate chip turned out to be his favorite ice-cream flavor, which pleased the audience, while working with the best in comedy on SNL — and feeling self-conscious about his own talent — proved the biggest challenge he’d ever overcome. Hard work helped, he added, though it wasn’t always good enough.
When asked what advice he had for young people, he was practical.
“Whatever field you go into, surround yourself with people in that field. Don’t isolate yourself.”
There was one question he couldn’t answer.
“Who is funnier: Amy Poehler or Tina Fey?” someone asked.
He’d “never go on record” picking one over the other, Meyers said, in part because “both are of them stronger than me.”
Meyers praised Fey and Poehler for inspiring him throughout his career. His family, including his brother and best friend, Josh, also served as a strong source of inspiration and support, he added.
And no, he did not expect Sweet Briar — a small, rural women’s college that was “supposed to close,” as the interviewer put it — to win this contest.
But how did it feel to speak “in front of all these women who just saved Sweet Briar?” another asked.
“It’s intimidating!” Meyers admitted.
To a question about his favorite presidential candidate, Meyers replied: “As a comedian or as an American?” The former category had a clear winner in Donald Trump, he said, but the latter was too early to call.
Meyers wasn’t able to get to everyone’s questions because of his schedule. Media interviews followed, then a meet-and-greet with a small number of people chosen by lottery. His day was full, with a second event at Michigan State University in the afternoon. Nonetheless, he was gracious with his hosts and took the time to visit the bell tower for a photo — and along the way stopped for an impromtu photo session with students. Holla, holla, Seth Meyers!