He’s no stranger to live TV or to the role of emcee — a skill set that will come in handy Monday when the “Late Night” host helms the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards, airing at 7 p.m. on WMAQ-Channel 5. Meyers, 40, grew up on the East Coast but returned to Evanston, his birthplace, to attend Northwestern University, where he’d take the L to improv classes at iO. His two-person show, “Pick-Ups & Hiccups,” at Live Bait Theater put him on the radar of “Saturday Night Live.” Meyers joined the “SNL” cast in 2001 and went on to become head writer and “Weekend Update” anchor before giving it up in February to take over “Late Night.” The former Twisted Lizard waiter was at the recent Television Critics Association gathering in Beverly Hills, California, to talk about the Emmys.
We want to approach [the Emmys] the way we would approach anything, which is to just be upbeat and have fun. We want it to feel like a celebration of this year in TV.
I’m limited by the fact that I can’t sing or dance. So I have to tell jokes, and the monologue is the best place to tell jokes.
Having been a nominee and a guest of the Emmys in the audience, that first 10 minutes is the best time to get the audience to laugh because as the night progresses, more and more people are disappointed.
You want to be out there when it’s hopeful and optimistic as opposed to coming out sort of in the last hour and saying, “Hey, I want to try some new material now that you guys are bummed and want to be drinking.”
Coming up under the [“SNL” creator] Lorne Michaels umbrella, he always stresses, “Try not to tell a joke about somebody that you then would want to leave the cocktail party if they showed up.” Even if it’s maybe a little negative, as long as it seems fair you can get away with it.
At “SNL” we had dress [rehearsal]. So what really made us laugh: Collectively 200 people three hours earlier had loved a joke and now it went zero for 200.
With this, of course, there’s no dress. It’s very rare that the [jokes] that bomb are the ones you were sure were going to work. It’s more that you go out with a few that you know are dice-rollers. Those are the ones, as somebody who’s telling the jokes, you get excited about as they’re coming on, to find out with everyone else whether or not you were right to tell it.
The great thing about doing “Late Night” as opposed to doing “SNL” is just the fact that you get to do it every night. I think that helps the learning curve so much. I certainly feel more comfortable every show, which hopefully is showing.
When we tried to submit “Late Night” as a miniseries, we were told absolutely not. They shut us down cold.
I really enjoy “Fargo” and “True Detective” this year for things that were new. I was really happy for “Key & Peele” and “Inside Amy Schumer.” Love “Mad Men,” “Game of Thrones” this year. And “Breaking Bad” was great.
“Portlandia” is one of my favorite shows. Obviously I’m a little biased. (“Portlandia” star Fred Armisen also leads the “Late Night” band.) But I don’t think anyone has any reason not to think that’s one of their favorite shows.
I’m so happy to see so many shows I like getting nominated. And with [Amy] Poehler and Kate McKinnon and Fred and Tina [Fey] all being there, that will make it all the better.
I do watch television more than I watch movies these days, and I don’t think I’m in the minority there.
I sleep OK [before hosting] as long as I know the work is done. It’s when you don’t feel prepared that you don’t sleep well.
I went for a jog the morning of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (emceed by Meyers in 2011). I’m not from D.C. so I got a little lost. I had this panic attack even though I could have easily stopped someone and asked for directions. So no jogging before the Emmys.