Although kind of joking about it, Amy Poehler clearly recognized that she had an important role as the first guest on her former Saturday Night Live colleague, and still good friend, Seth Meyers’ new show Late Night with Seth Meyers.
At one point in their interview, Poehler said that she felt the “first guest sets the tone.”
Their interview came about a half hour into the show. The first half of the program featured Meyers “shaking things up” (as he quipped) with a monologue (Meyers did not dive right into how thankful he was for the gig, as Jimmy Fallon did on The Tonight Show, but spoke on the subject later, at his desk). Meyers’ monologue was basically an extension of his Weekend Update — snarky takes on the day’s news, only this time given while standing up, rather than at a newsdesk. Meyers presented the jokes in his Weekend Update tone, though occasionally he would talk to the audience with a comment about how a joke bombed (there were a few duds). But that audience interaction didn’t feel quite natural, and overall, during the first half of Late Night, Meyers seemed a bit tight, and even nervous, which would be understandable.
It didn’t help matters that a good amount of his material in the first half — from jokes in the monologue to some of the comedy segments — revolved around finding humor from the Winter Olympics, which had ended a day prior to his show. I’m not sure if NBC had some edict that their late-night hosts had to incorporate some Olympic synergy (Fallon’s Tonight Show had a number of Olympics jokes, and guests), but they really seemed out of place after the fact, especially a comedy segment revolving around “Costas Vision,” playing off Bob Costas’ eye troubles that were so two weeks ago.
Meyers started to feel more at home once he got behind his desk, made some small talk with bandleader Fred Armisen (Armisen is dangerously close to doing a Paul Shaffer schtick) and then going into a story about how he celebrated Valentine’s Day with his wife. As Meyers related the hilarious tale of how their car got a flat in Connecticut, with another man eventually fixing his wife’s tire while Meyers stood to the side, holding the couple’s small Italian greyhound and not feeling very “manly” (complete with photo evidence of the incident), he came across much more natural, and personable, and it was a shift from the aloof snark of the monologue.
That affability came into even more play when first guest Amy Poehler was announced. Meyers and Poehler had the obvious natural connection that good friends do during their conversation, and it almost felt like the audience had happened upon two pals chatting at a coffee shop. They brought up some of their old SNL days (with another photo of the two of them from their first year on the show in 2001). Of course, Poeher and Fred Armisen also have an SNL history, but when first spying each other, they jokingly glared at each other as if they had a different type of history, with Poehler stating, “He knows what he did” before elaborating that they had been “very turbulent lovers,” which cracked up Armisen.
It was clearly good for Meyers to have a friend on his first show to help ease him into the role, but as I watched I was wondering if this banter could be sustained with future guests. Poehler may have been wondering that as well, so she decided to pretend to be a more difficult guest to test Meyers. She jokingly played an aloof, bored sort of actress for about a minute as Meyers tried to get her to answer some questions.
“I’ve watched you for 13 years pretend to listen to people,” Poehler said when back as herself, and encouraging Meyers.
The next person Meyers listened to on his first show was Vice President Joe Biden (a.k.a. “gorgeous charm monster,” as Poehler referred to him). Biden was an unusual guest but, again, probably helpful for Meyers due to his engaging personality and tendency to chat. Biden had also guest-starred on Poehler’s Parks and Recreation, so Poehler stuck around and chatted with the vice president, as well (and even pretended she was going to sit on his lap).
Meyers, Poehler and Biden had a breezy conversation about everything from Biden’s comments about La Guardia Airport, to a running joke about how Biden and Poehler were going to star in an action movie called Snakes on a Train.
When it came to any breaking political news from Biden about 2016, the vice president joked to Meyers that he was originally going to break some news on the show, but “decided tonight’s your night.”
Helping Meyers end his first night as he introduced the band A Great Big World was, again, Poehler, holding up the band’s album while Meyers did the intro. Poehler stuck around after the band, and danced with Meyers as the show ended and Armisen and his band played the credits out.
Late Night with Seth Meyers so far feels like a cross between SNL and The Tonight Show. When Meyers was on his own, it sometimes felt like one of those SNL sketches that runs on too long. When he got into the zone of interviewing, however, or telling a personal story, he really had engaging potential. Again, it’s hard to tell how much of that was brought out by his guests, particularly Poehler, who seemed to help guide him, and at least have moral support for him, through half the show. Perhaps this first show was the launch pad Meyers needed to test what worked for the audience (and for him) as he continues his foray into Late Night.
Late Night with Seth Meyers photos: Peter Kramer/NBC