Every cast shake-up seems to have its share of hiccups, and it seems like the show, especially since you left, has been going through a significant one—a lot of cast additions, which then led to several cast members being let go. It seems like SNL is still finding its identity. Given that you’ve gone through several of these yourself, what advice would you give the current cast? Well, it’s advice that I’ve given them. I feel like, because of the length of time I stayed there, I’ve probably been through about three of these. And what I always tell people who are at that point in the show is that these are the most exciting times. Not just to be part of the writing staff or part of the cast, but to be watching. I think why the show endures and has endured for as long as it has is that people want to have that joy of discovery. They want to just find new people, they want to find new styles, and that happens the most when you do have shake-ups. So I think it’ll be a really exciting year.
When the season started last week, I was jealous not to be a part of it. The hard part is when the same group has been together for five or six years, and everyone is sort of realizing that they’re on the downside of their time of the show, whereas when people are sort of at the beginning, it’s really fun.
For what it’s worth, I watched the season debut, and I thought the Weekend Update was the best it’s been since you left. Thanks, I thought so, too. Again, I think it really helps that it’s a new set, and new faces, and it’s completely different than any of the updates I ever did, which I think was great.
What SNL cast member do you miss working with the most? I will say I’m friends with all of them, but in the later years, my time at the Weekend Update desk with Kate McKinnon was really fun. She’s somebody who I feel like is really coming into her own, and is a really exciting person who does a lot of different things. I just had a great time with her.
I think it’s very cool that you and Fred Armisen are still on a show together. I was wondering: Could you tell us something about Fred that might surprise us? Gosh, I guess that he is just a really earnest, sweet person in real life. You would think he’s joke-a-minute, but he’s really not that. He’s a really good person to talk to about serious things, which I think is not what he presents himself as, but he’s been a really good friend to me for 12 years now, so I’m really glad that is true of him.
I loved it on your show when you talked with Luke Wilson about a sketch you did with him that never made it to air. Are there any sketches you did that never made it to air that you’re kind of sad about? No! I got to be in a position where I was head writer where I could fight pretty hard for something of mine if I wanted it in. So I didn’t really have any bad beats in that way. For me, the worst was when you thought it was funny and it did make the show, and it turned out you were wrong and everybody saw it. In the end, I worked there for so long that I just feel way more that I got a lot on as opposed to ones that I’m still upset about.
Awards show hosting: Worth all the effort, particularly one that airs on a Monday? You know, in the end it seemed like people were fine watching it on a Monday as opposed to a Sunday. You have to … you can’t turn them down. So in that way they are worth the effort. You know, it’s really thrilling when you have done live TV for a long time; it’s a bit like a drug, and it’s fun to get back out there and do something without a net like the Emmys, so I’m really glad I did it. I had a fun time doing it.
What gives you more satisfaction: Writing or performing? I guess in a perfect world, performing something I’ve written is probably my happiest. But you know, at SNL, when you wrote something great, you could hand it over to this incredibly talented cast, just all of whom are more talented performers than I am. And when they could execute it and add things to it that you didn’t even know were there on the page, that was really exciting for me. Being underneath the bleachers watching that was … those were good times.
You started off doing sketches and all of a sudden you moved to the desk and didn’t do sketches anymore. Did you ever miss that? I really didn’t. Again, I didn’t know that when I started: “Oh, sketches will be great, that’s the sort of thing I was doing before I started on the show.” But I got there and just understood that people have that skill set better than me. And moving to the desk wasn’t really the thing that took me out of sketches. It was more being head writer. I just felt, and think we’ll all agree, that I would be a better head writer if I wasn’t out there performing as well as writing. So in that way, I’m glad that I made that decision.
I know you play Vegas quite a bit. Do you actually take time to enjoy Vegas when you come here? Unfortunately not much in the later years. And especially, as a happily married man (laughs), I kind of just try to get in and out of Vegas without having too much fun. But back in the day when I’d come … I do like to gamble. I’ve always enjoyed that. And you know, for me, I went there for a bachelor party and saw David Copperfield live, and that was actually one of the best things I’ve ever seen.
Where do you gamble? Wherever I am. I would never get in a taxi to go gamble. That’s the nice thing about Vegas. They have cards everywhere.
I know you’re a poker player. Do you ever play poker here? No, I never really have time to sit down and play poker the right way. That would, I think, require spending a couple of extra days.
Beloved SNL cast member, head writer, late-night talk show host … what’s next on the bucket list? Gosh, I mean, I’d really be looking a gift horse in the mouth if I wanted more than I’ve already gotten. I’ve been very happy, very lucky. What you want more than anything is just to get a little better every night with a show like this, and one of the luxuries of doing a late-night talk show is that you get to do it every night. And so ultimately, the bucket list would be just continuing to improve what we’re trying to do here.
Seth Meyers October 11, 7 p.m., $45-$75. The Chelsea, 702-698-7778.