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Weekend Update's Seth Meyers on the most venerable fake news desk

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Seth Meyers joined the cast of NBC's Saturday Night Live in 2001 and quickly put his stamp on that long-running institution.

By 2006, Meyers was sitting in the Weekend Update anchor chair alongside Amy Poehler and had been promoted to head writer. He's been the show's solo fake news anchor since the 2008–09 season, after Poehler's exit, and he's perfected a genial snark in that role. While playing off other cast members, he seems to enjoy being the straight man as his buddies grab the comic spotlight. And why not? Chances are, he wrote their jokes.

Meyers will deliver jokes of his own at the Durham Performing Arts Center on March 29, and he talked to INDY Week recently about SNL, doing stand-up and no longer acting in comedy sketches about Appalachians seeking medical attention due to strange objects stuck in their butts.

INDY WEEK: How much of your stand-up these days consists of stories from the headlines? Do you enjoy straying from current events once in a while?

SETH MEYERS: Oh, I definitely stray from that. I would say about 40 to 50 percent of it is about what's going on in the world. I use the rest of the time to sort of talk about myself in a way that I can't really do on SNL. Which is, really, why I love stand-up so much.

When you're in New York, do you ever walk into clubs, get on stage and freshen up new material?

I think my material sort of stays fresh by going through the routine of the week on SNL. I constantly have to write about things that are going on, and a lot of times, when you're trying to write the sketches, you realize that this [bit] might not be enough for a sketch, but there's the seed of an idea that, I believe, can work in a stand-up routine. It's nice to have a lot of ways to sort of deliver your comedy, because you find sometimes that something doesn't fit here, but might fit there.

Is it tough doing topical humor on the road? I've seen even Bill Maher look like he needed to get caught up a little bit on current events.

That's really funny. When you're on the road and you're in full stand-up mode, what are you going to do while you're traveling, except sort of search the Internet? I try to stay as caught-up as possible.

So you're constantly writing jokes while you're out on tour?

Yeah. What I learned from Weekend Update is that people like to hear about what's going on. And if you frame it like, "Hey, did you guys hear this?" when it's something that happened months ago, they're less interested in it.

Who was your favorite Weekend Update anchor ever?

Well, the first one I remember watching on Saturday Night Live was Dennis Miller. So he has a special place in my heart. I just loved his sort of arcane-reference ability. And there was something about him that had a real core intelligence to it, but it was also sort of playful. And then later, when I was in college, I had nothing but love for Norm Macdonald.

What did you like about Norm?

Norm was out there like he was out there for himself. If it worked out with the audience, that really didn't matter to him. And I think what the audience learned is that they just kind of loved everything he did.

Even though it's fake news, is there a feeling of weighty responsibility that comes with sitting behind that anchor desk? Just the tradition of it all?

I mean, sure. Look, you don't wanna fail at a place that has this much history to it. But the nice thing about every time I talk to anybody who did Weekend Update before is you realize they had the same sort of fear about it that you currently have. What was hard about it for them is the same sort of stuff that was hard about it for you. One of the great things about the show is that you constantly run into people that have done it before, and realize that people who were here when you were a kid are just like you—you know?

What are the hard things about it for you?

The hardest part about it is just having to regenerate every week. When you have a host come in and you don't know yet what their strengths are, often the hardest part is figuring out, in a short period of time, what their skills are. And then, you finish a week of writing a completely new 90-minute show, and then it kind of all goes away and you have to start from scratch.

Do you ever miss being in the sketches? Every once in a while, I feel nostalgic for a little Appalachian Emergency Room.

[Chuckles] We talked about that this week—good old Appalachian Emergency Room. I don't get that nostalgic for it. My favorite job in the show is being head writer. It's an impossible job to do—you can't be paying close attention to the sketches if you're in them. So, while I do miss being the guy behind the desk in Appalachian Emergency Room, I will always have my memories of it.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Anchorman is a big deal."

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