Last night, Seth Meyers wowed Late Night viewers by doing something that, in theory, shouldn’t have been very exciting at all: He sat down. Since he began hosting Late Night in 2014, Meyers has begun each show by performing a time-honored staple of the late-night talk show, the standing monologue. Yesterday, though, Meyers shook things up when he ditched the standing monologue entirely in favor of delivering his jokes in a style reminiscent of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. And not a moment too soon.
The standing monologue is an institution that is not only part of NBC’s Late Night, but late night, period, ever since Carson. It’s how Meyers’ Late Night predecessor, Jimmy Fallon, still opens The Tonight Show (for better or worse), as did Conan O’Brien, from whom Fallon inherited the gig. Letterman, who started his career doing stand-up and was perhaps even more comfortable on his feet than doing interviews behind a desk, was the reigning king of the standing monologue. Just watch:
But Meyers is no Letterman. He, like Fallon before him, started out in sketch comedy, and that’s where his strengths lie. His standing monologues have always seemed, at best, a little awkward. At worst, he evokes comparisons to a performer at a kids birthday party.
That’s why it was such a welcome change yesterday to see Meyers returning to his Weekend Update roots. Meyers alternately hosted and co-hosted the segment on SNL for a whopping eight seasons—longer than any other anchor—and so seemed right at home last night, wryly riffing on Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, and other newsworthy events from the comfort of his desk. Though there was no verbal acknowledgement of the change, the difference was apparent. Gone was his hand-wringing and rocking back and forth—it was just eyebrow-cocked Meyers at his best, wryly playing straight man to whatever bizarre news happened to be making headlines. In an era where late-night TV is constantly competing with the internet, let’s hope that, for Meyers at least, the standing monologue stays where it belongs: in the past.