Seth Meyers's Big
Gay Saturday Night
With all the
controversy surrounding same-sex marriage last week, gay
Americans tuned into Saturday Night Live to see
the political parody that would ensue. While we were
expecting one, maybe two mentions, we were surprised
to find a show that was almost entirely gay-themed.
Some people were amused, and some, particularly
several gay bloggers, accused SNL of hurting
the movement by creating one-dimensional or stereotypical
gay characters. We caught up with 35-year-old
SNL head writer Seth Meyers in the middle of
his read-through for this week's show, to ask him his
response to those claims and also to find out how created
the gayest episode of Saturday Night Live ever.
Advocate.com:I talked to Tina Fey recently, who credited you with
most of her impersonation of Sarah Palin as you wrote
the sketches. When you were writing those, were
you thinking specifically about the moments that
you were discussing gay rights or was it sort of,
everything about Palin is hilarious?Seth Meyers: We sort of hit everything. As I
keep pointing out, everyone was paying so much attention to
her that you could sort of play with the minutiae.
Fey is really reluctant to admit that she or you
had anything to do with “taking Palin
down,” but I think the public feels that
you and she were very important in pointing out her
hypocrisies in way that pundits were unable to do. It was funny, because the vice-presidential
debate, which was probably my favorite of the
sketches, we also hit on Biden and that one slips by.
That was a weird moment for gay people in America
when the candidate that they supported was forced into
the corner and came out against us in some ways. Yeah, when it came down to a yes or no answer,
it was like very clearly no. [Laughs]
But I want to talk about last Saturday. Was it a conscious effort on your part to write a very gay episode? This is the honest truth: It really wasn’t. That’s just not how our show works. We’re not a top-down show where we have a meeting on Monday and assign stuff. Everyone goes off and writes their own thing. Certainly it was more than I think anyone expected, but I think with what was in the air and with Proposition 8, I think different people had different ideas. Once that happens it just turns into a meritocracy on the pieces.
So were there even more sketches about this subject that didn’t make the show. Not that many. For instance, Paul [Rudd] was a fan of one of our last scenes, “The Mechanic Bill,” and a couple of others. If you went piece by piece, each one had a reason for why it was in, and the reason would be boring.
Did you conceive the Snagglepuss sketch? That is the thing where you have a new cast member, Bobby Moynihan, and one of the things he auditioned with was Snagglepuss. I can tell you, as a new cast member your radar is always up to find ways to get the stuff you brought with you on the air. As it turned out that was a pretty funny way to get it in. Because bringing Snagglepuss on Weekend Update was going to be a pretty tough sell unless there was some sort of in.
OK, so everyone comes back from writing and you are in a room, and I assume Paul Rudd is there and they are pitching their ideas ... The way it works is that there is a read-through. There are about 45 pieces, and of those we pick about 12, and of those 12, about seven or eight went into the show.
Right, and so all of you come in the room to pitch the sketches, and is there a moment where you are like, Look,a lot of us seem to be doing a lot of gay sketches? To some degree. Not to minimize, it but we are having the same issue this week with Thanksgiving. [Laughs] When you have to do 22 of these shows a year, sometimes you just do the biggest story or whatever everyone is talking about. I will say that it will be much harder with Thanksgiving because they will all look the same, where as with last week there were a lot of different looks.
Then you have “The Kissing Family Scene,” not a scene that anybody here considered to be about gay rights or gay themes in general. That was written for a previous episode earlier in the year, and that reached its destination because it was heightening a nonsexual, affectionate family. Against a backdrop of everything else we were doing, I guess some people took it to be about that.
I think the gay community read it as a metaphor for learning not to judge how one family chooses to love. It is interesting that it wasn’t intentional. It really wasn’t intentional. I think that the piece about someone accepting someone else’s family was the point of that scene. But it was a little more random than by design.
But what about the scene you mentioned where Paul Rudd and Bill Hader are mechanics who think they are straight and think nothing of the fact that they are sleeping together and at the end of the sketch decide to get married? That was absolutely written for this week. It came up and we thought it was just a funny sweet piece and the right kind of piece for the end of the show that week.
I know you heard that there was some backlash about this episode in the blogosphere. Did you expect that? I didn’t really expect that. I also tend to stay away from the blogosphere as a rule, so I can’t respond to any specifics. But again, if you are talking about something like gay rights or you are talking about politicians or anything that people feel deeply about, you can’t try to not offend anyone. The comedy has to have teeth to some degree. Also, we have gay writers here, and I can sort of speak for everyone who works here that this is a place that feels strongly on the right side of that issue. Also, it is a place where people would speak up if they found something like that offensive. We have these arguments all the time. We certainly had more of those arguments about how we were portraying Obama over Hillary Clinton than we did on last week's show.
Snagglepuss on Weekend Update seemed to raise the most eyebrows. I think Defamer called it a “minstrel show,” comparing it to the portrayal of black people. But did that one stick out to anyone in the writing room? No, and I know for a fact, based on previous conversations, that if there was a problem, they would speak up. But they are gay comedy writers [laughs] and I think they understand that with most of the stuff we are going to write, there is going to be someone out there who is offended by it. And if there are people who don’t like our show, I think they will find another reason not to like it. [Laughs] I don’t think we have ever done anything mean-spirited, because honestly, mean doesn’t play very well here. So it's not like, Oh look, we did a really mean scene about a certain kind of person and our justification is that it killed. You wouldn’t be able to get away with it at the table if you wrote something and people thought your point of view was closed-minded.
You’ve done a lot of gay sketches. Do you ever feel that you want to push your “liberal” agenda, or is it really just, the funniest sketch wins. Anytime you think a sketch is important, it’s doomed. Anytime someone says this matters, this one is important, that is not the best way to approach it. I think that is where we succeeded on the Palin front. Obviously there were some strong opinions on her, and everything has to be done with nuance. Strident doesn’t play. Righteous doesn’t play. Silly and sweet plays. At least that is what we have found.
Well, I think for the most part the gay community liked the show. That is good to hear. I will say you don’t love hearing, in the blogosphere or anywhere else, that people feel like you crossed a line. When that happens you step back and say, "Well, did we do anything?" But I look back on this one and I stand behind everything that happened.
Is it more difficult when criticism comes from your side as opposed to the Republicans? That is the fascinating thing about what we do is that people on our “side” take it far more personally when they feel offended because they feel like it is a betrayal.
Any gay sketches in the immediate future? I would never rule it out. So far not in this next show.
Are you going to do "Connecticut Gays" as you did "New Jersey Gays"? That is topical again. We did "Connecticut Gays," and I wrote that and "New Jersey Gays." [Laughs] Those are actually some of my favorite sketches. I mean, they are as stupid as they come, but it was just performance, and I liked being sweet about it.