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At this point in his career Seth Meyers is known as a brilliant late late night host who got his start behind the desk on SNL's "Weekend Update." What some people may not know is that for a time Seth Meyers was also the head writer on Saturday Night Live, keeping the staff writing team on task and working with the celebrity guest each week. During a recent WTF podcast with Marc Maron, Seth Meyers revealed why the late night sketch comedy series used those Q & A openings over and over again. Namely, it's because a lot of celebrity guests are terrible at monologues. Here's what Meyers had to say:
[Opening monologues] are really tough to crack sometimes. Oftentimes by the time it's a problem, you know they can't [deliver jokes]... and sometimes they're holding onto the idea that they can [deliver jokes]. I loved question monologues where people in the audience would stand up and ask questions. Cause then it's just, you take six of them to dress and if four of the questions work --there were hosts who took that as an insult. 'I just feel like you obviously don't think that I can do a monologue if you have people in the audience asking me a question.' It was that. But the real question was, why do you think that you can do a monologue?
Meyers also mentions that he knows the Q&A monologues often have a bit of a stigma about them at this point, but that it can be really difficult not to use something that's so easy in a pinch, especially if a celebrity guest is inexperienced with delivering comedic monologues and telling jokes in general. As the quote above notes, sometimes it can even be hard to tell a celebrity that he or she needs to go in a different direction. They might work on a monologue until late in the week and still suck, and sometimes the celebrities will even defend how bad they are at whatever monologue they originally worked on. In those cases, it's easy to see why questions and answers are used, because they are often quick, fast and painless, even if they aren't as ingenious as some of the other opening monologues.
A quick perusal on Google will give you a ton of examples of monologues that included Q&A sessions, including openings featuring expected musicians like Mick Jagger, but also talented actresses like Natalie Portman, so the use of the Q&A open really runs the gamut. It should be noted, however, that type of opening segment is not always used simply because a celebrity guest can't tell jokes. In fact, the show brought out Jerry Seinfeld to interact with celebrities like John Goodman, Michael Douglas, James Franco, Larry David and a slew of others during the SNL 40 special. In that case, it was a good way to crack jokes and reference SNL's past, not to mention include a ton of huge celebrity names in an extremely easy capacity. Pretty much a no brainer, in my opinion. Still, next time you see one of these types of opening sequences, you can probably assume there's some sort of story behind it.