Seth Meyers and Fred Armisen Talk About Performing the Best Late-Night Shows

Seth Meyers and Fred Armisen Talk About Performing the Best Late-Night Shows ...

"Late Night" is well-known for its recurring comedy segments such as "A Closer Look" and "Day Drinking," in which host Seth Meyers gets plastered while the sun's still shining with celebrities like Lizzo, Rihanna, and Ina Garten — but Meyers does have to be adamant about asking Fred Armisen, his buddy of 20 years, about his first celebrity fragrance or Armisen's desire to create a competing Academy Awards show.

'It's Time to Ask Fred a Question,' is a brief improv experiment on steroids: When Armisen is on the program, serving as its occasional bandleader, Meyers asks the drummer an absurd question ("I heard you also made a bid for Twitter?") They're ones Armisen doesn't know or cannot anticipate; often at the last minute while walking from his dressing room to the stage. (Armisen suspected that the showrunner was a joint effort with Meyers.)

Armisen's high-wire riffing follows in the same vein as his alternative Valentine's Day holiday: Acquaintance Day. "You only see them once in a while, every couple of years."

Meyers teaches his studio audience how the bit works ahead of the show. “They get to be extra enthused because they’ve been told that he is doing something to them that sounds like a magic trick,” he told IndieWire. "And that makes it contagious in a really fun way."

Fred must quickly transition from percussion to comedy mode, which involves removing his in-ear monitors (a necessity to play in the house band) and agreeing to Meyers' nonsense, according to Rule No. 1 of improv: "Yes, and." The tricky part is in Rule No. 2, "Not only that, but."

"We've known each other for so long and worked so closely," Armisen said of IndieWire. "I purposely try to clear my head before he asks me."

Meyers said she prefers doing it because she's grown to accept how fearless Fred is. "I would not enjoy this if it was putting someone on the spot who didn't like being on the spot."

Armisen must not only make his joke funny, but also believable. One way Armisen accomplishes that, per Meyers, is by altering the type and length of his responses.

"It's a musical story, and it reflects Fred's musical background," Meyers said.

“It's not meant to be too difficult, nor too broad, nor too intimidating,” Armisen said. “They always have a conversational quality to them.”

Meyers says he can sense the audience trying to guess what Seth wants Armisen to say, and that undermines the piece. “There's so much comedy in specificity,” he said.

If all of this sounds like Garth (Armisen) and Kat (Kristen Wiig) from "SNL: Weekend Update," it is. Meyers was also the set-up man for that off-the-cuff recurring musical gag, in which Armisen would write up themed lyrics on the spot and Wiig would (do her best) keep his tongue intact.

Why does everything work so smoothly? Meyers said: “I think all of us are kind of enthused by the fact that we will never know Fred enough to advance over him. It's also enticing.”

Armisen will be drumming — and answering — questions for Meyers all week long. However, tonight will be no "Let's Ask Fred a Question." Armisen will be the first couch guest for Meyers.