Seth Meyers: ‘I Completely Underestimated’ Donald Trump
The late-night host ponders the possibility of a meaningful conversation with Donald Trump, whom he famously eviscerated five years ago at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
In 2011, Seth Meyers gave the ultimate indictment of a Donald Trump presidential candidacy. “Donald Trump said that he was running for president as a Republican,” Meyers said, at the time hosting the White House Correspondents Dinner. “That’s funny, because I thought he was running as a joke.”
The burns kept coming—“Donald Trump owns the Miss USA pageant, which is great for Republicans because it will streamline their search for vice president”—and, five years later, haven’t stopped.
Then, Donald Trump was in the room, scowling as Meyers roasted the very idea of the reality TV personality being taken seriously as a politician. Now, he’s the elephant in the room, as Meyers hosts his daily late-night talk show.
In more than two dozen segments, Meyers has taken Trump to task on everything from the Trump University lawsuits to his “incredibly racist” attacks on an Indiana-born Hispanic trial judge to, most recently, the disparity in media coverage between Trump and Hillary Clinton.
“This election has an older sister/younger brother dynamic,” Meyers said earlier this week. “Basically, Trump is Ferris Bueller and you’re his sister Jeannie. Trump can skip school, dance on a parade float, and claim to be the sausage king of Chicago, but you, Hillary? You should know better. You were Secretary of State while he was televising a Gary Busey job interview. The rules are different for you.”
When The Daily Beast talked to Meyers a full year ago, we were marveling at the fact that Trump was being taken seriously, even wondering then if we would get exhausted of talking and joking about him. “At the end of the day I think everybody only has to take seriously that Donald Trump is at the top of the polls without ever having to take Donald Trump seriously,” Meyers said at the time.
A year later, Meyers is back on the phone—this time with his former Saturday Night Live co-stars Fred Armisen and Bill Hader—to talk about the upcoming second season of Documentary Now!, the absurdist comic homage to classic documentaries that premieres this week. The trio co-created and write the show; Armisen and Hader star in it.
In the time since we last talked, not only has Trump won the Republican nomination for president, but Meyers has also become a vital and unflinching voice in taking the air out of his candidacy—eviscerating Trump to the point that it was no longer a joke. Earlier this summer, for example, he delivered a near seven-minute diatribe against the candidate that was short on laughs but pulsing with invective immediacy.
Given this, we asked Meyers if he thought that actually having Trump on his show as a guest would result in a meaningful, perhaps even necessary conversation.
“I would think it would make for good television,” Meyers told The Daily Beast. “I think I could promise that. But as far as a meaningful conversation I think both people have to want that to happen, and I can only speak for half of that.”
“I’m hard pressed to think if I’ve seen him have that, [where it] wasn’t just sort of deflecting and re-routing the conversation,” he added.
One year ago, we wondered if we would ever tire of talking about Trump, perhaps even predicting that his buzz would fizzle. How wrong we were.
“Obviously what he’s doing, he’s showing a real political acumen that I completely underestimated,” he said. “I’ve been wrong about him at every turn. I’m not saying that what he’s doing is wrong. I’m just saying that it might not result in anything meaningful if he ever did this.”
When asked if he would be game to have Trump on as a guest—despite appearing on Jimmy Fallon’s talk show twice, Trump has not appeared on Meyers’s show, which pundits attribute to hurt feelings over that Correspondents Dinner speech—Meyers said he’d be game, joking, “Well, yeah, but we don’t have a lot of openings so he might have to be a second guest.”
It’s at this point that Meyers’s Documentary Now! cohorts weigh in. “Feel the Bern, right?” jokes Fred Armisen. “Fred’s eight months behind on politics,” Meyers laughs. “We have to break the news to Fred right now,” Hader jokes, about Bernie Sanders’s candidacy.
As the conversation ends, Armisen gets in one last request: “Tell everyone to feel the Bern!”
A longer conversation with Meyers, Hader, and Armisen about Documentary Now!—a show you all should watch—will publish Wednesday on The Daily Beast.