Give this to Seth Meyers: The man has a work ethic. As Saturday Night Live‘s head writer and host of “Weekend Update,” he spends most weeks in the fall, winter and spring inside 30 Rock preparing for the latest installment of the weekly comedy institution. Working on SNL is a notorious grind, but when Meyers gets a week off, he signs up for more work, hitting the road to ply his charming craft as a stand-up comic. If Meyers is tired, he doesn’t show it: At Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater last night, Meyers proved he could be just as funny and likeable behind a single microphone stand as he is behind the “Update” desk – if not exactly hard-hitting.
Not surprisingly, much of his act delved into the same topical humor that he’s known for on SNL. Muammar Qaddafi’s death got a glancing notice (Meyers called it “a terrible blow to fashion”), but the comedian focused mainly on the American political scene. The Republican presidential debates provided plenty of fodder, with Meyers dispatching Rick Perry (who’s good “if you liked George W. Bush but thought he was too cerebral”) and Michele Bachmann (who “has the crazy eyes of someone who’s just heard that Michele Bachmann was elected president”) with the same casual ease that he brought to his celebrated turn as host of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner earlier this year. (Meyers made a quick callback to his favorite topic of mockery that night, admitting that “I lost a friend in Donald Trump” after the dinner.)
In the realm of politically minded comics, Meyers ranks a few notches below Jon Stewart, a true satirist who uses comedy to speak out against the dysfunction of politicians and their enablers in the media. Meyers is jokier, always moving on to the next punchline and seemingly disinterested in connecting his quips to some kind of larger statement. That’s fine as far as it goes, though his political material is overly reliant on worn-out tropes (i.e. Vice President Biden is a “good old fashioned goofball”) and therefore rings a little hollow.
When Meyers moved away from current events, he was similarly hit-or-miss, musing about the hours he spends playing Xbox (which should come with a mirror, he said, “so after every game you can look at yourself and go, ‘Are you happy with your life?'”) and the “Lord of the Rings-style quest” that used to be required for young boys to see photos of naked women before the internet. Meyers’ set was a lot like watching SNL these days: it was light, engaging, occasionally quotable and not terribly deep. If Stewart is the straight-A student who heads up the school’s debate team, Meyers is the popular wiseass in the back of the class who’d rather cut up than think too deeply about the state of the world.