The Ivy League and late-night television go hand in hand. Call me biased, but some of our most beloved on-screen icons are Ivy graduates: Colin Jost, Mindy Kaling, John Krasinski, Kate McKinnon, etc. And maybe I’m so deluded by the “Yale Bubble” that I just can’t see outside of it, but late-night television represents a unique hallmark of success among Ivy students that the rest of the country simply isn’t familiar with. John Mulaney came to campus in 2014, Aidy Bryant in 2017, and Mindy Kaling in 2019. Yale went berserk because, in the hierarchy of college teas and sponsored forums, right next to political guests like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, are late-night comedians like Mulaney and Bryant.
It’s a real thing, I promise. The YDN has more than a dozen articles out on it, each a different take on breaking into the late-night industry. What will aspiring Yalies do without the Lampoon to guide them? Join the improv scene; the alumni network will get you somewhere. Reporting live from the Branford Common Room, Mulaney says to “just keep writing” if you want to make it. Maybe that’s worth a shot.
Now, don’t get me wrong—these late-night folks have a crush on us too. Just last month, Conan O’Brien was seen walking around campus (nobody seems to have any idea as to why). When this happens, in accordance with random-Yale-celebrity-appearance tradition, we typically say, “Oh, [insert celebrity name here] was probably at the law school” (even though there is absolutely no connection between many of these celebrities and the legal world). But seriously—what’s the Ivy obsession with late-night?
Last Monday, I rolled into Grand Central Station and made the twenty-minute trek to the Rockefeller Center for the third time that week. The late-night lottery odds were in my favor as I was on my way to see Seth Meyers host Pete Davidson and Emily Ratajkowski for a five o’clock show. (This wouldn’t be the last time I skipped class to sneak my way into a show.) Sitting in the front row, I looked like a 12-year-old who had mainlined heroin and a Starbucks cotton candy Frappuccino in one go. Twice, the pages had to confront me. The first time, to stop shaking my leg: “The cameras can see you,” one of them hissed. Second, to put my notebook away. “This isn’t Yale University,” a female page grimaced. “You need to put that away.” What did I tell you? The Ivy League and late-night—soul sisters.
A few minutes before the show started, Seth Meyers walked out to informally introduce himself to the audience. My report to my mom on sitting two feet in front of Seth Meyers was as follows: “Cute but underwhelming. Running a little low on emotional energy. Big dad energy though. 8/10.”
The show was on. Meyers quickly rehearsed his lines, performed his monologue, and hosted two ten-minute segments with his guests. For Pete Davidson, he acted like it was a meeting that cut into his lunch break. Late-night appearances were on his to-do list. For Meyers, it was obvious he did this every day.
In the intimate Q&A that Meyers held after the show was recorded, he went through his routine. He came into the studio at 9 a.m., did some last minute touch-ups with the writers, and ran a quick rehearsal of his jokes. He explained that after the pandemic, he got used to no audiences, so he cut the test show that used to happen before the actual recording. (It used to be tradition at Rockefeller Center that the stage manager would gather 40 random tourists from downstairs to come and watch Meyers rehearse before the ticketed guests arrived.) Every day, taping began at 4 p.m. and was done by 5, and Meyers went home for the day. Yes, you heard that right. Seth Meyers works a 9-5 job.
I don’t know why that came as a surprise to me. As a Yalie with a late-night infatuation, I envisioned something totally different. I can’t say I was disappointed leaving the studio that night, but I didn’t feel the same euphoria I once did. I was finally forced to face the soul-crushing reality—Seth Meyers is actually a dad. A real-life, graying, hair-thinning, beer belly-developing, normal, 9-5 dad. And Pete Davidson, my long-lost late-night love, was actually just a regular, 27-year-old guy who was burnt out and stuck in his teenage punk era.
After the show, my walk back to Grand Central Station had my mind spinning. Is late-night a scam? Is it just a mundane 9-5? Will I ever be able to look at Lorne Michaels with the same googly eyes again? What will happen when Cecily Strong decides to come to SSS? Will I have lost my desire to go?
I am, of course, being dramatic. But on the train ride back to New Haven, I felt numbingly perplexed. Since the beginning of high school, it had been my dream to write for Saturday Night Live, or any late-night show for that matter. I always thought my dream was bold because it was a refusal to sell out. A refusal to chase security. Stability. Predictability. Continuity. In exchange for anything less than what I loved the most—organic, dynamic, exhilarating, late-night comedy. I thought finally getting to watch a show in person would invigorate me. I thought I wouldn’t be able to get my mind off sketch comedy for months. But I couldn’t make heads or tails of where my heart was.
I got back to Union Station a little before 9, and I took my time walking back to my apartment. For the first time in years, I thought I might try and go to medical school. If I was going to sell out to something, I at least wanted to appease my parents. I checked my phone for the first time that day. “You were missed in class,” the body of the email from my screenwriting professor read. “How’d it go?”—a text from my dad. I was honest with him in my response, even though I anticipated he’d just use my disappointment as an opportunity to reiterate the importance of an advanced degree. Instead, he told me to take my life one day at a time. That he didn’t even know his current career existed until his senior year of college. He told me that if the only thing deterring me from chasing a late-night writers’ room was the potential of a 9-5 job, then I was doing pretty well for myself. He said, jokingly, that Yale was no Harvard (where he taught for more than 10 years), but that the odds were in my favor. He reminded me that if I wanted to pursue a career in late-night television, I was at the perfect place. A train ride away from New York City. A strong alumni network. Connected professors. Plenty of on-campus guest appearances. The top-ranked university English department. Everything I needed was at my fingertips.
So I realized that, besides the political overlap which draws Ivy Leaguers to the late-night scene, SNL and sketch comedy are a reality for us. Our obsession with late-night comedians is similar to our obsession with politicians—we’re looking at our future selves. And why do the late-night folks keep stalking us? Well, they’re looking at who they used to be. We remind them of themselves 20 years ago. Conan O’Brien? He wasn’t at the law school; he was reimagining his college years (had he made a much better choice of where to go to school). The Ivy League, and Yale in particular, no matter how much false confidence or impostor syndrome they give us, make the late-night life palpable. It’s a dream, yes. A shot in the dark? Absolutely. But it’s something real and intimate.
I’ve always been a risk taker. I want my occupation to be a site of instability. Because instability leaves room for adventure.
As I was nearing my apartment, my dad called. He always insisted it was easier to talk on the phone. In his typical Minnesota demeanor, he told me that giving up on SNL for a 9-5 was “nonsense, absolute nonsense.” He reminded me that I love writing. I love sketch comedy.
“You’re the farthest thing from a 9-5 job I’ve ever seen. I’ve been telling you to go to medical school since you were five years old. I dressed you up as a doctor for career day in kindergarten. Come on now,” he said with an even thicker Midwestern accent this time.
Most importantly, he reminded me that I’ll end up where I’m supposed to be. Then I remembered I had to catch a train the next morning to go see Fallon. I guess I am an Ivy student after all—late-night is my one true love.