Seth Meyers talks 'Documentary Now!' season 2, how the Obamas nearly ruined an episode
The EP previews the season and new aftershow 'Documentary Now! Later' with an exclusive teaser
Documentary Now! now has an after show — and no, it won’t be called Talking Documentary Now!
It’ll be called Documentary Now! Later and it’ll bring co-creator and executive producer Seth Meyers, producer and star Fred Armisen, directors Rhys Thomas and Alex Buono, and, occasionally, writer John Mulaney together to talk about each episode.
In other words, they’re bite-sized looks at the already bite-sized “documentaries” and… anyway, just take a look for yourself in this exclusive preview:
(A minute of each Later chat will air after its corresponding episode, and full versions will then be posted online on both IFC.com and the app.)
There’s not much more to Later than that, but the new after show offered EW enough of an excuse to call up Meyers and pick his brain about picking his own brain. Below, Meyers talks crafting season 2 — or rather, season 51 — of Documentary Now!, how President Obama wound up disrupting an episode, and why the team will (probably) never tackle a docu-series.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the idea for Documentary Now! Later come about, and how will it work?
SETH MEYERS: We all really like talking about the show and we especially like doing some post-show conversation. Because this show is already so blindingly pretentious, we thought, what could make it even more pretentious, other than the crew sitting around musing about our thought process? [Laughs.] It’s riveting.
Were you inspired by all the other show’s after shows?
Yeah, I think it was to some degree that. We were real jealous that other people got to expound upon their work. [Laughs.] The thing about Documentary Now!, the show itself, is our directors, Rhys and Alex, do such an incredible job. They don’t have big budgets, and they certainly don’t have a lot of time, and they end up making these short films that are so beautiful, so I would say that we really wanted to, over the course of these post-shows, just talk about how much they are accomplishing as directors with very constrained parameters. So all jokes aside, I think we spent most of the time complimenting other people.
Just to be clear, did you guys pretend the documentaries are real?
We did not. This is really behind the scenes, and unlike other shows where they shoot on the same set every week, each episode of Documentary Now! is unique to itself, so there are some pretty good stories about, like, the fact that we were going to shoot an episode in Cuba, but then the Obamas decided to go to Cuba, so our film permit got pulled. [Laughs.] So then we had to go to Colombia, and then we had to shoot on a mountain, because I guess the Zika mosquitoes don’t go on mountains, so [laughs] for a sketch comedy show, I think we jumped through more hoops than most would.
Let’s talk this season of Documentary Now!. Is there any doc that stands out in your mind you want to tease?
Probably The Bunker, which is a take on The War Room, a [D.A.] Pennebaker (and Chris Hegedus) film about the 1992 election. It’s just really nice timing, obviously with the election only being a couple of months after it airs, and my favorite episodes are ones where Fred and Bill [Hader] are interacting with each other, because I think independently they’re two of the funniest people you’re ever going to see on camera, but they’re so great as a team and just wonderful in that episode together.
Why not do something more contemporary if you’re into documentaries that relate to current events? You know, something Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock?
We talked about it, but with both Morgan and Michael, we feel like they have their own unique comic voices, and it’s hard to do a parody like we’re trying to. What works best is if the source material is bone dry, because then it allows us to sort of put comedy on top of it. With somebody like Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock, they’ve already added comedy to a subject, so we kind of feel like it’s been done. And the other thing people always suggest is anything long and multi-episode like Making a Murderer or The Jinx. We feel like we’re already boiling down a lot, from a two-hour documentary to 22 minutes, which is hard when the documentaries have storytelling. So no Jinx, no Making a Murderer, no Michael Moore.
Documentary Now! is still, as a show, sort of hard to define — it’s not a straight parody. How would you describe it, as people who didn’t watch the first season can dive into the second as well?
I would say… it’s a comic homage? [Laughs.] Boy, you see, this is the problem we have with the show, because it’s really hard to talk about this show without sounding like a really pretentious prick. [Laughs.] It’s like Fred and Bill in wigs. There you go.
And Helen Mirren.
Yeah! Did you get to see her do her thing?
I did, and by the way, she wanted to change the name of the show to ¡Documentary Matters!. (Read EW’s interview with Mirren here to get her explanation for the title.) Thoughts?
I’m never going to go on record disagreeing with Dame Helen Mirren, and my only regret is that of the two of us, she chose to tell you, the one person who couldn’t do anything about it, whereas, you know, if she let me know, it’d be season 51 of ¡Documentary Matters!.
Ah, that’s the only mistake she’s ever made.
Well, maybe it’s not a mistake. [Laughs.] Everything she does is on purpose.
Documentary Now! returns Wednesday, Sept. 14, at 10 p.m. ET on IFC.