"I've spent my formative years at 'Saturday Night Live' doing 'Weekend Update' while sitting behind a desk," said Seth Meyers in a recent interview. "But in my new job, I think there might be a bit of standing up."
That new job for the former Chicago actor and improviser (and veteran of the "Boom Chicago" sketch-comedy emporium in Amsterdam) is hosting NBC's vaunted talk show "Late Night." Meyers will succeed Jimmy Fallon in what once was a slot occupied by Conan O'Brien.
And that coming out — from behind a desk, that is — perhaps best explains why the famously smart funnyman is showing up next week doing stand-up at Chicago's annual TBS Just for Laughs comedy festival, the annual fete of funny that will take over several of the city's major venues, including The Vic, Park West and Stage 773, and make Chicago the center of the live-comedy world, for a week at least.
Meyers, born in Evanston and with early experience at iO, did stand-up at The Vic as part of the festival last year. But his star has risen and, like Russell Brand, Bill Maher, David Cross and Bob Newhart, he'll be one of the marquee headliners at the Chicago Theatre during the five-day Just For Laughs run.
As in previous years, several of the headliners will be hosting bills composed of their own favorite comics. Cross appears with "His Super Duper Pals" (actually Paul F. Tompkins, Brian Posehn, Doug Benson and Todd Glass). Meyers is billed with Al Madrigal (from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart") and the Just for Laughs regular and Chicago native Hannibal Buress. The vintage Newhart goes one better: He's bringing his own orchestra, a festival spokesman said.
The Vic showcases Nick Swardson and Anjelah Johnson, along with two live performances by the stars of the TV show "Impractical Jokers." The Park West has John Hodgman, Artie Lange (of the "Howard Stern Show"), Irish comic Dylan Moran and "Comedians of Comedy" star Maria Bamford.
The festival has often showcased TV show casts, especially from the sponsoring network TBS, and this year's Park West slate also include cast members from the sitcom "Sullivan and Son" and from the IFC show "The Whitest Kids U'Know." New cast members on "Saturday Night Live," many of whom have Chicago roots, are one of the acts scheduled for the UP Comedy Club at Second City, under the name "Knuckleheads." That's likely to be a big draw.
The major change this year is that most of the smaller venues used in past years have been axed in favor of a so-called Digital Comedy Hub at Stage 773, in the Belmont Avenue theater district. This multitheater venue, known for its improv shows, will host a variety of performances during the festival, sold through an "all-access" pass.
The digital theme means that content from this venue will be made available across a variety of digital channels. When Just for Laughs started in Chicago, several of its big shows were taped for TBS; that costly endeavor has been nixed, which experience suggests makes the shows better for live customers, but the new digital initiatives are a reminder that the festival also pays attention to potential audiences outside of town.
"Everything in our house is going to be streamed live," said Brian Posen, the artistic director of Stage 773. "And at the same time, all of our houses will be rocking."
Perchance Meyers will be rocking too. He said he'll be trying stuff out, sure, but also trying to deliver "a good show for everybody" in the town of his crucial, formative years.
"Coming to Chicago right after the announcement of the show really is like the completion of a circle," Meyers said. "This will be my first live show after that news." Clearly, it means a lot to him.
And when he's not performing, Meyers is likely to be scouting around for a new team of writers and comedians. "The breadth of talent you can find in Chicago really is unmatched," he said, "and it's always best to see them with a Chicago audience."
TBS Just for Laughs Chicago '13
When: Tuesday through June 16
Where: Various Chicago venues
Tickets: $15-$79; contact the individual venues or justforlaughschicago.comCopyright © 2015, RedEye