How The Thorn Birds Took Flight as a Running Seth Meyers Quarantine Joke

Eagle-eyed viewers help turn a neighbor’s book into an ongoing gag

"I have enjoyed it far more than I probably should,” said Seth Meyers of his running Thorn Birds gag. NBC
Headshot of Jason Lynch

It took Seth Meyers a few tries to figure out the best location to broadcast Late Night from home—but his comedy instincts remained sharp as ever.

One of Late Night With Seth Meyers’ funniest recurring bits since Meyers began filming at home in March has been his use of The Thorn Birds, a 1977 bestselling novel about the romance between a New Zealand girl and a priest, which was turned into one of the most-watched TV miniseries of all time in 1983.

The novel has been regularly featured on a table behind Meyers’ desk as he records Late Night from his home attic. Adweek compiled Meyers’ best Thorn Birds moments in this video:

Video: Dianna McDougall

Meyers, who appears on Adweek’s cover this week, explained the origin of the gag.

After first attempting to record a show in his upstairs hallway, Meyers relocated to a neighbor’s garage starting with Late Night’s March 25 episode. That book was one of many featured on the bookcase behind him during those garage broadcasts.

“So many people have pointed out the books in the background of [at-home] interviews—and for whatever reason, a bunch of people noticed that there was a Thorn Birds on the bookshelf,” said Meyers, who was quickly taken with the book.

“There’s just something really funny about The Thorn Birds because I do think it’s a book that everyone had. When you were a kid, certainly my age, I felt like every house had it,” Meyers said. “I never knew what it was about. I never read it, I’ve never seen it, but there’s something evocative about the title, The Thorn Birds.”

“It’s whimsy, for very few people—but I have enjoyed it far more than I probably should."
Seth Meyers

When Meyers left the garage for his attic beginning with the April 1 episode, “I brought it with me, because I thought it would be a fun book to have,” he said.

Since then, “it’s just been trying to come up with the dumbest things to do with it,” he said. Among the bits: multiplying and disappearing copies, and several different changes to the title on the book jacket.

(Meyers has paused the ongoing gag for the past two weeks in light of the nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd while in police custody. He is instead featuring books from some of his favorite Black authors, including Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.)

“It’s whimsy, for very few people—but I have enjoyed it far more than I probably should,” he said.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.