Seth Meyers is a former cast member and head writer for Saturday Night Live and current host of Late Night with Seth Meyers. In his 2019 Netflix special, Lobby Baby, Meyers reflects on the many mishaps and milestones of early fatherhood, delivering jokes about delivering babies—his first son was almost born in the back of an Uber, his second in the lobby of Meyers’s apartment building. (His third child, a daughter, was since born in a more comfortable setting, at home.) This month, the Emmy Award-winning comedian pivots from telling stories about kids to writing stories for kids, with his picture book debut, I’m Not Sacred, You’re Scared!, illustrated by Rob Sayegh Jr. In the book, which stars two traditional storybook animals playing against type, an anxious bear and a fearless rabbit go on a trek in the woods, where Bear must finally face his fears. We recently spoke with Meyers about channeling his comedic voice in the picture book format, and drawing inspiration from collaborators, both on stage and on the page.

Meyers was also looking forward to reprising his role as host of the PEN America Literary Awards in New York City on February 28, this time as a soon-to-be published author. “Oh, I’m gonna lord it over the crowd,” he quipped. “I could tell they were looking down their noses at me last time.” Jokes aside, he told PW, “Honestly, it’s great to do it again. This is a wonderful group of people who don’t get as much recognition as they should. And to have the event in person again feels like a tiny baby step toward normalcy.” In other news, Meyers will appear in conversation with Judy Blume on March 15; the evening will be hosted by various indie bookstores across the country.

You’ve mined some of your experiences as a parent in Lobby Baby and other comedy work. What led you to pivot to writing for kids in your first picture book?

Basically just reading to my kids and starting to understand how much the books they read now are going to shape who they are when they grow up. So, I guess the answer is ego? [Laughs.]

Both jokes and picture books are often written with the aim of being shared aloud. There’s that performance element. When you set out to write this book, did you find there were any similarities to your process for comedy writing?

Yeah, often times when you’re working on a joke, the part that comes after the inspiration is making sure you’re telling it as clearly as possible. And it’s like that with writing children’s books as well. You’re trying to tell a story that hopefully has some depth to it but above all is clear.

Rhythm and repetition also play a big part in your picture book, as they do in comedy. Were those elements top of mind?

More so than with Late Night, I felt like my experience at SNL with sketch writing came into play here. There’s the rule of threes. And I tried to give the characters catchphrases, too. I hope parents will enjoy doing the voices. And I hope kids will enjoy learning the repetition.

Bears and rabbits are classic characters in kids’ books. How did you avoid typecasting?

I did feel a little hacky going near a rabbit. But I went for it. Maybe I’ll try to use a lesser known animal next time—give them some representation.

In many ways the book resonates with the current pandemic, and the fear and anxiety we’re all facing, regardless of age.... But it’s funny! Do you think that comedy and courage are somehow linked?

At a certain point, I think you have to face the fear of failing at comedy. I was lucky enough to have David Letterman on the show recently. I don’t think there’s anyone else who did it with more natural ease. And he’d be the first to admit he never stopped having anxiety. It’s always a question of trying to balance the fear and anxiety and manage them—because the audience doesn’t want to see that.

Have you shared the book with your children yet?

In the beginning, it was a story I would tell them and fine tune every night. My oldest was maybe four when I started, and he was really thoughtful about it. I found that some parts were a little too scary, and I didn’t want to give them nightmares. It was really fun to see which parts they enjoyed and then lay in the details, to reflect and see what was working.

What do you hope the wider audience will take away from the book?

I hope it’s fun to read; that’s my main goal. And I hope it’s something that kids will want to read more than once—and that parents won’t mind.

How do you feel that Rob Sayegh Jr.’s illustrations add to the humor?

It’s incredible how much the illustrations add. You know, it’s very similar to SNL when you write a joke and have someone like Bill Hader or Kristen Wiig perform it. That just takes it to another level. In the book, there’s the character design and expressions, and the small reveals that show up again later on. Rob did a really nice job from the get-go.

Is there a possibility of any more picture books from you? No pressure.

I realized I’m spoiled. I have a lot of instant gratification with Late Night; I write jokes in the morning and get to tell them later that day. Publishing children’s books takes a lot longer than one might think. So this process has taught me the virtue of patience. I’m so excited the book’s finally gonna be out in the world for readers, and also for me and for my kids. So, yes, I would love to do another one.

Well, if you’re open to it, three is supposedly the magic number in both comedy and kid lit.

That’s true. Now you’ve given me homework. The question is, do I revisit the same characters?

I’m Not Scared, You’re Scared! by Seth Meyers, illus. by Rob Sayegh Jr. Flamingo, $18.99 Mar. 15 ISBN 978-0-59335-237-3