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The story behind Late Night’s Cigarette-Smoking Cockroach character

New Yorkers have a habit of collecting mascots, and our favorites seem to be the ones that hit precisely at the intersection of cute and trashy, making viewers think “Same” with a weary sigh.

There was Pizza Rat, of course. Then came Bagel Pigeon. Taco Squirrel. Hennessy Rat. We adopt questionable mascots so often that whether they can overcome the popularity of the original Pizza Rat has become its own genre of local niche journalism.

One of the mascots came about during those months before the pandemic that we all seem to be a bit hazy on after more than 2 years of having our lives upended. That mascot, of course, is the Cigarette Cockroach from October 2019.

The cockroach was spotted at the intersection of 53rd and 5th, struggling to liberate a cigarette butt from a sewer grate. Twitter had a field day, and New Yorkers added Cigarette Cockroach to our pantheon of ill-advised but highly relatable mascots.

Seth Meyers first mentioned Cigarette Cockroach in his monologue a few days later:

“Video surfaced over the weekend of a cockroach in New York carrying a cigarette across a sewer grate. This was particularly special, since that’s also the New York State Flag. ”
— Seth Meyers

The next mention of the cockroach on Late Night didn’t come until July 29, 2020, when Seth, having lost his mind in the Captain’s Quarters, brought him back as a fully anthropomorphized character.

During ‘A Closer Look,’ Seth explained that we can’t extrapolate Covid-19 positivity rates to the broader population based on results from Urgent Care, because the people most likely to seek treatment are the ones who are the most sick.

“I mean, I know I’ve definitely gone to Urgent Care like four or five times to ask them about a weird rash and been told it’s just New York skin. Could be bedbugs. Could be a rat bite. Could be heat rash from having your radiator stuck on high all winter. Could be irritation from a cockroach in your kitchen smoking a cigarette. [ Inhales ] ‘I’m your new roommate, and no, I won’t wear a mask. We need to get organic soaps.’”
— Seth Meyers

Getting to Know the Cigarette-Smoking Cockroach

We learned more about the Cigarette-Smoking Cockroach leading up to Seth introducing us his Broadway musical, Cicada, Cicada.

The Cockroach made his next appearance 9 months after his last mention, during ‘A Closer Look’ from April 21, 2021, when we found out that he’s a disgruntled Met fan.

A few weeks later, on May 10, Seth described trying to explain delusional conspiracy theories like being caught on the F train after someone pulls the emergency brake because a cockroach asked him for directions to the nearest OTB and then stole his Marlboro Lights.

On May 27, Seth played out a scenario at a community board meeting in which the Cockroach takes the floor to complain about the Mets, then gets in trouble for smoking indoors. This is the first time we get introduced to the Cicada as a character, with a hint at what will end up being the main conflict in Cicada, Cicada.

“[Cockroach] Oh, what? No smoking indoors? Since when, 2003? Well, if it’s been that long, someone should tell the cicadas. [Cicada] Did someone say my name? It’s wonderful to be back! After 17 years underground, I can’t wait for 17 great years above ground in the best city in the world!” [Cockroach] Oh, no. Oh, I have some bad news, cicadas. [Cicada] I hope it’s not bad news about my life expectancy!”
— Seth Meyers

In ‘A Closer Look’ from June 7, we found out that the Cicada and Cockroach were still spending time together, with the Cockroach his usual gruff self. This was also when Seth officially introduced us to Cicada, Cicada, with the the Cockroach being played by Harvey Fierstein.

In Corrections for the week of Monday, June 7, we learned that the Cockroach may have a rough exterior, but is ultimately kind-hearted. Seth describes him as “a bug who has never cared for another insect” and says he didn’t have the heart to tell his friend the Cicada that she would only live for 2 weeks. Instead, the Cockroach works with Nathan Lane to try to put on a Broadway show for his friend before she dies. Seth describes the final scene:

“And then, after she dies, the last scene, he goes to a Mets game by himself and for the first time in his life, he cries. Not because his friend is dead, but because the Mets blow a four-run lead in the ninth.”
— Seth Meyers

We also found out in the June 7 episode that the best song in Cicada, Cicada, according to Seth, is the Cockroach’s song complaining about the smoking ban, called “My Titanic Hit a Bloomberg.”

On July 14, 2021, we found out the Cockroach has a valid New York State ID and doesn’t understand why he’s not allowed to vote.

An image of a New York State commercial driver license belonging to "Cockroach, Cigarette Smoking," born on 8/18/2019.

Late Night with Seth Meyers/YouTube

A few days later, on July 19, the Cockroach called in to WFAN to complain about the Mets again. And on Aug. 9, he was so let down by the Mets that he started contemplating his own (in-universe) immortality, saying, “I can’t believe I’m going to live forever and never see this team win it all.”

On Sept. 15, 2021, Nathan Lane appeared on Late Night and Seth gave him the full rundown on Cicada, Cicada, which includes the Cockroach living in his apartment. After hearing Nathan’s Harvey Fierstein impression, Seth told Nathan that he can be Harvey’s understudy and play both his own role (as himself) and the Cockroach if Harvey gets sick.

A couple of months later, on Nov. 11, we found out that the Cockroach has switched to a nicotine patch, symbolizing the loss of easy New York punchlines once the Knicks started doing well and LaGuardia was renovated.

In Corrections: Week of Monday, December 13, Seth performed part of a song he’d been working on for the Cockroach:

“You know, the Mets-loving cockroach will come in and there will be a scene that starts where he’s like, ‘Bad news. I just came back from the doctor and I tested positive.’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh, no. For coronavirus?’ And he’ll say: ‘No. ♪ For the Mets! ♪ ♪ The doc says it’s as bad as it gets ♪ ♪ Fever, bad cough, and the sweats ♪ ♪ I said, Is there a cure? ♪ ♪ He said, “Sure. ♪ ♪ I take a hammer and I hit you on the head ♪ ♪ Until you forgets!’ ♪”
— Seth Meyers

Most recently, Harvey Fierstein visited Late Night on March 1, 2022, and Seth showed a photo of him in the cockroach costume he got when he found out about Cicada, Cicada. Harvey said that seeing the costume on Let’s Make a Deal after he’d already bought it was a sign that he needed to reach out to Seth about his play.

Corrections to the Cigarette-Smoking Cockroach

In the Corrections episode for the week of May 10, 2021, Seth notes that he was corrected on how a cockroach would smoke a cigarette:

“Someone else said, ‘If you ever do a cockroach smoking again, the cigarette should not be in their mouth. Um, it should be on the side or near the rear of their abdomen, because cockroaches do not breathe through their mouth. They breathe through tiny holes called spiracles.’”
— Seth Meyers

He corrected his hand positioning the next time the Cockroach made an appearance, on May 27.

Seth Meyers holds two fingers up to his abdomen as if he's holding a cigarette. In the key above his right shoulder is a photo of a cockroach carrying a cigarette butt.

Late Night with Seth Meyers/YouTube

In Corrections: Week of July 12 (2021), Seth corrected the Cockroach’s driver’s license, which had listed an Aug. 18, 2019, birth date. Since cockroaches usually don’t live longer than a year, the cockroach would have died by the time the photo of its license aired, if it were accurate. As Seth said, though, “I do think they live longer in New York,” and we now know that in the Late Night Cinematic Universe, the Cockroach is immortal.

We haven’t heard from the Cigarette-Smoking Cockroach himself yet in 2022, so we’ll just have to try to be patient and wait to see where he shows up next — perhaps on Fifth Avenue, where he got his start.