I Visited Every Late Night TV Show This Semester in NYC. Here’s how:
By: Elizabeth Young, ADV junior
It’s no secret that New York City is home to some of the greatest entertainment in the world. From the Tony award winning stars of Broadway, to the Grammy award winning performers headlining at MSG, there is always someone to see in the city. However, where some people think New York City falls flat comes when you talk about television and movies. For most people, if you want to see the best of those industries, you have to go out to Los Angeles. While that may be true in some regards, I’d argue that New York actually excels in one major category: late night television.
I’ve been a late night TV junkie since 2008. I was in seventh grade, and I remember that all anyone was talking about was this woman named Tina Fey, and how her impression of some other lady named Sarah Palin was so uncanny you couldn’t tell them apart. I started watching SNL right before the election, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Over the years, my interest has spread to other shows, and now I’m a regular viewer of almost everything out there that has to do with late night.
When I came to New York City this semester, I told myself I was going to make the most out of living here. For me, that meant getting to see all of the late night tapings and rehearsals I could. My goal was to go see all of my favorites: Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, The Late Show, Last Week Tonight, and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. This post is going to recap my experience of getting tickets for all of these shows, and some highlights of being at their tapings!
The first taping I got the chance to go see was Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. These tickets weren’t too hard to get, however I did receive word that I had won them on the day of the show, so do your best to be flexible with timing. My whole experience was awesome; not only was my taping was the day of the first presidential debate, but I also got to see Allana Harkin shoot a t-shirt gun into the audience, and I got to meet Samantha Bee and have her bless me with the gift of Full Frontal t-shirt. This show also is super accepting of social media, and the crew was more than willing to take pictures for anyone who wanted one!
The next taping I got to see was The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I had to plan somewhat far in advance to get these tickets (about a month), but their lottery was super easy to enter, and I could sign up to win for more than one date. This taping was arguably the one I was most excited for, because three years ago I got to go see Stephen Colbert tape an episode of The Colbert Report and it changed my life. Also, the show tapes at the legendary Ed Sullivan Theater, and I’ve always been a huge admirer of both Stephen and David Letterman, so it’s hallowed ground in the world of late night. This was without a doubt the biggest set I went to, however I didn’t love it as much as some other shows because I felt disconnected from the host. However, the guests and music made up for that, as I got to have Jon Batiste and Stay Human warm us up before the show, and then see Drew Carey, Claire Danes and Matt Foy come on to talk with Mr. Colbert!
Two days after The Late Show, I found out I had won a tickets to Last Week Tonight. These were some of the hardest tickets to score, as all of the spots in the lottery (which doesn’t guarantee a ticket) fill up about two minutes after the portal opens. It took me three tries to finally get an email saying I had been chosen. This taping was so fun because the set is in the same studio as Full Frontal, so it was really interesting to see how everything transforms from one show to the next. In terms of hosts, John Oliver was by far the best one I had the chance to see. Not only did he come out before the show and do a question and answer session with the audience, but he also danced around the studio while telling us funny stories for 20 minutes. He was so warm and genuine, and ended up doing the entire show in ONE TAKE. Honestly, you couldn’t ask for more.
At this point in the semester it was November 4th, and I knew time was running out for me to get tickets to see Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin do their Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump impressions on the SNL stage. So, for better or worse, I made the decision to wait in the #SNLStandby line to see if I could get tickets to the November 5th dress rehearsal, featuring host Benedict Cumberbatch and musical guest Solange. If going to SNL is a goal of yours while you are in the city (as it has been for me my entire life), all I can tell you is this: come prepared, both physically and emotionally. I can promise you that nothing feels better than getting your standby ticket on Saturday morning, and then hopefully being brought upstairs and put in a seat later that night, but it takes a lot of work to get there.
— Elizabeth Young (@elizabethgyoung) November 6, 2016
In order to give yourself the best chance of getting into the show, look at who the host is, and then gauge how far in advance you will have to wait in line. For someone like Benedict Cumberbatch I decided to get there 24 hours in advance and was the eighth person in a line that eventually contained almost 300 people. For someone like Tom Hanks however, getting there two days beforehand is necessary as the number of standby tickets is sure to go down, and the number of people wanting to get in is sure to go up. Once you arrive at the standby line, be prepared to sit in the same spot for 24 hours straight. I highly recommended bringing all of the warm clothes you can, food, and board games to keep you entertained. Also, make sure you bring a sense of humor, because hundreds of people walking by 30 Rock are going to ask you what you’re waiting for, and sometimes it can be fun to jokingly give them a wrong answer.
People of NYC: I’m sorry we’ve been telling you this is the line to get into a fictional new Whole Foods. It’s really the #SNLStandby line!
— Elizabeth Young (@elizabethgyoung) November 4, 2016
The SNL studio is everything you would expect it to be: small and cramped yes, but also full of energy and professionalism. It was incredible for me to see how the show is made, and having special guests like the Church Lady (Dana Carvey), Bill Murray (former SNL cast member), and the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs didn’t hurt either. Also, I can say with absolute certainty that nothing has given me as much joy as seeing Kate McKinnon come out in her Hillary costume for the first time. Dress rehearsal lasts about two hours, and I really enjoyed it because I got to see the cast do more sketches then they could air, so when I watched the show later that night I could see what got cut, and what made it. As I said before, even though getting these tickets will literally take every ounce of your willpower (unless you by some miracle win through the ticket lottery which you have to enter in August), it is SO worth it. Waiting in the standby line and seeing SNL live are both experiences I will cherish for the rest of my life, so I really encourage everyone to give it a shot!
The last tickets I was able to score were to the monologue rehearsal for The Tonight Show on November 18th. This ticket lottery was impossible to enter, as every taping filled up about five seconds after the portal opened, but honestly I think this was just as fun! Unfortunately, Jimmy was sick when we arrived at the studio, so the rehearsal was brief, however we got to watch him interact with all of his writers, and see him and James from The Roots do #ThankYouNoteFriday. The rehearsal only had about 50-75 people at it, so we really got to interact with Jimmy, and also had a huge role in planning what jokes would make it on the show later that night!
Now that I have two weeks left here in New York, I think I can say with certainty that my late night TV taping experiences have come to a close, however I know that this semester is not the last time I will be down here to see the men and women of late night do what they do best. Often times, people ask me why I chose to pursue advertising instead of TRF as a major at Newhouse. My answer usually touches on a lot of different points, but the main thing for me is that I’m not necessarily interested in making these shows, rather I’m fascinated by the impact they have had on my own life and that of popular culture. For me, seeing how networks leverage these properties to create social engagement with either their audience or the media is incredibly interesting, and is something I would definitely consider doing later on in my own career. So, for anyone out there reading who isn’t in the television industry but loves late night, I’ll say this to you: THAT’S AWESOME. You don’t have to be a TRF major to appreciate great TV. I hope future Newhouse NYC students heed my advice and take advantage of the amazing entertainment this city has to offer. I can’t wait to hear your stories!
Ticket Lottery Links
These are the links I used to get tickets to every show I attended this semester. They’re all super easy to use. If you have any other questions, check out the website for the particular show you are looking to go to. I also included links to a few shows that I wanted to try and make, but didn’t get the chance to. Good luck!