Heather Visits The Daily Show

When I was a little kid, my dream was to go to Harvard and become a lawyer. I’m not really sure where this dream in particular originated, but for as long as I can remember my ultimate goal was to be arguing cases in front of the Supreme Court. Harvard was probably a more arbitrary stand-in for any Ivy League school, but I remember having a maroon T-shirt with the school’s crest on the front of it when I was 11 or 12. I even wore it to my first concert that summer (NKOTB), when I thought strategically something from Boston would be more likely to catch the attention of Joey McIntyre. It sort of worked, though I was in the 5th row so it was much easier to see me. Whether it was me he actually noticed is open to interpretation.

As I got older, I realized that going to Harvard probably wasn’t going to happen; it cost too much money and there was no guarantee that I was going to get in. The lawyer dream took a little longer to die out, but by the time I was graduating college I was beginning to have my doubts. The cost for law school is pretty astronomical and this was just about the time that everyone and their brother were getting their JD. After watching most of my college pals go through their first year of law school and seeing how miserable they were, I opted to go in a different direction. I could have done it and I probably would have been a pretty decent attorney, but I don’t know how happy it ultimately would have made me. Sadly, I didn’t know that being a blogger was a thing that existed or that could be a career or I would have skipped graduate school completely (just kidding Mom!).

Though the dream of being a Harvard educated lawyer has mostly died out, new ambitions have cropped up to take its place. If you asked me now what I wanted to be “when I grow up,” my answer without hesitation would be a writer for The Daily Show. With my background in political science and my love of writing, it seems like a logical choice; the fact that I also think I’m pretty funny only sweetens the deal. I am consistently impressed with the quality of the program day in and day out. The Daily Show provides insightful and thoughtful news coverage with a healthy side dish of humor and lunacy.  Even though they are supposed to be a fake news program that parodies the “real” news, I’d argue that they actually do a much better job than most “legitimate” news channels. I’m not embarrassed to say that The Daily Show is one of my primary sources for news; studies have repeatedly found that The Daily Show viewers are among the most informed citizens. The fact that I get to laugh while keeping up to date with current affairs is fantastic. I regularly used clips from the show in my classes back in my professorial days. It was a perfect way to supplement the academic books and articles that my students (were supposed to) read.

While the chances of me actually ever getting a job at The Daily Show are pretty slim, I’ve always wanted to be part of the audience for one of the shows.  Tickets for the show are notoriously hard to come by; I’ve been signed up multiple times for the show’s notification system to find out when tickets are available, but have never received any information. Frustrated by the lack of progress, I turned to my old friend, the Internet, for some tips on how to score tickets for the show. Several blogs suggested following @DailyTix on Twitter as an avenue for finding tickets. I don’t know how they cracked the code, but they give periodic updates when tickets become available; if you are quick enough in responding it’s a great way to get tickets. Within five minutes of following them on Twitter, I had landed myself a reservation for The Daily Show. Progress had been made and I was one step closer to accomplishing my goal.

However, even when you have a reservation for tickets, you are not guaranteed to get in to see the show. To make sure they have a full audience, they give away more reservations than there are seats in the studio. This is a pretty common practice and one that I am familiar with from all my years going to advanced screenings for movies. You have to arrive early to make sure that you get in to see the show; wait too long to get in line and you may be SOL. That may not be as big a deal for people that live in or around NYC, but if I was taking a day off from work and making the trip downstate I wanted to make sure that I got in and didn’t waste the day. I required a little more planning than some other people.

The Daily Show begins distributing tickets for the show at 2:30 pm and I had read online that people start lining up as early as noon to ensure their spot. I took an early train to Grand Central so that I could do a few other things in the City while I was there (perhaps more on this to come). This in and of itself was a bit of an experience since I’ve never navigated the NYC subway system on my own, other than one trip to Yankee Stadium. All other trips I’ve had someone else with me. I wasn’t nervous as I’ve navigated public transportation solo in plenty of other cities (and some foreign countries), but I also wanted to err on the side of caution to make sure that I got everywhere in time and to allow for any mistakes I might make (like getting on the wrong train or missing my stop). I was also a little skittish about NYC public transport after the issues when I went to the Jay Z/Justin Timberlake concert). Thanks to Google maps, it was all extremely easy and I got myself to the neighborhood where The Daily Show taped without incident (I even got to ride the same train where they discovered a shark that morning). I arrived around 11:30 am and since no one was in line I decided to grab some lunch. When I returned to the studio at 12:20, there was still no one in line, which began to make me a little nervous. Was I in the right location? Had I mixed something up? I decided to head over to De Witt Clinton Park and hang out there, as it was just across the street from the studio and game me a place to sit down and anxiously wait for other people to arrive.

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Around 12:45 I saw a few people beginning to get in line and decided to take my place in the queue (I had tired of watching a rat run around the park). I was lucky number 7 in line, which guaranteed that I would get in to see the show; now I just had to sit there and hold my position for the next 90 minutes. I struck up a conversation with the couple in front of me who were visiting from Canada, which helped pass the time, but I had come prepared with an iPod full of podcasts that I had to catch up on so the time progressed relatively quickly. The line suddenly became more sizable; I hadn’t really been paying attention and the next time I looked people were snaked the entire length of the sidewalk and back within the first 45 minutes I was in line. People who didn’t know to arrive on the early side were a little frustrated to see where they were positioned, but that’s what you get for not doing your homework (the email from The Daily Show encourages people to arrive early, but doesn’t give any indication as to what “early” means).

The view behind me in line

The view behind me in line

At 2:30 the doors opened and they began giving us our tickets. However, we weren’t done waiting for the day nor were we going into the studio; we were asked to come back at 4:20 to line up again. We would be seated in the order of our tickets, so there was no need to camp out again for positioning; our time of jockeying for a spot was over.

I've got a golden ticket!

I’ve got a golden ticket!

However, the downside of this is that with only a two hour window before I had to be back to the studio there wasn’t much time to do anything substantial or roam very far. I started to make the walk to Times Square, hoping to squeeze in the Lego exhibit, but about halfway there my feet hurt way too much and I was worried about getting back in time so I called an audible and wandered around Hell’s Kitchen for a bit. I’d never been to that section of the City before and there were all sorts of restaurants and bars to check out. I selected a sports bar as my temporary resting place and I knew I made the right choice when I walked in and saw this:

I like a bar with a sense of humor.

I like a bar with a sense of humor.

This was a place that I could spend some time.

After a nice cold beer and some ill-advised disco fries, I made my way back to the studio to resume the waiting game. In the time we had been gone, the empty sidewalk had been filled with temporary barriers that created pens for us to wait in. Each pen held approximately 20 people and it was getting hard to not think of ourselves as sheep. At 4:30, we received our marching orders – we would be seated as a group in the studio after we proceeded through security (including a metal detector).  This means we had no choice in where we were sitting; they would tell us where to go. We would be given a small window of time to take photos of the set, but could only do so once everyone was seated and we were given the official green light. Once taping started, we couldn’t leave the studio, so it was strongly encouraged that we use the bathrooms. I assure you that these people were not messing around about any of this.

Sign over the door as you enter The Daily Show studio.

Sign over the door as you enter The Daily Show studio.

Going through security took way longer than it should have since people are morons and don’t understand that metal will set off a metal detector. These people have apparently never flown anywhere. We also discovered that when we entered the holding area outside the studio that there were a whole group of people that would be entering before us; these were people that had VIP tickets so they probably knew someone that worked at the show or were otherwise more connected than we were. These people also didn’t have to wait in line earlier like the rest of us, so we quietly hated them and their fast track seating (maybe that was just me).  The only real suspense left was to see where we were going to be seated and to get our first real glimpse at the studio.

Finally, it was our turn to enter. Even though I knew that this wasn’t a very large space, it was still a surprise to see how small the studio was. It was really tiny. The upside of this is that it didn’t really matter where you were seated; there weren’t really any bad seats in the joint. We wound up in the front row, however, so that was pretty cool. We weren’t allowed to use any electronic devices while we waited for the other groups to be brought in, so we had to make some old-fashioned small talk. Eventually the studio filled up and we were given one last chance to use the facilities before we were trapped in this room for the foreseeable future.

I wish I could say that it came to a shock that people were unable to follow the basic instructions about not taking pictures until we were given permission, but as expected a ton of people thought that the rules didn’t apply to them and started taking photos, which made the PAs really mad. The worst offenders were the older people in the group; the irony is that they didn’t know how to use their smart phones so they inevitably were reprimanded by the staff before they managed to snap a photo. It’s called auto-focus people – stop moving your phone around and it will adjust itself. Sheesh. We then got a lecture from the staff about our disrespect of their rules as they tried to shame the offenders. But, of course, these people cannot be shamed. Finally, those of us who follow the rules were given a few moments to take some photos, which is really all that you needed. We weren’t allowed to move from our seats for these snapshots and we were REALLY not allowed to go anywhere near the desk. Because the studio is so small, it only took two photos to capture everything:

The famous desk

The famous desk

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After we got that out of our system, it was time for the warm-up comedian come out and get us ready for the show.  This is when we learned the important role of the live studio audience; we are basically the soundtrack of the show and our reactions had to be bigger and louder than they would be when we were watching the show at home on the couch. If we thought something was funny, we had to have a really big laugh rather than just giggling or smiling and nodding. John Oliver and the audience at home would feed off of our reactions so we had to keep the energy up and be enthusiastic. We practiced several times and were repeatedly told to be louder; I was beginning to get a little stressed out at this unexpected responsibility. I’m not necessarily a loud person by nature, especially when I’m in public; I may rant and rave and shout obscenities at the Yankee game when I am home alone in my apartment, but I’m relatively demure at the actual games. Same goes for comedians – I will laugh along at a live show, but I’m not naturally a loud laugher and my reactions aren’t over the top. So this was going to be a challenge to amp up my responses. Of course, it is totally in keeping with my personality that I internalized all the responsibility for the crowd being loud enough and worried that we were going to derail the show with a lackluster response. I guarantee the rest of the audience was just having a great time as I fretted about how we could be the best audience possible. Yes – I have issues. This is why my hair started going grey when I was 21. The comedian also interacted a lot with the audience and asked us questions about ourselves; he did single me out, but that was because he thought that I was married to the guy next to me (a fact his wife sitting on the other side of him probably wasn’t too thrilled with). We quickly corrected him and he moved on, but I was flattered that he thought I could land such an attractive husband.

John Oliver then came out to say hello and answer a few questions from the audience; while I love Jon Stewart, I think that Oliver is doing a great job filling in for the summer and wasn’t at all disappointed that my first The Daily Show experience was with the temporary guy. If anything, I was getting a rare opportunity – since Oliver only hosted the show for a few months, not many people got to see the show with him at the helm. I was basically watching a limited edition of The Daily Show and while I do plan to go back to see the show once Stewart returns I was totally satisfied to be a member of the small club that watched an Oliver taping. I’m all about exclusivity.

After the quick meet and greet, it was time for the show to start. The interesting thing to know about the show is that they do it straight through in one take; other than pausing for commercial breaks, the show just kept chugging along in real time. Even when things didn’t go exactly as planned – Oliver stumbled over a word or two and had some issues with a prop – there were no second takes. That honestly makes the show all the more impressive to me; it takes a lot of skill and preparation to do a show straight through in its entirety. That speaks to the talent of the performers. The whole show really moves along like a well-oiled machine. My fellow audience members did a great job in cheering and laughing and generally showing how much fun we were all having. The only real downside was that our view of Oliver was occasionally blocked by cameras and crew members. It improved by the second act, but it was something that I hadn’t thought about prior to the filming. The episode that we watched didn’t feature any of the other correspondents, which was a bit of a disappointment, but Oliver was so funny that in the end it didn’t really matter that he was the only member of The Daily Show team that we got to see.

The guest for the night was Lake Bell, an actress that I quite enjoy. She was promoting her new movie In a World…., which is a comedy about voice over actors. I was relieved that it was a celebrity rather than a scholar or author; while I find a lot of the books that are featured on the show really interesting, you occasionally get one that is kind of boring. I have a hard time focusing for those interviews and home and I would have been a little bummed out to have to sit through it in person as well. She wrote, directed and starred in the film and it looked pretty funny, so that was all good. She and Oliver seemed to get along well and did some accents and British humor, which is always good for a laugh.

When the show wrapped, there was one final segment that had to be filmed; unbeknownst to me, there is a special international version of The Daily Show that airs overseas, primarily in hotel rooms. This isn’t a full version of the show. Oliver does a quick riff and then the show turns over to the headlines of the day. Oliver asked in anyone had ever seen this version of the show and one woman said that she saw it in Uganda, which came to a surprise to everyone – including Oliver, who didn’t realize that the show was distributed so widely. As an inside joke to our audience, when he started the international segment he opened with “Hello, Uganda” which got a big laugh from us and probably just confused the eventual viewers of the program (“why is he singling out Uganda and why are people laughing?).

And with that, The Daily Show taping came to an end. We all filed out of the theater around 7:15; for all our waiting around, the actual taping of the show only took about 35 minutes. It was totally worth it, however. I had a ball and met some nice people, plus I now have a better idea of how the show is made. It was a long day, but I would absolutely do it again. I’m actually headed to The Colbert Report in September, so I’ll be able to compare and contrast the experiences. I’d recommend going to see the show if you get the chance; there is nothing quite like seeing it live.

If you want to watch the episode that I was at and listen to see if you can hear me laugh, I’ve embedded the video below:

The Daily Show airs Monday –Thursday at 11 pm on Comedy Central. John Oliver’s last show hosting is Thursday August 15th; Jon Stewart takes back the desk in September.

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5 thoughts on “Heather Visits The Daily Show

  1. Alex says:

    I really enjoyed your inside look. At least as funny as the Daily Show itself. You definitely have a shot as a writer. I’m happy that all that training standing in preview lines paid off!

    • heather7180 says:

      Thanks Alex – it was a fun day, especially since I was being all mysterious about what I was doing in the City that day in case I didn’t get in. My friends were intrigued as to what I was up to. I’ve heard that Colbert is a much easier experience – you only wait in line once.

  2. lovepirate77 says:

    Great report! I know it was an awesome experience! I watched the Lake Bell episode, I’m jealous you were there for it.
    I went to a taping of the Daily Show back in 2002. The guest was Joseph C. Wilson. It was great, except that the warm-up guy made fun of me and my dad in a way that was pretty mean. When Jon Stewart was out talking to the audience before the show, he talked to a teacher about “No Child Left Behind”, which he then managed to work into his interview with Wilson, saying that the solution to Iraq’s problems was “No Iraqi Child Left Behind.” That got a big cheer from the crowd.

    • heather7180 says:

      The warm up guy was a little mean to some people in our audience as well, though it seemed pretty good-natured and no one was openly upset. I wasn’t too bummed out that he moved past me once he realized his gaffe about my relationship status with the guy next to me. I was kind of afraid what he might say.

  3. […] studios are located two streets away from each other in Hell’s Kitchen, an area that I learned on my trip to see The Daily Show is not particularly well served by the subway. Since I had just returned from vacation and hadn’t […]

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