Yesterday, I took the day off from work and headed down to New York to see a live taping of The Daily Show; if this sounds vaguely familiar to you it should – I went to see The Daily Show film back in 2013 as well. However, the last time that I went to a taping, Jon Stewart was on leave to work on directing his first film and the great John Oliver was filling in for him. I was fine with seeing Oliver host – I think he’s great and it was kind of like seeing a limited edition version of the show, since he only hosted for a short amount of time – but I also figured that I had all the time in the world to see Stewart sitting behind the desk. Of course, that wasn’t the case, as Jon announced his intent to retire from the show some time this year. As soon as I heard this news, I jumped online and used my secret hacks to snap up a reservation to the earliest show available. Jon hadn’t given a concrete date for when he would be leaving and I figured that tickets were going to get a lot harder to obtain once the news of his departure became well known. I would have been very disappointed if I never got to see Stewart in person, especially since I’ve had reservations to The Daily Show on numerous occasions in the past but have given them up because the timing was problematic or I just wasn’t in the mood to schlep to the City. I was glad that my flippant attitude about my ability to secure tickets wasn’t going to come back to haunt me and that I would actually get to see Jon Stewart before his tenure was over.
I invited my friend Robin to tag along with me, since see The Daily Show is a pretty laborious and time consuming process. It’s a LOT of just standing around and while I’m perfectly capable of amusing myself, it’s always more fun when you have someone to talk to in order to make the time pass faster. You aren’t actually guaranteed tickets when you have a reservation for the show; like all live tapings, they overbook to insure a full audience and it’s typically first come, first serve for who gets tickets. They start the process of handing out tickets around 2:30 pm and we had planned to get in line around 1 pm. We walked by the studio at noon and the line was already the length of the block, so we quickly hopped on line. Getting in line two and a half hours early earned up tickets 75 and 76; people were obviously lining up a lot earlier than in my past trip since I got in line about the same time last time (give or take) and I was ticket # 7. So people are both getting smarter about when to line up and the demand is a lot higher. It’s seems kind of funny to say that I spent most of my day in New York just standing on a sidewalk in Hell’s Kitchen. It wasn’t even an exciting sidewalk – we didn’t see much of anything of interest during our long tenure, though thankfully there was a bodega a few door downs for all our snacking and beverage needs. Some of the people ahead of us in line were hard-core and brought their own camping chairs. This was obviously not the first line that they had camped out in and about two hours in I kind of hated them and their forethought as my back was beginning to hurt.
While the same general procedure was the same for being seated in the studio, it felt like it was a little more streamlined this time and the people were much friendlier than on my previous visit. They still weren’t as friendly as the people at The Colbert Report (RIP) taping, but no one yelled at us, which was an instant upgrade over my previous experience. They have also relaxed the photography rule in the studio – while phones must be put away before the show warm up or actual taping, we were free to snap as many shots as we wanted while we were waiting for everyone to be seated, as long as we stayed in our seats. On my previous visit, we were only permitted a small window of time to take a photo and the fact that some people took some photos before we were given the go ahead earned us a big lecture and a potential loss of the privilege for the rest of us. So I’m glad to see that they have chilled out a bit – I have no problem with their rules and regulations, but there’s no need to be overly draconian about it.
One big difference between my previous visit and this one, other than the host, was that they warned us several times to “not be weird” during the Q&A with Jon. Apparently, as the number of remaining shows that he’s hosting is drawing to an end the “creep factor” of the audience has drastically increased (their words, not mine). We were warned twice outside to keep the weird factor reined in; when someone asked what constituted “weird,” we were told not to ask for autographs, photos, hugs, oddly personal questions and a litany of other examples that clearly indicated that they have had some truly weird stuff go down at these tapings. A good rule of thumb, they said, was that if the question sounded a little weird in your head, it was going to sound a lot weird when asked in front of a roomful of people. We received the same lecture inside the studio, as well as the protocol for any gifts that people might have bought for Jon. None of this was reviewed on my first trip, so things have must have truly escalated in the last 18 months.
It was finally time for Jon Stewart to come out and take some questions from the audience and it was thrilling to see him in person for the first time. He did a really good job with the audience Q&A – he was very adept at moving the questions along and keeping them on track, but in a way where the person didn’t feel like they were being shortchanged or didn’t have his full attention. Someone in the audience asked the question that I had thought about posing (it involved Wrestlemania, not politics), so I didn’t seriously consider raising my hand. Plus for all my disdain for audience questions and mocking the people who ask them, there was a legitimate chance that I might have fangirled out and made a complete fool of myself. So probably for the best that I kept my mouth shut or I could have been a cautionary tale for future audiences.
The show itself was solid as usual, but I was really excited about the guest; not only was I going to be in the same room as Jon Stewart, but I was also going to be in the same room as Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion Lannister of Game of Thrones. That’s one of my favorite shows and he plays one of my favorite characters, so I was very happy that I was going to get the chance to see him, even if the experience was limited to three to five minutes and involved me having no direct interaction with him. He was funny and charming and while we didn’t get any Game of Thrones spoilers, he did inform us that the actor that plays The Mountain on the show can eat six whole chickens in one sitting, which is pretty damn impressive. He also shared a funny anecdote about a woman on the street telling him that she hoped he didn’t die; she meant his character on the show, but he didn’t understand that right away and was obviously a little confused by the exchange.
All in all, despite the fact that it involved a lot of wasted time in lines, my second experience visiting The Daily Show was just as good as my first. I can officially cross it off my bucket list – seeing John Oliver host always felt a little like having as asterisk next to it – and I got to help someone else fulfill a pop culture dream in the process. It’s still hard to believe that Jon will be leaving the show after 16 years, but I’m so relieved that I got to see the show before he is gone. It’s really not going to be the same without him.