Heather Visits the Monologue Rehearsal for The Tonight Show


I have been extraordinarily lucky in my ability to score tickets to see tapings of TV shows. I was able to go see Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Daily Show (twice) and The Colbert Report with little obvious effort. This has been amazing, but it has also given people the illusion that I have some sort of connection that makes getting these tickets easier for me than for others. I assure you that I don’t – I’ve benefitted from good timing and doing research online to figure out how to increase my chances – but because I’ve been able to see so many shows, I now have a list of probably close to twenty people that have requested that I get them tickets to see The Tonight Show. The Tonight Show has become a particularly difficult ticket to procure; it’s a victim of not only its own popularity, but also the fact that they now give a lot of advanced notice as to when tickets will be released. The last time I nabbed tickets to The Tonight Show, it was in their first month of production and you had to pay attention to Twitter to know when tickets would randomly be available. This system rewarded people that were paying attention and I happened to be one of those people. Now the demand is way higher for tickets and even I, who allegedly have the magic touch, have been shut out the last two months that I tried to get tickets for friends. Too many people now know when tickets will be released and if you don’t hop into the virtual queue immediately, you are likely SOL.

One slightly easier way to experience The Tonight Show is to get tickets to the monologue rehearsal. This doesn’t allow you to get the full Tonight Show experience, but does give you the opportunity to see Jimmy Fallon as they try out the jokes that are in consideration for that evening’s show. Frustrated at my failure in obtaining tickets for the show, I decided to take a flyer on a request for monologue tickets. To my surprise, my request was granted fairly quickly and yesterday my friend Amanda and I headed to Rockefeller Center to check it out. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the rehearsal – it was only scheduled to be for 30 minutes and I had no idea what the format would be. I knew Jimmy would be there, but I had no idea if we’d see The Roots or Steve Higgins as well. I didn’t know if the smaller setting would give Jimmy more opportunity to interact with the audience or not. Since I’d already seen The Tonight Show, this was just a different way for me to experience the show, but I didn’t know if it would be disappointing to people who wanted to see the full live show.

In addition to changing how they release tickets to the show, it appears that they have also changed the process for checking in. Like most shows, you are not guaranteed a spot until you are fully checked in. They overbook to make up for no shows, so it’s the same nerve wracking process as you hope that there aren’t too many people in line ahead of you. While previous check-ins for both Late Night and The Tonight Show were done in the NBC Experience Store, this time we were taken to a Mezzanine level to wait in line. This was a much nicer looking room and had the advantage of having plush benches where you could sit down while waiting. Don’t underestimate the ability to sit down – one of the worst parts of waiting to check in at these shows has been the long periods of standing around, often smooshed in with a lot of other people. I was so tired of standing the first time that I went to see The Daily Show that I even sat down on the sidewalk, which is not something I’d usually recommend in the City (desperate times, desperate measures). So it was a much more luxurious experience this time around and made the stressful wait at least more comfortable.

The people who had priority tickets are automatically granted access to the rehearsal, while people with general tickets have to wait to see if there is room. I had no idea how many people they allowed into the rehearsal, so it was hard to gauge the likelihood of success in getting in. Every time some latecomers came up the stairs, I was rooting that they had general tickets rather than priority so they wouldn’t leapfrog us in line. As I told Amanda, “I’m not rooting against them, per se, but I am rooting for me.” I started to get nervous as they became slower and slower in checking people in; when we were the next in line, I told the young woman who was guiding us through the process that Amanda and I would share a seat if that would increase our likelihood of getting in (FYI – I did not run this by Amanda before I said it). The woman laughed and said that wouldn’t be necessary – we were definitely getting in. They were just backlogged with people going through security. She obviously got a kick out what I said, though, since she saw us in the studio later and made a joke about us getting our own seats. I was so relieved once we checked in, since we were now guaranteed a spot. I didn’t mind so much if I missed out, but I would have hated to have had Amanda schlep in from Long Island for nothing. The irony is that I had actually been upgraded to priority tickets, but didn’t know it since I hadn’t checked my e-mail. So I worried for nothing.

Usually once you get your tickets for these shows you are instructed to come back at a certain time, which is always a pain in the butt as it is a period of time that is long enough to be a hassle but not long enough for you to actually do much of anything. I don’t know if they have changed it for the actual Tonight Show taping, but we were immediately sent into a lounge to wait until we were ushered into the studio. The lounge was quite nice – lots of couches and video picture frames that cycled through moments from The Tonight Show. It was a definite upgrade over the last time I saw The Tonight Show, when we stood in a hallway for what felt like forever. Again, I was pretty psyched to have the opportunity to sit down and relax for a bit. A gentleman came out to get us hyped up and to remind us for the hundredth time that we couldn’t take any photos. I’m not sure what they were worried about with photos of the lounge or the Mezzanine level, but rules are rules and I complied without question.

We were then taken up to the studio level, where we spent some time with one of the writers of the show. She went through the process of writing the show and explained to us why we were such an important part of the process. Our reaction to the monologue jokes would help determine which jokes made the cut to the final show. They kept emphasizing how critical the rehearsal audience was, which I think was not only a way to ensure that we were enthusiastic but to also make people feel better about seeing the rehearsal rather than the live show. She told us some funny anecdotes about how people had behaved during previous rehearsals as a cautionary tale as to what NOT to do. She sang Jimmy’s praises, saying that he works as hard on the show as anyone and that they only have these rehearsals with an audience because he demands them. We were also told that they would be doing a pre-recorded skit for us that would be used in the show, so that our laughter would be the soundtrack. This was something special that they don’t always do, so that was an added bonus to being at the rehearsal that day.

They actually started things off with the pre-recorded bit, which involved Barack Obama (Dion Flynn) calling Donald Trump (Jimmy Fallon) on his cell phone after Gawker leaked the number.


The sketch was very funny and because it involved music we got to see some of The Roots as well (though not Questlove or Tariq). The song at the end also went on much longer than what made the broadcast; they did almost the entire song for us and the audience was all clapping along in unison. I even got to drop some knowledge on Amanda and tell her that Dion Flynn actually went to college at the University at Albany (where I used to teach) and was a friend of Jimmy’s from when he went to St. Rose (also in Albany).

Because there wasn’t time for a costume change, Jimmy wound up doing the monologue for us in his full Donald Trump make-up, which was pretty funny. He loved the wig that he was wearing and occasionally went off on a few tangents about it in-between trying out the jokes. They also used Meerkat to live stream the rehearsal and we were getting updates as to how many people were watching. The only downside of that is that Jimmy gave a little more attention to the live stream than to us; he would occasionally talk to the audience on-line rather than us. He did, however, interact with the rehearsal audience more than he does during a live taping, which isn’t saying much since he generally doesn’t interact with the audience much at all during a taping. We had been told that he sometimes talks to the audience during rehearsal, but that didn’t happen with us, perhaps because of the pre-taping. Regardless, it was still fun to hear them trying out the jokes. Our reaction did appear to have some sway on what made it to the actual monologue, as the jokes that we had the biggest reaction to made it to air. We heard a lot more political jokes, but they were kind of a mixed bag and I think they picked the strongest of the bunch. Jimmy and the writers would make some notes after each joke was told, based on how big the reaction was. I thought that the Lincoln Chaffee bit was particularly funny, since I always tell people about Chaffee wanting to move the U.S. to the metric system. The only joke that I liked that didn’t make the cut was one about Ronda Rousey being responsible for Jimmy’s injury.

And then, before we knew it, the rehearsal was over. Jimmy thanked us for our feedback and for coming to see the show and we were quickly escorted out of the studio. The whole process, from check-in to the end of the rehearsal, took only 90 minutes. Seeing the full Tonight Show taping is more fun – especially if they have good guests – but going to see a rehearsal was a new way for me to experience the show and appears to be a slightly easier ticket get. I’m someone who is interested in how The Tonight Show is crafted, so it was a nice peek behind the curtain to better understand their process and how they decide what makes it to air. The monologue rehearsal will tide me over until the next time that I’m able to get tickets to the live taping…..whenever that may be.

Monologue tickets can be obtained here. September tickets to the live Tonight Show taping will be released Thursday August 6th at 11 am (ET) through a new ticketing process.