Cross another one off the bucket list!
When it was announced that Stephen Colbert was ending his Comedy Central show to take over for David Letterman over at CBS, the timer started ticking on the window that I had to go see a live taping of The Colbert Report. I’ve actually had tickets to the show several times in the past, but work obligations or other scheduling considerations resulted in me vacating my reservations, assuming that I would just get tickets at a time that was more convenient. But with an expiration date on the show, I no longer had the luxury of getting tickets down the road; with a finite number of shows left, the time to go see the show was sooner rather than later. Competition for tickets to his remaining shows was only going to intensify as the program wrapped up its run, so I had to strike while the iron was hot.
Thankfully, I have gotten pretty adept at landing tickets to tapings AND I have an awesome boss who is pretty flexible with my leave time. Ideally, I wouldn’t have secured tickets for a show one week after I got back from vacation, but as you all know, we aren’t living in an ideal world and desperate times call for desperate measures. So with the blessing of my boss, who was probably honestly relieved to see me happy again, I took the day off and made my way to NYC for the taping.
Since The Colbert Report is basically a spin-off of The Daily Show, it is not surprising that there are a lot of similarities between the two shows, both in location and procedure. The 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 really had much time to plan out activities for the day, I decided to take a later than normal train into the City and just wander around without a clear agenda until it was time to get in line. That’s very unlike me, but it was a nice leisurely day.
Since this wasn’t my first rodeo, I had a good idea as to what to expect when I showed up at The Colbert Report. Like most free tapings, they give out more tickets than there are seats to make sure that they have a full audience, so even though I had a “reservation” I still needed to get in line early to assure that I would actually get a seat. The email that I received indicated to show up no later than 15 minutes before the doors opened at 6 pm, but I knew that was rubbish. Show up that late and you are in the back of the studio. I had read on-line that the queue started to form around 4 pm and when I got in line around 4:25, I was already the 48th person in line. Apparently other people have heard of Google and had the same idea that I did.
The procedure for waiting at The Colbert Report was a little different than for at The Daily Show; the latter makes you wait in line twice – once to get your ticket and then again 90 minutes later to line up for the show. The process is more streamlined at The Colbert Report – we only had to wait in line once and got in line later in the day. This was nice, since The Daily Show taping procedure takes up a lot more of your time and limits how much you can do in the day. The 90 minute break between ticketing and seating isn’t all that convenient – it’s long enough that they shoo you away from the studio, but not long enough to do much of anything. The Colbert Report process is just way more efficient. The Colbert Report also has the audience members line up in an area that is protected from the elements; you’re outside, but inside a little plastic tent. At The Daily Show, we were just on the sidewalk and the lucky of us were under an awning. It was a gorgeous day last Thursday, but it was nice to know that we would have been as comfortable as possible. My only complaint was that they eventually came around and told us that we couldn’t sit down in line at Colbert; I’m assuming this was because the line started moving shortly thereafter, but I had been fairly comfy on the ground. Advantage: The Colbert Report
The waiting in line was also made more pleasurable by the friendly demeanor of the folks that were working at The Colbert Report. They were mostly young and were smiling, polite and helpful. The only guy that was anywhere near being stern was the security guy and even he was pretty polite given it was his job to keep us all in line. We got yelled at a lot more over at The Daily Show and no one seemed super interested in if we were having a pleasant experience or not. Maybe they have just been at it longer, but there was a distinctive difference in tone. Multiple people in line commented on that, so apparently I didn’t catch The Daily Show folks on a bad day. The Colbert Report staff seemed tickled that we found them so pleasant by comparison. I get that they have a job to do, but when you are waiting in line for two hours and being shuttled into a studio like cattle, it’s nice when the people in charge are nice about it. Advantage: The Colbert Report.
Similar to The Daily Show, after we went through a security screening, everyone is shuttled into a room to await going into the studio. Another advantage of getting there early is that there are a limited number of benches in the back of the room that you can snag if you are quick enough. I strongly recommend grabbing one if you can because you are going to be there a while. The “holding pen” at The Colbert Report was more visually interesting than the one over at The Daily Show as it was decorated with various pictures of Stephen:
There were also two TVs that showed clips from the show that gave us something to watch while we were waiting; I don’t remember there being anything to watch over at The Daily Show. The bathrooms were also in the same room as the pen, which made using the facilities easier and faster. Since everyone who was in line was squeezed into this room, it got to be close quarters pretty quickly. I like my personal space, especially when the people invading it are strangers, but in the words of Frozen I had to “Let It Go” and just deal with the fact that I was going to feel like a sardine in a can for a while. While I was glad to have the TV to watch and I was thankful for the fans that they had blowing, this waiting room was certainly the worst part of the experience. It got very warm in there very quickly and my feet started to hurt from all the standing around. We were probably in that room for close to an hour and while it was a nice room, nobody wants to be in small room with 200 other people for any length of time. I debated telling people that I was pregnant so someone would give me their seat, but decided against it not since there was no guarantee that anyone would actually give me their seat and if anyone had any follow up questions I was screwed. But people were getting cranky after we’d been in there for a while – perhaps it is a psychological trick to make us ready to go wild in the studio. Slight Advantage: The Colbert Report.
Finally, it was time to finally go into the studio, which I was excited about not only because that meant it was almost show time, but because we would also finally get to sit down. As at most tapings, you have no preference in where you are seated, though it is a fairly small studio so even a seat in the back isn’t too shabby. I was on the far left of the studio, under the giant COLBERT in lights in the 4th row. I was glad to have a landmark to refer to when trying to find myself on TV; I knew to look under the “B” in Colbert to find myself.
Sadly, we were denied any photos of the studio, which was a bummer. Because we were in the waiting room for so long, we weren’t actually sitting in the studio for that long before the warm up comedian came out. He really wasn’t all that funny, but after being penned up for so long people were already excited and didn’t require much pumping up. Stephen came out before the show to do a Q&A with the audience out of character and the questions were generally not stupid (other than the lady from LA who asked him to come to her house for dinner; enough with that foolishness people). Not surprisingly, Stephen came across as a nice and sincere guy. He just seems like good people. However, no photos and a so-so warm-up guy means Slight Advantage: The Daily Show.
Finally, it was time for the show to begin! As instructed, we were an extremely enthusiastic audience; if fact, when you watch the episode Colbert makes some reference to this and then eggs us on for more. Maybe they know what they are doing with keeping us all cooped up for so long. The episode in and of itself was a little weird compared to a normal episode of The Colbert Report – both transitions to commercials ended not with a big laugh, but with sadness. We were a little unsure of how we were supposed to react to that – the first ad break began with Colbert sobbing at his desk. Were we supposed to cheer that or be sympathetic? This was not covered in our warm-up instructions. The second act ended with an esoteric sequence involving a Waiting for Godot reference. It was funny, but the whole tone was a little different from the usual show. The guest that night was Saul Williams, a poet who is starring in the Broadway musical Holler If Ya Hear Me, which uses the music of Tupac Shakur. The interview was fun and then Williams came out to read a poem, which was powerful and had a distinctive point of view. Again, he was good, but even Colbert admitted at the end of the show that it was a weird episode. He joked with us that when CBS saw this one, they were going to ask “what in the hell did we just buy?” I enjoyed it, but it was definitely a little different from what I had been expecting. Since Rob Ford had entered rehab the night before, I had assumed that would be a big part of the show, but it wasn’t even mentioned.
Like the other tapings that I’ve been to, the show taped pretty much in real time; there were breaks for commercials so they could go over things and fix makeup, but the whole thing was over in just about 45 minutes. Stephen had to go back and say some word differently to be added into the final broadcast – he stumbled over a word or two – so it ran a little longer than normal. He then thanked us again for coming and the then The Colbert Report experience was over. I was walking out of the studio around 8:15 pm, which was fine with me since I had to catch a train back to Albany that night and I was ready to get home after a long day. I didn’t get home until 12:30 am and had to be at work the next day, so it was an exhausting, but extremely worthwhile experience.
Some other random thoughts:
- Most of the people who were waiting in line for the show have been to a lot of tapings, so I was not the rock star that I was when I went to see The Tonight Show. I heard many people note that Jimmy Fallon does not interact at all with the audience before or after the show, which they found a little off-putting. I hate to hear criticism of my pal, but on this case they are right.
- I had my first shawarma while in the City; I’ll admit that the only reason I wanted to try this was because of this post-credits scene in The Avengers.
Ha – I’m such a nerd. It was pretty good, if messy. I’d have it again.
- I killed some time sitting in Bryant Park while I was wondering around the City. I’ve been to Bryant Park in the past, but it’s always been Christmas time and the place is swarming with little pop-up shops. It was nice to spend some time in it as an actual park. It’s quite lovely.
- While I was walking around, I ran into a gaggle of pre-teen girls huddled around a hotel with their cell phone camera ready. A limo was waiting outside, which piqued my interest. After all, I knew Justin Bieber was in town. So I decided to hang out for a second and see what was going on, though I’m sure the girls were wondering whose mom was there (yup – I am old enough to have a pre-teen without having gotten pregnant while a teenager. Sigh.) I finally broke down and asked one of the girls who exactly they are waiting to see and they said something about someone from Vine. Realizing that I was going to have no idea who these people were, I finally moseyed on. No celebrity sightings for me.
- We were repeatedly told to be enthusiastic during the taping, but an emphasis was put on us really being loud during Stephen’s “Table of Contents” – the four jokes that he does at the top of the show before the credits that set up what will be discussed. I thought we killed it during that segment, but I was surprised to see that was cut completely from broadcast. Maybe the show ran long or maybe we were TOO enthusiastic.
- Stephen did indeed have a real, live chicken that he used during one of the segments; don’t worry – he didn’t actually sacrifice it and read its entrails. He DID hold the chicken triumphantly over his head so we could see it was real.
- You don’t see this on the episode, but the audience gave Saul Williams a standing ovation after his poetry reading.
- During the warm-up, the comic had each section of the audience practice cheering. One of the sections did a Daniel Bryan “Yes!” chant, which really confused the comic. That guy clearly doesn’t watch the WWE.
- When you are walking out of the studio after the show, there is a cutout of Colbert that you can pose with for a photo. There was a long line and I was trying to catch a train, so I skipped it.
- The episode airs the same day that it is taped, so the episode that I saw was actually on TV before I even got home.
- The guy sitting across from me on the train home managed to consume these in the hour ride that he had. Either someone had a bad day or someone might have a problem:
All in all, it was a very fun day and even though I got home very late it was worth it for the experience. Stephen Colbert was as much fun as I thought he would be when in character and even though tonally the episode that I was at was a bit of an aberration, it was a memorable experience. If you get the chance to see The Colbert Report before Stephen leaves basic cable for greener pastures, I highly recommend it. It’s worth waiting in line for.
The Colbert Report airs Monday-Thursday at 11:30 pm (ET) on Comedy Central.