Here’s something free and unique to do if you have a spare afternoon in New York City: attend the live taping of a late (or late-late) night talk-show! I say afternoon, because a) while the shows air in the evening, tapings typically happen earlier that day b) even though you have to book your tickets in advance, there’s a lot of waiting around in lines involved before you can actually take your place in the audience. Here’s what my experience attending a live taping of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” was like.
But first, why The Late Show with Stephen Colbert? I actually watch the show every day and I absolutely love Stephen Colbert. I love his smart humour, and think his guests tend to be more interesting than those on other shows. Also, I was busy all week with work commitments and his late show is the only one that tapes on Fridays when I finally had some free time 😉
The first step if you want to see any late night talk-show (Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers or Trevor Noah also shoot in New York City) is to go online and get (free) tickets. I knew exactly when I would be in New York and stalked the Late Show’s website for available tix, which are typically released a month in advance and go REALLY fast. I booked my spots for February 19th on January 11 to give you an idea of the timeline. Once you’ve got the tickets, you should clear out your calendar for that entire afternoon. Attending a live taping is a BIG time commitment and involves a lot of waiting around. Even with your pre-reserved tickets, you still need to queue to physically claim said ticket on the actual day of the taping and seats are first comes first served starting at 2PM. My ticket instructed me to get in line “no later than 3PM” but I showed up at the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway (between 53rd and 54th) at 1PM to get decent seats. Each show is overbooked, and reserving a spot is no guarantee that you’ll get in. At 2PM, the line started moving, as Late Show staff checked my reservation and my I.D. They gave me a numerical ticket (111/400… not bad!), stamped my hand with a black CBS logo and instructed me to come back at 3:45PM.
That gave me about an hour and half to grab a late lunch. Luckily, I knew of two great options in Hell’s Kitchen, within a 5 minute walking distance: Danji and Totto’s Ramen, both on 51st street between 9th and 10th avenue. After standing an hour outside in the middle of February, ramen seemed like the best option to warm up!
At my assigned time, I headed back to the Ed Sullivan theater and waited another 10 minutes lined up in numerical order based on my ticket. Our bags were scanned before we got to queue some more, this time at least in an indoor area inside the theater. Another pro-tip: if your bags are too large, they’ll make you check them so pack light. And I was able to go in with a bottle of water. That time of the waiting was possibly the worse because you’re crammed into a rather small room with 150 other people with 2 TVs cranking out old Stephen Colbert skits as only distraction. FINALLY, a young lady with a microphone welcomed us and reminded us of a few things: mainly, we’ll be filmed (duh!) and we’re not allowed to use our cell phones. I’d attended a few tapings of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart before so I knew the drill. No tweeting, snap-chatting, instagramming and NO photography whatsoever in the studio! Womp womp!
Finally, I sat down at my seat, on the fifth row, right in front of the band area. There’s pros and cons to sitting on the main level of the theater. The main pros are proximity to the stage, the host, and the guests but on the con side cameras do get in your way and you can’t see the beautiful projection on the ceiling of the theater. Around 5PM, comedian Paul Mecurio came onto the stage to get us pumped for the main show coming up. He reminded us quickly of our purpose today as audience: to laugh, preferably loudly, at Stephen’s jokes. He made a few jokes of his own and pulled a few people onto the stage, including a software engineer from Google and his friend who was an opera signer and had an absolutely beautiful voice. Then Stephen Colbert came in for a quick Q&A. The questions weren’t riveting but he did mention that his wife was in attendance with some of her girlfriends, which was pretty cool.
At around 5:45PM, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, the house band, came onto the stage to play a few tunes and before I knew it the taping was finally starting!! I will say Jon Batiste and Staying Humans are pretty awesome in person, even with an extra human tap-dancing in the “percussion” areas. I took a couple of screen shots of the show afterwards, which included special audience members from the Coast Guards, Chelsea Handler in a tight little white number, an awesome segment on Marco Rubio’s “Morning Again in America” ad that included references to some of my favourite Canadian things like DeGrassi and Poutine, Zosia Mamet and a performance of The Lumineers’ new song Ophelia.
About the guests – when you book tickets to the show, you have NO idea who the guests are going to be. Like, when I saw Jon Stewart in Washington, D.C., I had no idea that President Obama would be his guest… the day AFTER I got to be in audience. I don’t even remember who the guest was when I went… I just remember that it wasn’t Obama 😉 I’m pretty happy with who I got to see, though honestly I would have been happy with anyone, as just getting to be in the audience was quite the treat. One of the highlights of the show that evening though was the cute interaction between Colbert and his wife (“darling”), either during the taping or during the commercial breaks as well as his interaction with us the audience the few times that he had to re-tape a segment (quite a few times actually). Otherwise, the guests pretty much just ignore the audience 🙁
After the show wrapped, Colbert did a few reshoots, including Zosia’s name, which he had mispronounced. He explained to us that earlier in the day, the building next to them had a sewers issues that had prevented them from being able to do their rewrites in their typical offices and that was one of the reasons the show’s taping appeared a bit frantic and disorganized. He chatted up with his wife a bit, asking her where she and friends were headed for drinks afterwards and that was that. I myself headed to Casellula for a post-Late Show glass of vino. Overall, I had a blast at the taping, it was so fun to see behind the scene of a show I watch everyday though it was a lot of waiting around, and definitely required some advance planning. Here’s my last pro-tip if you’re planning on being in the audience like I was: wear warm clothes! The theater is FREEZING so much that the staff is walking around in their coats. I definitely wished I’d worn a warmer sweater 😉
Have you ever attended a show’s tapping, whether in New York or Los Angeles? How was that experience for you?