The Colbert Experience, Live!

I have to thank NBC and its programming mishap for my having found the brilliant Stephen Colbert on the late night hour of Comedy Central. As a loyal viewer, once I like a particular show, I stick with it, unless they persistently screw up and take the viewer for granted. In the case of NBC, I was no fan of Conan (no offense to Conan fans), it’s just that for some reason, he didn’t make me laugh as much as Leno or Samantha of Sex in the City do. Sex in the City also happens to run late night on TBS around that time.

So, in Leno’s absence and Conan’s presence on the 11:30pm time-slot, I started searching for other comedians who could tickle my brain. Then I came across Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert.

I barely remember how I got hooked. Perhaps it was a segment, but I started watching. I will confess that initially, when I saw him in that suit, and all the “republican iconography” in his set, I was a little suspicious. He usually starts off by seemingly picking on the progressives, but upon hearing him deliver, I realized the brilliance of his lines. He puts a funny twist on the Fox News network tone, stressing its antithesis of the Fox “fair and balanced” take on events and politics.

Last March, walking from The Armory Show on Pier 92, west side on 54th street, looking for a cab, I came across the Colbert Show studios, and the long line outside its doors. I approached the young people with the clipboard at the door, and they told me I could sign up for tickets on the website. When I had a free moment in the late Spring, I went online looking for tickets. To my disappointment they were not available. So I signed up to be advised by email.

The Colbert Report team is very good at advising you when tickets are available via email. The trick is to jump on the email VERY QUICKLY. If you wait even an hour to do it, by the time you get there, chances are there will be none. The tickets are free, but they do go fast. So after a few failed attempts to rush to get tickets after being emailed, in late June I was successful getting them. I invited a friend who was as excited as I.

August seemed a long way, but completely a worthy wait. The Colbert Report team is diligent enough to remind you on the day of the show of your reservation, asking if you must cancel to click on a link, I suppose to open up seats for the standby line. Yes, there is a brave and daring standby line.

The show taping begins at around 7pm or so, but they advise that you get in line and meet your friends no later than 5:30pm. When I spoke to the young clipboard-holding staffer earlier in that cold March day, she advised it was best to show up at around 4pm or so. So my guest and I showed up at 3:30pm, imagining we’d be the first in line. What were we thinking? LOL! There were already about 20 people ahead of us.

The team is also very diligent in checking your government-issued ID and recording it. You must bring a printed copy of the confirmation email when they check you in at the line. The staff is really nice and really courteous. Given it was a very very hot day, they gave us water bottles, enough to keep us hydrated, but not large enough to have us running to the bathroom and losing our place on line.

I will confess that the wait from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm or so –when the line finally started moving– was a long one.

Recommendations here: bring something portable to sit on. You can also sit on the floor. So, don’t dress up, unless you’re a VIP and have quick access to the show. There was a couple in front of us. The poor girl was wearing heels and a dress. At one point she kept taking turns lifting her feet. Standing two hours on heels must have been painful. I was wearing comfortable sandals, and ended up sitting for a bit, but even on comfortable shoes, it hurts to stand online that long. Also, it’s best if you go with someone, this way you can hold each other’s place in the line in case you want to run across the street for a bite of food or a bathroom break. If it’s on an extreme weather day, make sure to bring the right clothing. You’ll certainly be standing out there for at about two hours or so. The Colbert Show has ensured that the waiting area outside is covered and the audience is not exposed to inclement weather. In the end, the wait is long, but worth it.

The line at about 5:30, shortly before being called in.

The Colbert Report audience waiting in line

Between 5:30pm and 6pm, when they are finally about to let us in, a young, handsome security guy came out to greet us and tell us the rules.

The rules for the live audience of the Colbert show are:

  1. No cameras, no video taping while inside the show.
  2. No weapons of any kind.
  3. Everyone attending must have a government issued photo I.D.
  4. Everyone attending must be at least 18 years old.
  5. The person whose name appears on the ticket must be present.
  6. Past 5:30 pm no one will be allowed to join the line.
  7. No tickets are issued. Proof of reservation is a printed copy of the email. Make sure to bring it.
  8. No yelling out and screaming obscenities during the taping of the show.

Basically, the expectation is for members of the audience to behave themselves. It makes sense.

Shortly after that introduction, we were given numbered admission passes. These are returned upon entry on to the studio. I took a snapshot of mine as a souvenir. Even the admission pass is funny.

Even the entrance passes are funny at The Colbert Report

I was very appreciative of the bottles of water they passed around as we waited patiently in the line. As I began to move forward I read on the wall along the line, a ton of great entries worth sharing here. So, given that I could not take pictures while inside the studio, I decided to photograph the mementos left on the wall by other Colbert fans. I photographed the ones that caught my eye the most. Check out the pictures below. It certainly tells of his fan base. And one important point here. The Colbert audience is VERY diverse. There were people of all ages, backgrounds, etc. So, any of Colbert critics who claim otherwise, are completely wrong.

Yes, it does say, "Stephen, be my baby Daddy." Funny!!

Yes, it does say, "Stephen, be my baby Daddy." Funny!!

Colbert for President 2016. Why not?

Colbert for President 2016. Why not?

I second that sentiment! Go Colbert Nation!

I second that sentiment! Go Colbert Nation!

Hofstra Salutes Stephen - Do you think the Dean will approve? LOL!

Hofstra Salutes Stephen - Do you think the Dean will approve? LOL!

Long Island Loves Stephen - Well, so do the rest of us.

Long Island Loves Stephen - Well, so do the rest of us.

Yes, it does say, "Len n Stephen" Well, Stephen. I had no idea! LOL!

Yes, it does say, "Len n Stephen" Well, Stephen. I had no idea! LOL!

Once inside, everyone goes through a metal detector and bags are checked by security. There is a picture of Stephen on the wall, where you can pose next to it and be photographed, “with Stephen”. The headliner picture here is from that wall.  After the excitement of photographing ourselves with Stephen’s friendly wall pic, we all continued to stand around and wait to be called into the studio itself. At least this time we were inside an air conditioned room. The Colbert team is very good at keeping us entertained and updated.  At certain intervals, a member of the staff would tell us what was going on inside and what to expect. There is a water cooler and bathrooms.  It is highly recommended you go before entering the studio. Why disrupt the show just because you have to go to the bathroom while they tape?

We began to enter the recording studio at about 7:30pm. Apparently going in this late was an exception. They usually start at about 7:00pm. They were running a bit behind schedule that day. In the meantime, to keep us entertained, there were videos of Colbert’s greatest hits being played in screens around the room as we stood around chatting and impatiently looking at our watches. Every half hour or so, a member of the staff would update us and continue to stress how appreciative they were of our presence and patience while they got ready for the show. It made the waiting more bearable.

There is this segment they show at the waiting room, where Jane Fonda flirts with him and even kisses him. I found that hilarious and endearing. I can also tell he likes having the super cool and legendary Gloria Steinem on his show. I liked him even more after watching those clips.

By the time we got into the recording studio and were in our seats, it was almost four hours of standing around waiting to see “the man” live: about two in the hot weather outside, and under two at the waiting room inside. My feet hurt. So, when you go, either bring a good book, good music in your mp3 player, or make sure you have an entertaining friend around, in addition to comfortable clothes and shoes.

As a member of the audience, I have a few suggestions to the great and diligent Colbert production team.

  1. Providing seats is very important. I know you want to make sure people’s energy remains up, so seating gives people a break and renews them.
  2. I think in the summer, besides the water, an electrolyte-rich beverage (gatorade-types) will certainly keep us energized and pumped. In the cold days of winter, I’d imagine coffee or hot chocolate can do the trick. You may already be doing that.
  3. I understand you may have a budget for the show, so you may not have the funding for beverages besides water, so if we’re going to stand around that long, how about putting a snack and drink machine inside the waiting room?  Some of us wouldn’t mind having the option of paying for a snack or beverage. Truth is, after all that standing in the heat, I was exhausted and my energy was low by the time I finally sat in the studio. The wait is too long, but no doubt truly worth it.
  4. My last suggestion, please have a souvenir shop. Perhaps inside the waiting room, you could sell Colbert stuff. It’d make the waiting experience that much better, the time would go faster, and I bet it would add some revenue to your show. I’m sure the staff wouldn’t mind the raise, especially those interns. :-)

Other than that, once we were allowed in (and you’re allowed in by numerical order, according to your spot in the initial line– so it pays to be early), we were assigned our seating areas. Members of the production team shared with us how important we are to Stephen’s taping. I have no doubt about that, because a comedian feeds off the energy of the audience.  With Colbert is easy to laugh at anything he says. He’s just hilarious.

Once we’re seated, there is additional waiting time, but this time around there is a comedian doing an “opening routine” before Stephen comes out. The comedian is pretty good. Most of his routine involves speaking with the audience and keeping us engaged and laughing.

The best treat of the night is that Stephen comes out and spends some personal time with the audience and answers questions!!

They just requested that the questions be polite, not to ask for “things” or favors, you know, keep them clean and smart. When Steven finally comes out, we’re all pumped. He is so worth the wait. He takes the microphone and thanks us for being there, then begins to answer questions from the audience. I find that endearing. They warned us this portion would be “Stephen off character”. Truth is, Stephen is the character! I saw very little difference between the witty Colbert and Stephen with the mike taking questions from the audience. So many questions came to mind. I waited too long and the session ended without asking one of my many questions, to my regret. But I hope to return soon and get to ask him a question the next time.

Sadly I found out he rarely tweets himself, but he did credit his wonderful and witty staff for tweeting for him. It’s understandable. Most famous people rarely tweet themselves. The good news is that his staff does. So, our tweets to him are not wasted.

Watching the taping of the show, and participating as part of the audience was an exciting experience, as I expected. Colbert does not disappoint.  The wait was a bit much for me, but worth it. Perhaps this is coming from someone who avoids crowded places and long lines. So, keep this in mind when reading my feedback. Some people don’t mind standing in line. I noticed inside the waiting room, that aside from the general admission tickets, there were two other types of ticket holders: VIP ticket holders and red ticket holders. I imagine these are people who know someone in the show. They are usually the first to go in and get to sit on the front rows. I guess these people don’t go through the long wait in line.

One of the most endearing aspects of watching Colbert tape his show was watching him lose it at times as he starts laughing as he reads his own lines. Twice we had to cut and restart. Even those re-dos were perfect. The fact that he flubbered his lines, showed the guy is human and truly enjoys his job. I also learned that the audience is very important to him. We are his cue in many aspects. After every segment, his writers go up to the desk and they go over the script. He is not shy about taking the pen and crossing out lines and adding lines as they review the next segment. Also on the famous Stephen Colbert red bracelets bands, he randomly shoots them out to the audience throughout the taping. I missed one by an inch. But of course, I wasn’t throwing myself to catch it. I was hoping for a store of Colbert souvenirs where I would have gladly spent my money, but there isn’t one.

Colbert is impeccable in his manner, his style and his behavior. I was very impressed at the professionalism displayed by Stephen and his staff. They were all very enthusiastic and showed much appreciation of us, the audience. He’s lucky he’s that good that he got this New York City girl to wait. I think the last time I stood in a line that long I was in high school on a trip to Great Adventure. Not even for my i-gadgets!

So,  Stephen Colbert, you must be a very special guy to get me standing in line that long just to see you.

Despite the “Republican” facade, Stephen’s show and his type of comedy, appeals to the independent-minded. You don’t have to have party affiliations to enjoy him. Republican strategist Mary Matalin said not long ago that she enjoyed Jon Stewart but preferred Colbert. I hoped that she liked him for the same reasons I do, and not for the fact that he comes across as Republican, because he truly shows his independent colors. And if I were a fanatical follower of either party, or one of those people who took my politics a bit too seriously, I’d be afraid to watch Colbert because he makes the politicians and the parties look far from smart, especially the republican party and Fox News.

By the time the taping was over, it was a bit after 9pm.  I was thirsty and hungry. I think we all were. I saw a few cars outside the studio, but among them stood a long black limo. I wondered if it was Stephen’s or perhaps belonged to a special guest.

Overall, my first time experience with Colbert live, was just as I expected, minus the long, long wait and lack of electrolytes. I hope the Colbert team reads some of my suggestions and takes them into consideration. It would make the Stephen experience that much better, and the audience would be that much more energized. Not that we weren’t, but imagine the audience on a sweet snack after a long wait, and souvenirs in hand! We’d be very appreciative and happily demonstrate it.

Overall, it was a great job done by the staff. They were professional, friendly, energized and energizing. Stephen was even more awesome in person, especially when he showed his human side such as laughing or missing his lines. We the audience missed our cue once too. It was funny. Stephen looked at us with that look of his. We laughed and got it.

If you’re considering participating in the live Colbert experience as part of the studio audience, I highly recommend it. If you don’t like standing in lines for hours –like me– I highly recommend trying to get those VIP or red passes. I don’t know where they come from or who is the conduit, but I’m sure there is a way.  Overall, Colbert is worth the wait. I am sorry I don’t have more pictures of the experience inside the studio, but, I think the ones I collected and I’m sharing here with you will take you closer to what it was like being there.

If you have attended, I’d love to hear your comments. Please post them and share with the rest of us here.


on “The Colbert Experience, Live!
2 Comments on “The Colbert Experience, Live!
  1. Yesterday 11-29-10 Steven was looking for one of his props(a ball and Jacks) under his desk while taping and yelled out “Where are my Fucking jacks?!”
    Later in the show he flubbed his lines and dropped his head to the table and we all let out a roar!
    He has a new aspect to the the end he comes through the audience and shakes everybody’s hand, that was nice. It was my second time attending the show and I love it every-time!

  2. Awesome article! This is definately a must-read for anyone going to the show or anyone, like me, who has their landlocked nose on the other side of the glass.

    I really appreciated your details on the creative process, having to re-shoot his giggle spots, editing scripts right before shooting etc… I hope you get to go again soon.

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