What's it like to attend a taping of "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert"?

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For Christmas, my wife was able to get us tickets for the January 8 taping of THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT.  I have been a huge Colbert fan for a long time now.  We actually got to attend two tapings of THE COLBERT REPORT back in the day (and we got to attend a tapings of THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART and THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN too). 

I don’t think most of our readers have gotten the experience of what it’s like to attend a TV taping, so I thought I would walk them through the whole process.  In my opinion, there has to be a far better way of doing it, but pretty much every taping I’ve been to has been exactly the same. 

So, how do you usually get tickets?  Unless you are lucky enough to win a contest, you keep an eye on social media for when they make some tickets available.  Once tickets are up on the website, you will have a very small window of time before they are all gone.  I am talking literally minutes for some of the biggest shows like Colbert.  They also have a stand-by option for those who decide to stand outside the theater and hope for the best.  I’ve never tried that, so no idea how likely you would be able to get that tickets that way.

Two days before the taping, we got an email informing us that the taping was going to be live at 11:30 PM.  Most tapings are done around 5 to 7 o’clock.  This one would take place at 11:30….BUT, you have to get there earlier.  We had no idea why this particular taping was live, but that made it a bit of a hassle, especially since the last bus home runs at 1 AM (during the show Colbert explained that it was basically a warm-up show for their live show after the Super Bowl).

On the day of the taping, you need to standing outside the theater literally hours before the show is taped.  They want to make sure every seat it filled, so they will ask you to check in long before the taping actually starts.  All tickets are first-come, first-served, and they overbook by a certain number.  So even if you have a confirmation, you may not get in if you are not there before they run out of tickets.   For our 11:30 taping, we were told they would start giving out tickets at 8:00 PM sharp.  We ended up getting on line about 6:30, and we were about a hundred people back in line.  THIS WAS 5 HOURS BEFORE THE TAPING STARTED!

At 8 PM, they moved through the line very quickly and efficiently, checking your ID, giving us a seat number, and telling us to return at 9:45 where we would have to get back in line by number order.  We ended up crashing at a Starbucks across the street for an hour and a half, slowly nursing some hot chocolate and chia tea so they wouldn’t throw us back out into the cold.

We returned at 9:45, got back on line and went through security.  A sniffing dog and a metal detector greeted us before we were allowed into the lobby of the studio where we stood for another half hour or so.  We were given some rules, and reminded to be as loud as possible during the show.  Close to 10:30, we were finally allowed into the theater.  My wife and I were in the sixth row.  We were seated behind two very tall gentlemen.  The chairs are very comfortable in the revamped Ed Sullivan theater, BUT, the rows are basically flat, not stadium seating.  So we spent a lot of the show watching the monitors and not quite seeing Stephen on stage because of the two gentlemen sitting in front of it. Unfortunately, from where we were sitting, we couldn't see a lot of the changes they made to the theater, though when Stephen came out, he did put them up on the monitor so we could see them better.

At around 11, the warm-up comic, Paul Mecurio, came out.  He reminded us how important a live audience is, and told a few jokes, many of which involved members of the audience.  He’s a real solid warm-up act…BUT…I will admit that throughout his performance, I kept just thinking “When does Jon Batiste start performing?”  Please don’t take that as a knock against Paul Mecurio, but I am a huge Jon Batiste fan. 

Jon Batiste and Stay Human came out, and they blew up the entire crowd.  I joked afterwards that the show really should be The Late Show with Jon Batiste and Stay Human.  Any time there was any free moments, they were playing, and they were incredible.  They also use every inch of the Ed Sullivan Theater, marching up and down the aisles, even heading up to the balcony.  I had never seen dueling tubas or dueling tambourines before seeing Stay Human.

A few minutes before the show started, Colbert came out to do a quick Q+A with the audience.  On normal nights, he might have gone longer, but with the live show there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room.  He told some terrific stories about his parents and family. 

Then they have the taping itself.  Colbert was great as always.  Since it was live, it was all done real right.  I had been to some tapings of The Colbert Report, and both times they had to reshoot quite a bit because Stephen would keep breaking character and laughing.  But, he got through the entire hour pretty flawlessly.  He even had a great song and dance routine with Matthew Broderick which was pretty much the highlight of the night for my wife.

By the way, since it was a live show and it did end pretty much exactly at 12:35 AM, we managed to run the mile and a half to make it to our bus home in time.  WIN! 

Pretty much my experience at THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT was the same as my experience at all other TV shows.  You have to be there far earlier than makes sense and you end up doing a lot of waiting around, outside in the cold.  That said, it is a lot of fun to attend a live show and if you have the opportunity, it’s totally worth it.  

Colbert is a great host, and I love what he’s done with the Late Show.  It is by far the most unique talk show on TV.  I can’t imagine any other talk show would have Sarah Parcak on.  Sarah Parcak is a “space archeologist.”   She uses satellites to help figure out where long lost temples and even cities are.  The whole thing was ridiculously engaging.  As I listened to her, it really reminded me why I like this show so much.  It is not just mindless fluff.  He’s bringing on terrific guests from a wide variety of fields. 

Thank you to Stephen Colbert and the entire crew!  The whole live taping process is still a pain in the ass, but we still had a great time!

4.5 / 5.0