Attending the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Back in November 2017 I decided to try to get tickets to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (from now on I'll just call it TLS).  I figured I'd have a better chance in early January when there are fewer tourists, so I requested January 8, 2018.  It worked and we got priority tickets.

I was worried that a certain Englishman wouldn't want to join me so I told him that the tickets were his Christmas present.  (Sneaky I know)  Such is the life when a Democrat is married to a Republican.

I've never gone to anything like this, the only "taping" of a television show I've ever attended is Music and the Spoken Word, but since that's not filmed in a television studio, I don't really count it.

Our tickets said to arrive after 3:00 p.m. and that our deadline was at 4:00 p.m.  We got there before 3:30 but didn't have to wait outside hardly at all, which is good since NYC is freaking cold in January.  First they asked to see our ticket, then we had to show our state ID's, and then we were given a purple wristband.  When we were escorted into the building we had to raise our hand to show we had a wristband on, and then we went through a metal detector.

After entering the Ed Sullivan theater we snaked through the lobby into 3 main columns.  There were televisions hanging from the ceiling showing funny clips from the Colbert show.  Whenever the sound from the TVs was muted, it meant we were about to get an announcement.

The announcements were mostly in the form of interns screaming at us to go to the bathroom.  Honestly, I think they are hiring the wrong people for this job.  They should bring in women who have had multiple children.  No one can scare the bodily fluids out of a person like a mother yelling at her children, "Go to the bathroom, now!  I'm not pulling this car over until we get to grandma's."

Those who had "to go" were allowed to go to the bathroom column by column and return to their place in line.  I don't know how long we stood there waiting to be seated in the theater, probably an hour or so, but I could see people waiting outside, so I wasn't complaining.

At one point the interns told us how the day was going to go.  After we entered the theater, we were going to be entertained by the great comedian Paul Mecurio (who?), get a private concert from Jon Batiste's band, have a Q&A with Stephen Colbert, and then the show would begin.  We were warned not to ask Stephen where he lived or if we could have a job.

It was finally time to enter the theater and we were told to turn off our cell phones.  If we were caught with our phones, we would have to leave the theater.  Again, they need to hire someone other than college interns for this job.  One girl was stupidly giving away ideas for hiding our cell phones.  She said, "I went to high school so I know all the tricks.  Don't text in your purse, don't text under your leg, I will find you and remove you."  I thought, "I never thought of texting in my purse!"

Walking up to the theater doors, I noticed an intern stood at the entrance and sent us either left or right.  I didn't think much of this.  A couple somehow got in front of us in line and got sent to the left, we were sent to the right.  Had I known what I know now, I would have let another couple go ahead of us because you definitely want to go left, not right.

We entered into the right side of the theater and another intern told us where to sit.  We ended up on the very back row on the right hand side on the middle.  This means that when the camera pans over to the audience, we are hidden behind a screen.  Sorry kids, you don't get to see your parents on TV!

I noticed a security-guard-looking dude was walking up the left hand side of the theater talking to the people on the edges.  He never came over to our side.  At the end of night I found out why.  When Stephen Colbert ends TLS he runs up the left aisle and high fives the audience.  This explains why the couple jumped in front of us most likely.  My guess is that the guard was saying to the people, "Don't grope Stephen Colbert.  In case you haven't heard, Time's Up!"

We had been warned the theater would be cool, but when I saw the crew and interns dressed in knit caps and parkas, I questioned my wardrobe choice.  All I had was a blouse and a puff coat.  Thankfully I run hot and didn't get cold until the very end.

The "famous" Paul Mecurio came out and looked like he was absolutely miserable.  He told us that the musical act was going to perform.  He told us that we need to cheer really loud as they come out.  Then he announced them.

They didn't come out.

He told us that we need to cheer really really loud and announced the musical guest.

They didn't come out.

He then started making fun of us for cheering believing that they were coming out on stage.  While he was talking, the musical act came out on stage.

Andra Day and Common

A certain Englishman nudged me and said, "Look it's Stephen Colbert."  Sure enough he appeared out of a corner and walked over to the musical act.  He told the lead singer that his wife had heard her perform at some festival somewhere.  The cut their mics so they could have a private conversation.  Then he walked up to the camera and started mumbling and making these strange sounds.  (His mic was back on.)  I was thinking, "What on earth is he doing?"

Suddenly the lights turned off, someone threw him an album cover, and he stood before the camera and announced the musical act.  He then disappeared again.

During the song I realized what the mumbling was.  He was actually going over the words of the teleprompter "practicing" what he was going to say.  Except he was doing it so fast and pretty much just in his head.  Kind of thinking out loud.   When it was time to go "on air" (it's actually called live-to-tape) he read the words of the teleprompter smoothly and without any problems.  This guy is good!

After the musical act, we waited as the crew removed all of their musical instruments.  Then it was time to be "warmed up" by the comedian.

Apparently in order to be warmed up, we need to be insulted.  He kept telling us how we weren't screaming loud enough and had us shout this weird laugh.  It was like saying, "Ha!"  He kept telling us how Stephen's mic was twice as loud as ours so we need to be twice as loud to be heard.  I'm thinking, "Fix the mics then."

Anyway he then pulled random people up on the stage and made us laugh by making fun of them.  It was really strange.  But when he brought up a second set of people, one girl was ready.

He asked her what she did for a living.  She said, "I'm an academic advisor."

"What kinds of questions are kids asking these days?" he said.

"What should I do with my life?" she answered.

He then made some joke about how angry she sounded about that.  She didn't react.  He then asked, "So what do you tell them?"

She said, "I tell them to quit school and get a job."

This of course brought tons of laughter from the audience.  He acted like this was stupidest thing he had ever heard and made a joke about how she was like a car dealer selling bus tickets.  She stood tall and unapologetic.  He then revealed that he used to be a lawyer on Wall Street and quit his job to become a comedian.  (Ah, so that is why you look so miserable.)

She said totally deadpan, "If you had met me sooner, I could have saved you all that time and money you wasted in law school."  The audience went nuts.  Now that I think about it, was that the plan all along?  To get us not to like this guy, and create a plant so that we would finally warm up?

The comedian finally left and Jon Batiste came out with his band.  They played a song that was supposed to get us off our feet and start dancing.  First of all, jazz is a hard genre to dance to.  And second of all, if you want an audience dancing, play Waterloo by Abba.  It works for Mamma Mia.

But overall the band was pretty good and the music had our hearts pumping.

Finally, the moment we have been waiting for.  Stephen Colbert runs out on stage.  We all get really loud and chant "Stephen, Stephen!"  He thanks us and tells us to save some of the energy for when we are actually live.  He then opens it up to questions.  Hopefully I can remember them.

Q. "If you could be a fruit, what would you be?"
A. "A banana because I like monkeys."
Q. "Does the entire band have to be good Catholics like you?"
A. "I actually have no idea what religion the band members are.  They don't have to be good Catholics to work here."  He then turned away from the band and whispered, "Yes they do."  Then in his normal voice he said, "Actually, I'm not even a good Catholic, I'm a bad one."
Q. "Where is (some old character of his) now?"
A. "Probably hiding from his wife somewhere."
Q. "On the night of the election, did you really think that Trump might win?"
A. "We wrote jokes for four different outcomes.  1. Hillary wins and we know it. 2. Hillary wins and the results aren't sure.  3. Trump wins and the results aren't sure. and 4. Trump wins and we know it.  We actually didn't write any jokes for the fourth outcome because we knew there would be nothing funny to say.  And we were right.  The entire audience was weeping and so was I."

Those are all the Q & A's I can remember.

Then he told us he was going to come back out again and that we needed to pretend like it wasn't the third time we had seen him.  He said that the energy of the audience is important because it affects how they perform during the show.  (I later found out how true that was.)
Stephen Colbert then asked his Stage Manager what they were doing for the cold open.  They told him and he asked a couple questions that they couldn't answer.  He turned to us and said that we were all going to be surprised together.

Stephen Colbert left and the screens started the cold open. 

 After it aired, Stephen ran out and we all went crazy cheering.  He then started into his monologue.  He began talking about Oprah's speech at the Golden Globes and they played a clip.

After the clip ended, Colbert then looked into the camera and completely flubbed his line.  We all laughed in an effort to support him but I was thinking, "Wait, what did he say?"

He then stopped and said, "We need to show that clip again.  I really messed up.  I got emotional watching her speech again." He turned to us and said, "I'm sure you all are tweeting about what I just did. Try to laugh like you haven't heard it before."

We saw the clip again and he delivered his joke flawlessly.  As far as I can remember that was the only repeat for the rest of the night.

After his monologue ended, they announced that they were going to show the cold open again.  They said it had a new joke in there.  They asked us to laugh like we hadn't seen it before.  They showed the cold open and the new inserted joke was actually pretty funny.  Much funnier than how it ended.

When the show pauses for a commercial break, which initially confused me because if it's live to tape why stop for commercials, the band would play to keep our energy up.

If I can I'd like to take a commercial break from this post and make another observation.  That night on stage we saw many people, crew members, performers, interns, roadies, etc.  I don't claim to be 100% right, but it seemed to me like it was pretty obvious who loved their job and who was collecting a paycheck.  If I had to distill into one observation I would say the difference was whether they smiled "with their eyes" or not.  A genuine smile comes from the eyes, you can't fake it. 

I think it's hard to fake whether you love what you do or not.

I wonder if that comedian can get his old job back on Wall Street.

Back to our show...

Stephen Colbert is someone who smiles with his eyes by the way, and so does Jon Batiste.

Just before each segment begins we are told to cheer and get loud.  This is usually when the camera sweeps around to show the audience.  Again, in the future go left not right.  Colbert did a bit about Miller again and then another commercial break.

The first guest was Liam Neeson.  He walked out on stage and I almost gasped.

He looked sickly and way too skinny.  Not at all how I picture Liam Neeson.  I guess even celebrities are allowed to age.  They chatted, commercial break, clip of movie he's promoting, more chatting, commercial break.  They visited at the desk a little longer and then he waved good bye to all of us and he left.

The second guest was Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury.  Colbert made some jokes about how this was an "exclusive" interview when this guy has been on camera for almost 5 days straight.  The book was originally scheduled to be released on Jan. 9 but because of the cease and desist order they  decided to release it early.  I wonder if TLS was the original booking.  Anyway it was honestly kind of anti-climatic to have him on the show.  And I think Colbert knew it.

It's a good thing Wolff picked a career in writing.  He really struggles as a speaker.  As soon as he started to talk, the energy in the room pretty much disappeared.  I remember thinking, "Good thing this is the last segment of the night" because the musical act had been filmed long before.  At one point in the interview, Wolff's answer to Colbert's question "Do you really think 100% of the White House staff are considering the 25th Amendment?" got so convoluted that he forgot what he was talking about.  He finally stopped and asked Colbert "What was the question again?"  Colbert said he couldn't remember.  Yeah, the audience was pretty much done at that point.

We had another commercial break, and then Stephen Colbert stood with the audience (left side) and announced the show for tomorrow.  Just before taping, he looked at the teleprompter and did the mumble thing again.  He said his lines perfectly and then ran up the aisle and into a room where there was a fake presidential campaign going on for Oprah.  We put on our coats and left the building.

That night I watched the show to remind myself of the experience and to try to notice any differences while the show was fresh in my mind.  I noticed two.

1. With the cold open, they showed the new joke they had inserted that got a good laugh.  It stopped before the ending.  I realize we had been used to test market the bit.

2. The portion of the Wolff interview where he had forgotten the question was seamlessly edited out.

Other than that, it was pretty much what we had seen with the exception of Colbert flubbing the Oprah joke of course.

I'm glad that I made the effort to get tickets and to go see the show.  A certain Englishman and I watch Colbert often so we knew content wise what we were in for.  We found him to be very professional, funny, and kind to the audience.  I would think it would be hard to stay in the business long if you are rude to the audience who cheers for you.

If you want to hire people to scream at an audience, employ moms.

I wish I had brought a sweater, or even a scarf.

Sitting in a live studio audience is more thrilling than I thought it would be.  If someone is traveling to NYC or LA, I think it would be worth taking an afternoon or a morning to do.  I'm not sure I would have stood in line outside the theater for the privilege, but the hour inside the theater didn't seem too bad.

Until my dying day, I'll never be able to figure out how entertainers can get up each morning and do the same thing day after day after day.  Broadway shows probably baffle me the most.  To say the exact same lines over and over?  I'd rather stand in the middle of Times Square and fight with the unlicensed Disney characters who refuse to keep their mask on.  But for those who do, props to you.

Go left.

Thanks to a certain Englishman for coming with me!