I thought I would share our experience seeing The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. It turned out to be pretty awesome. And while I can’t say this is how it goes all the time, maybe you can glean some information from how things went for me for any visits you might want to make down the road.
If you know you are planning a trip to New York City and want to attend the Late Show, you’ll want to begin trying to get tickets weeks in advance. All tickets in advance are obtained through 1iota.com which handles tickets for almost all TV talk shows. Colbert’s page specifically is here: https://colbert.1iota.
We knew the dates of our trip and decided to target our last full day there for when we would attend the show. The thinking was that it would be a chance to sit down after all that walking. In hindsight, this might have been a mistake, but more on that later. With the target date of July 17 (a Tuesday…I believe they tape two shows on Thursday as a point of interest) set, I began monitoring the 1iota site for months in advance to figure out the pattern of when they would open up dates for tickets. I never quite figured out the pattern, but let me give you my timeline.
On June 7, 2018 the block of dates containing July 17 opened up. At that time, I was able to join the waitlist. I had been checking the site about three times a day and I’m guessing I was one of the first to get on the wait list for that date. I could get a ticket for me and a guest.
On June 20, 2018 I received an email from 1iota telling me it was time to confirm my tickets. The email included the following verbiage: “Please Note: 1iota sends Available notifications in batches and tickets are Reserved on a first-come, first-serve basis until all spots are claimed. The order in which you reserve your tickets will determine your ticket group.” So I jumped on confirming that right away. At that point, I was able to print my ticket. It was one ticket that allowed for “two fans” to attend. It contained my name and my wife’s name.
The ticket contained lots of information about attending including check-in time, what to wear and what you can bring, shouldn’t bring and needed to bring. So Janay could bring a purse, but larger bags are not allowed. I carried a small backpack type bag with me the entire trip except this day. Cell phones were allowed, but you couldn’t even have them out once you were in the auditorium. No food or drinks were allowed inside. No cameras, recording devices, weapons and a whole list of things could be brought inside.
The dress is “NICE CASUAL” and there were additional notes about what you couldn’t wear. Shirts with giant logos were not allowed, so I opted to not wear my Nerd Lunch shirt. They also give you a heads up about the studio being on the cooler side so bring a sweater or jacket. Letterman was famous for keeping the studio at 55°
Also, they would not admit anyone unless the entire party was present. This comes into play later in the story.
Finally, the ticket gives times for check-in and states that it opens at 3 pm and closes at 4 pm.
On July 10, 2018 I received a reminder email from 1iota. This would hopefully get anyone who was no longer going to attend to decline their tickets if their plans changed. Nothing really new came in this email.
On July 14, 2018 I received another email reminder from 1iota. Again, nothing new, but it seemed to be another plea for anyone who wasn’t planning to show up to go ahead and let them know.
Day of Show
We decide to eat lunch at Hello Deli which is just around the corner on the same block as the Ed Sullivan Theater. The owner is Rupert Jee and long-time viewers of The Late Show with David Letterman are likely familiar with him. He was often involved in some of Dave’s antics. Stopping in during the noon hour, I was surprised to find it not very busy. However, Rupert was there and allowed us to get a picture with him. He was super nice and asked us about our trip. I told him I always enjoyed seeing him back on the Dave years and he said he missed Dave. For more on what we ate, check out the food blog entry.
We have made it back to the Ed Sullivan Theater and the line is longer, but still fits under the shade of the Late Show marquee. We figure out which end to place ourselves. A lady in front of us quickly introduces herself to us knowing we’ll be spending quite some time together. Another guy also introduces himself to us. Both let us know they have other members of their parties who will be showing up.
One of the Late Show pages comes out and speaks with the couple who is at the start of the line. It seems they’ve planted themselves at the wrong “starting point” so the Late Show staff execute a quick march where we all loop around. Now the start of the line forms to the right of the marquee (as you face it). The first five or so people are not under the marquee. This will play a role as the storms are beginning to roll in. At this point, we’re 20+ in line.
Late Show page announces that anyone who has “PRIORITY” on their ticket will stay in this line we’re in and anyone who has “GENERAL” will move to a newly formed line. We have priority. We jump to 7th & 8th in line.
We are told to get our tickets out and our IDs. If our entire party is there, we will be allowed to get our wristbands. Unfortunately one of our new friends still is without her entire party and she has to fall to the back of the line. It’s unfortunate for her because the ticket said check-in doesn’t even begin until 3 pm and here we are doing it an hour earlier than expected. We move up to 6th & 7th in line and get our Late Show wristbands. Our position is now right under the edge of the Late Show marquee and the dark and stormy clouds are looming in the distance.
A Late Show page comes out to hand out really cheap ponchos. This was almost pointless and might have made things worse, but I appreciate the effort nonetheless.
They begin to bring people into the theater entrance and through security. I get the sense this happened earlier than usual due to the rain. It’s fairly standard security. We walk through a metal detector and Janay’s purse is checked. We are then funneled into a large room up to a door. In this room are several “photo ops” like cut outs of Colbert and posters of the logo. There is also a smart cart where Late Show could be purchased, although it was not open at this time. The inside of this room is quite ornate. The ceilings were really classy looking.
Funny story at this point…Janay looks up the #thelateshow hashtag on Instagram. She finds a picture taken of us out in the rain from just a few minutes earlier. I look at the Instagram profile of the person and then Janay notices a guy behind me and asks me quietly if it was him. It looked like it. So I just ask him, “hey, is this your picture?” and it was. We all had a laugh about how hashtags brought two people mere feet away from each other together.
Another set of doors open and we are now in a waiting area right outside the auditorium. Two TVs are turned on that begin showing old Late Show clips. Opposite the entry doors to the auditorium is a cool picture of Ed Sullivan. There are stairs that go up (one side to the balcony seating for sure and another side for who knows where) and stairs that go down. Once we got settled into this room, the page allowed us to take one of these flights down to use the restroom. The entire line was split up by sections and we went a section at a time. He made it clear that this was not a time to be jockeying for line position so when we came back, we were to come back to where we were.
Nothing really happened at this point, but it’s now been about two hours of us standing in line. I bring this up because for as good of an idea as it might have seemed to do this on our last day, after six days of intense walking, our feet were killing us. And standing for this long was making it even worse.
Someone asks the page when we get to go in and he says he doesn’t know. “Around 5 probably.” I hear this and am not sure I can handle another hour of standing. I tell Janay and she almost turns to dust from hearing this news.
There is a loose “last call” for a potty break. We would not be allowed to leave/come back in during the show so now was the time. Additionally, they announced the agenda for what would happen when we went in there (warm up comic, band, Colbert Q&A, show). I’ll outline the agenda, but the funniest thing was the announcement about not asking any “weird questions” or don’t ask for things like a job during the Q&A.
The other half the room is allowed to finally enter the auditorium, but they are taken upstairs to the balcony. Shortly after, our doors open and we are escorted into the theater. The page announces that we should walk calmly and safely. We will be told where to sit. The first couple to arrive way back around 1 pm lead the way and they are taken to the second row of the center section right in front of Colbert’s desk. The rest of us continue to fill up that second row and we land right in front of the monologue section of the stage. There was only one seat left in the row and they brought someone down to sit next to me who was there by himself. (Going by myself also got me a great seat 20 years ago when I went to see Conan. And I was a standby ticket for that show. If you are there alone, they can slip you in an empty seat up front should there be one.)
I have been a fan of Letterman for years so I was watching Dave before he went to CBS. I never got to see Dave live, but I have always wanted to see the inside of the theater. Even knowing what I know about lenses and TV trickery, I was still surprised at how small it felt compared to what I expected to see based on TV. The audience seating only had three sections and I thought it had more. I know all the seating is different for Colbert from what Dave had. And I believe they actually have more seating now.
We had been sitting for about 30 minutes and it was great. Wonderful to be off our feet. The auditorium was nice and cool. And it was great to be just taking in the sights of the beautiful stage and all the equipment. Not having a watch, I had begun to lose track of time since I wasn’t about to get my phone out and get kicked out. But the guy next to me had a watch and we did a time check with him at this point. From here on out, my times are approximate.
Paul Mecurio, the warm up comic, comes out on stage. The initial portion of his act is to get us to react at the appropriate loudness. So he’s telling us to cheer, then cheer louder, then louder. Then laugh, then louder, and then louder. He gets us to chant “Stephen” and stuff like that. He communicates the important role the studio audience has in the show. We’re all standing except apparently someone up in the balcony and Mecurio yells at this guy to stand up. Mecurio isn’t coming off as very pleasant at this point. Sort of drill instructorish. Then he starts picking people out of the crowd and bringing them up on stage and for the following few minutes, he’s doing pseudo-insult comedy with them. It’s mildly-amusing at best. He ends with a pitch of a one-man Broadway show that he’s doing down the street later that night.
Mecurio introduces the stage manager who runs through some instructions. Then he throws back to Mecurio who introduces Jon Batiste and Stay Human.
Jon Batiste and Stay Human enter the stage. Batiste intros each member of the band and they perform about a 10 minute jam session with each member of the band getting a solo.
Jon Batiste announces Stephen Colbert and he runs on stage to wild cheering. He thanks us for being there, reiterates the importance of the audience and the energy he gets from us and our cheering them on. He opens it up to a Q&A and this moves quick. If you have a question, get your hand up fast. One audience member asked how he keeps going with all the bad news in the world. He said that doing the show was what gave him the energy to keep going. Again piggybacking on what he just said. Someone in the balcony asked him to “fill in the blank: there are two types of people…”. He answered brilliantly with “people who fill in the blank” and then stopped. Then someone asked him about whether he still sails. He does, but not as much as he likes to.
The show starts. Just before it starts, Colbert sets up some of the jokes with a cursory telling of the day’s news knowing that some of us hadn’t really been keeping up with it. Then he tells us that there will be a cold open that he’ll stay out and watch with us. During the opening theme song and intro, he rushes back stage and is ready to reemerge as though it’s the first time we’ve seen him. He runs out to the audience and gives the first row high fives (which they had been instructed how to receive this high five earlier). Being in the first row would have been cool, but that night, anyone in that row was hard to make out. So it turned out to be better to be where I was in order to be seen on television. Second row at that end was a prime spot.
I won’t break the show down. It was a standard episode. You could go back and watch the clips on YouTube or the entire show on CBS All Access and see it for yourself. The only things of main interest would be Colbert did mess up during the second comedy bit, but just started over at an easy place for editing. No big deal. It was a hard line. And after the Lewis Black interview, the two of them recorded a spot for local stations. There were multiple scripts in the prompter. Before choosing one, Colbert read them all in a odd mumbly manner. It was amusing and Lewis Black found it quite funny.
There were also moments during the commercial break where Batiste and another member of the band would come out into the audience. There is a point you can see me again on TV when they come back from commercial and he is still out there with us.
The show concludes. Colbert offers no formal goodbye to the crowd before leaving the stage. The band continues playing for a little while, but then they conclude and leave the stage.
We exit the auditorium. As we leave, some people who were in the audience are now up on stage getting pictures at the desk. I have no idea who they are and how you get this opportunity. Colbert was not out there with them, but a pic at the desk would be cool. Or a video of me at the desk for my recap video would have been nice, too. After you leave the auditorium, you can take pictures again and it’s less crowded so there’s a chance to get selfies with the Colbert stand ups. The swag stand is open. It seems to be a limited selection of items. More is offered in the CBS store. I guess the only advantage is to not have to pay shipping, but I don’t think you come out ahead really. I’d rather buy a shirt from Rupert Jee and give him support at this point.
Once we exited the theater, Mecurio and some other guys were out there giving away ads for the aforementioned one-man show. We walked out with our “line friends” and each of us snapped pics for the other couple. With that, the experience at Broadway was over.
The show airs at 11:35 pm ET. We made it back to our Airbnb to be able to turn it on and catch the beginning. Ultimately we were in frame three times during the show. It was quite an experience and a highlight of the trip to New York City.
As a quick sidebar, I have now added a second photo to my “Me and a Representation of Stephen Colbert but Not Actually the Real Stephen Colbert” photo album. Almost two years ago, we visited Charleston, SC and a BBQ restaurant called Sticky Fingers Smokehouse has the portrait of Colbert from The Colbert Report. Now I have a photo of me and Stephen from inside the lobby of the Ed Sullivan Theater. Maybe Stephen will see this growing collection of photos and take pity on me and allow himself to be photographed with a cardboard cut out of me. That aside, I wonder what started my fascination with cardboard cut outs of late night talk show hosts…