Back in December, we were planning our annual weekend in Manhattan for some time in January or February so I started looking around for some unusual things to do. Normally, we do our trek to NYC in October or November, but we were taking care of our senior dog who passed in early November. We’ve done all of the usual touristy things but one thing we hadn’t done in a while was to see a live taping of a late night show. We did see a taping of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart several years back, but it was oddly short since there was no guest that night.

We are Stephen Colbert fans and luckily the tickets for January were open. The ticketing is run by 1iota Productions and you can check their calendar here. The tickets are free. I submitted a request for two tickets (the maximum number allowed – plan accordingly if you want to bring more than one other person) on Dec. 6th and received an email that said “Your request for The Late Show on Monday, January 07, 2019 @ 4:30 PM has been received, and you have been placed on the Waitlist.” Included in the email was a video that explained what it meant to be on the waitlist.

Tip: The show tapes Monday through Thursday, with the Friday show taped on Thursday during a double taping. They do not tape on the weekends, so attending a taping means being in NYC on a weekday.

On Dec. 18th – twelve days later – I received an email with the subject line “It’s time to reserve your 1iota tickets” notifying me that I had been moved from the waitlist to available. I had to visit the 1iota site to confirm my tickets. Awesome. We were all set.

Ticket Guidelines

According to our tickets, we were assigned to the priority group. There is also a general group. Priority ticket holders are the first ticket holders admitted. Keep in mind that priority refers to admission and not seating.

Here is what’s printed in your ticket in regards to guidelines:

  • If you arrive after the Check-in Deadline, you will be admitted on a first-come, first serve basis with the GENERAL ticket holders until capacity is reached. Consult an Audience Coordinator upon arrival if you have any questions.
  • Present your 1iota PRIORITY E-Ticket to an Audience Coordinator upon arrival.
  • The 1iota member who reserved the tickets must be present at check-in and attend the event because we do not allow ticket transfers.
  • Your entire party must be present with photo ID at the time of check-in. No “saving spots.”
  • Dedicated PRIORITY check-in line (when available).

What to Expect When You Get There

So, there are detailed instructions on the ticket about when to arrive but not where. We also Googled several blog posts about attending a taping, and not one mentioned where you can find the audience line.

So, where do you line up to see a taping of The Late Show?

Priority and general ticket holders queue up in front of the Ed Sullivan Theater at 1697 Broadway between West 53rd and West 54th prior to the check-in times printed on your ticket.

Closer to the check-in time, you will see audience coordinators in red jackets outside as well as a temporary rope line and temporary signage out on the sidewalk in front of the theater.

We had a 3:00 p.m. call time for priority tickets. We arrived at 2:30 p.m. and there was already a line of about 100 people there. We had read another post that people had started lining up around Noon for a 3:00 p.m. check-in. It was a high temperature of 34 degrees F and very windy on our day and there was no way we were showing up three hours in advance. Good thing we didn’t as it would not have been worth it. We still managed to get decent seats – 7th row and in the center – without showing up too early.

At 3:00 p.m. they will start checking your IDs and handing out wrist bracelets, but you are still standing outside. Come prepared. There is no food or drink allowed in the theater, but there were people in front of us who were eating while in line. That is apparently allowed although not stated in the rules/guidelines. You are also queued up right on the sidewalk so be sure you are bundled up (if it’s winter) or properly shielded from the sun and heat (if it’s summer). We did not get into the theater lobby until 4:00 p.m. so we were outside for about an hour and a half.

Getting into the lobby required a wrist band check and a pass through the metal detectors. Then we were back in line one more time. From 4 p.m. to approximately 4:45 p.m. was time for us to be released to the restrooms, which are down in the basement. We went downstairs in groups and resumed our place in line. Overall, it was very well managed. Again, be prepared to be on your feet this entire time. There are no opportunities to sit down until you get inside the theater.

At ~4:45 p.m., the doors to the theater opened and we were directed to our seat. You sit with the same people you’ve been with in the line.

The Live Taping

We were lucky enough to attend the show on the night they were returning from a 17-day holiday break. Before the show begins, a comedian named Paul Mecurio warms up the audience. Apparently he is a former lawyer and investment banker who decided to go into comedy (see this Inc. Magazine video profile). His warm-up is basically getting us to clap and yell as loudly as possible + pulling audience members on stage to make fun of them.

Afterward, the stage manager says hello and gives us some direction on when to applaud – namely when we see him twirling his rolled bit of paper and/or when we see the applause sign.

Around 5:15 p.m., the taping begins. It’s interesting in that the show is taped from top to bottom without interruptions. It’s not a string of segments edited together. Once the show begins, it begins in full and you cannot get up to go to the restroom. The band plays through the commercial breaks and the guests are brought out in the order that they appear on the show.

About Your Cell Phone

Phones are allowed right up until you enter the theater. At the point you are seated, absolutely no phones or recording devices are allowed and there are staff members who are constantly scanning the aisles looking for violators. Even during the taping, there is security personnel who are watching for phones. Don’t be a jerk and try something as I have no doubt you will get thrown out in a heartbeat.

Don’t Blink Or You Will Miss Us

It was fun to see how the show is put together and then to see how it was polished for airing later that night. As I stated before, we managed to get decent seats for the taping – 7th row center. They do cut to audience shots in between segments and I was able to catch us on screen once thanks to the slow-mo setting on my DVR.

Overall, it was worth the price of the $0 admission. It’s a fun experience to be a part of a live audience and to see how the production happens. I highly recommend trying to get tickets to The Late Show, or possibly The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon which also tapes in NYC.