You may have read other commentaries about what it takes to see The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and this is mine!
Tickets are free, and there’s only one place to get them: https://colbert.1iota.com/show/536/the-late-show-with-stephen-colbert
You’ll need to create an account, and then you’re able to request tickets for the show.
Tickets go quickly so don’t think you can apply for them on a whim. If you really want to be certain of seeing the show you’ll need priority tickets, as these are the only ones guaranteed admittance. Here’s the way it works:
- The beginning of the calendar month prior to the month of the show, tickets are available through the site. Want tickets for a date in April? Login and look for them at the beginning of March
- Request tickets for the date/time you want, you’ll only see offered those dates when taping is happening. Pay attention to the description as sometimes the taping is only for a guest segment, or only for a house band performance.
- You’re on a waitlist, with everyone else, so wait. Nothing will happen.
- 14 days before the date you’ve requested (generally) you’ll get an email telling you your tickets are available to be claimed. You don’t have tickets yet!
- Login quickly and claim your tickets. You’ll see immediately if you have Priority tickets or General Admission.
If you have Priority tickets you are guaranteed admission if you arrive before the check-in time shown, if you have General Admission tickets you’ll get in if there’s room after the priority tickets are seated.
The day of the show
If you have Priority Tickets, the only question is: do you care where you sit, and are you willing to work for it?
If YES, then here’s the deal:
- Somewhere around 2:00-2:30pm a line will start to form outside the Ed Sullivan Theatre, often close in to the building on the left side of the sidewalk
- Between 2:30 and 3:00 the show ushers will start to move the line over to the street side of the curb, and install stanchions with tape barriers to define the line.
- Starting at around 3:00, the Ushers will ask all those with General Admission tickets to follow them to the other side of the street, and form a new line there.
- Check-in now begins out on the street. Ushers will examine photo-id to compare with your tickets, and issue you an arm band. You’re going to be asked to squash up close to the others in line, forming rows 4 across. They’re going to really insist on squashing you together.
- At about 4:00 you’ll be moved inside, after going through a metal detector, and asked to continue standing in a very squished line.
- Once everyone has been moved in off the street, they’ll start opening each section/group up to a bathroom break. This is the only one you’ll get.
- You’ve been standing for 2 hours or so, and your back is probably killing you. It is what it is.
- At about 4:15 you’ll see groups of people being ushered into the front of the line, in a separate waiting area. These are the Priority ticket holders who decided to forego waiting, and turn up at the last minute.
- Somewhere around 4:45 they’ll start getting ready for seating. The last minute priority ticket holders will be given different colored wrist bands, and they’ll be taken upstairs to the back of the balcony. They were admitted, but they’ll sit right at the back of the nosebleeds
- The doors open and you’re told where to sit. We were about 20th in line, and were seated directly opposite Stephen’s desk in the 3rd row. Pretty easy to see ourselves in the audience sweep shots 🙂
- You’ve been standing for almost 3 hours, and sitting never felt so good.
If NO then turn up before check-in closes (4:30 typically), and you’ll spend only a small amount of time standing in line. You’ll be seated at the very rear of the balcony.
General Admission Tickets – it’s complicated. If you want to see the show, be there early. On the day we attended none of the front runners in line were general admission – when the ushers split the lines and took General Admission across the street the first 100 or so people stayed right where they were.
Your process will be the same as I’ve detailed above, but success will be merely getting in at all.
You’ll be briefed about what to expect by the Floor Manager, who actually has a pretty intimate role to play with Stephen during the show – he’s almost like a real time acting coach.
Paul Mecurio will come out to warm up the crowd, and he’ll have had 30 Red Bulls and a dozen Espressos before hand. He wants you loud and pumped. Every night it’s a new crowd, and every night they’ve got 20 minutes to turn you into the frenzied, cheering, throng that they want as a audio backdrop to the show.
Stephen will come out in advance and answer a few questions, the band is introduced, and then it’s time to start the monologue. When the show starts for real you’ve been told to keep screaming “Stephen! Stephen!” even after he tells you to pipe down, and so you do.
Once Stephen starts speaking to camera you won’t initially hear him, as the crowd is still yelling, but of course he’s mic’d and so the TV audience hears him over you just fine. If you’re seated front and center, as we were, you’ll actually see almost nothing of the monologue, as the cameras and floor manager are in the way!
The show unfolds as you’d expect – except it didn’t in our case. We were told we were lucky, because something was going to happen that almost never happens – they were taping two shows! It was Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and there was to be no show taping on the Wednesday, so two opening bits, one of which pretends to be Wednesday.
More bits are filmed, and the band performs two numbers on a heavily dressed set, when Stephen suddenly announces that there are no guests, because the guests have already taped their segment.
At this point in the proceedings we realize that we’re pretty much just a prop; cattle to be ushered in, minimally coached for background noise and energy, then disposed of. They could have told us earlier that we wouldn’t see any guests, but then would we have been as willing to participate in all the frenzied whooping and clapping?