Free Stuff in NYC: The Daily Show & The Colbert Report

LA may be known as the place where all those TV shows and movies are filmed, but there are still plenty of regularly scheduled shows that tape in New York City. Here’s a fun fact: All those shows that have live audiences need audience members, and you could be one of them for FREE! I’m serious! Go watch them tape “The View,” “Saturday Night Live,” or any other of the many, many shows that film here. Word has it though that most TV show tapings can be quite dull. So you could do what I did…go see the tapings of two of your favorite comedy shows, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report,” both of which I attended in the past week!

Jon Stewart's studio
The Daily Show’s Studio (Photo Credit: MDMesser)

Getting Tickets

This certainly seems like a daunting task. After all, ever since moving to New York 3 and a half years ago I have been trying to get in to see “The Daily Show” without any success, as all tickets were always sold out on the ticketing websites (The Daily Show’s Ticket Site & The Colbert Report’s Ticket Site). Many people will tell you that persistence is the key, and you certainly might strike it at the right time, but here’s a tip:

Last minute cancellations and even same day tickets seem to be made available at around 3:00am Eastern time at the respective websites. I obtained both of my tickets with 2 days notice!

Or for up-to-the-minute updates about when tickets become available, follow @DailyTix on Twitter!

Standing in Line

As both shows will clearly tell you, just because you have a confirmed ticket does not guarantee you admission. They overbook the shows by a large margin so that they will have a full audience and if you do not show up early, you will likely not get in. This happened to me on my first attempt, when I arrived at “The Daily Show” at 3:45pm (we were due in at 4:30pm), only to find that the last tickets were given out to a couple a mere 10 people ahead of me!

How early you should arrive depends on which show you are trying for (as it does the weather). While you should definitely arrive no later than 3:30pm for “The Daily Show,” you could probably arrive at “The Colbert Report” as late as 5:00pm and get in (they tape an hour later).

One important thing to note is that you will be waiting outside. While “The Colbert Report” has a covered area off the street for the audience to line up in that’s also wonderfully shielded from the wind, “The Daily Show” does not. In fact, an audience member at my show asked Stephen Colbert about this distinction, adding, “how much more awesome are you than Jon Stewart?” The response? “On a scale of one to me, I’d say me.”

Getting In

The tickets handed out to those in line are numbered sequentially by the line order. Those numbers dictate the order by which you will be allowed into the studio proper. After passing through an airport-style security checkpoint, you can enter the studio where audience coordinators will direct you to seemingly random empty seats.

Colbert Report Ticket
My Colbert Report Ticket

Daily Show Ticket
My Daily Show Ticket

Prior to the taping, a warm-up comic appears at both shows (though the regular guy wasn’t in at my “Daily Show” taping so instead we got one of the show’s Executive Producers who was absolutely hilarious). Before riffing on the audience, they give you a rundown of how the taping works and tell you to heighten all your reactions. In the timeless words of the warm-up guy at “The Colbert Report,” there were times where we would be directed to “go batshit crazy!”

Enter the Host

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Stephen Colbert/Jon Stewart.” As music blared in the studio, each host made their own version of an entrance: Colbert bolting in, running laps around the set and high-fiving his entire staff and the entire front row; Stewart dancing on casually. Both times the audience went absolutely insane.

Prior to the tapings, both Stewart and Colbert take a few questions from the audience, though you are distinctly forbidden from asking them for anything (like a job or an autograph). As an added treat, during this Q&A time, Colbert treats the crowd to a rare glimpse of him out of character (for the record, he’s much calmer…) and both hosts offered fairly hilarious answers to everything. Highlights included Jon Stewart’s stories about Ozzie Osborne at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear and Stephen Colbert obliging a request that he do the dance from “Strangers With Candy.” In fact, on the air he stated that the audience’s reaction made him “want to dance,” a nice reference to this earlier event!

The Taping

Rather surprisingly, both shows do one straight take of an entire “act” (from one commercial break to the next), so watching the taping is pretty much exactly like watching the show at home. You can even see the onscreen graphics in monitors above the set. And both shows are much funnier in person!

During the commercial breaks, music blares through the studio as the hosts confer with their writers and producers. These took longer than the commercial breaks do on TV.

While my taping of “The Colbert Report” was both hilarious and straightforward, my “Daily Show” taping was quite the opposite. It was Thursday’s episode, which, if you didn’t watch, centered entirely around the Zadroga Bill to provide health coverage to 9/11 first responders which has stalled in the Senate.

Jon Stewart spent the middle “act” talking with a group of four 9/11 first responders in an incredibly powerful and moving segment. It ran way over time, but Jon Stewart wisely opted to keep that segment in full and go back to re-film a segment from the first “act” to shorten it. As they broke for commercial, the audience, who was highly moved by their plight, gave the first responders a rousing 2 minute standing ovation (by contrast, nobody stood for the guest, Mike Huckabee, or even for Jon Stewart).

Another treat that we experienced at “The Colbert Report” was the now-rare “toss,” where Stewart and Colbert chit-chat with each other at the end of “The Daily Show.” This was actually filmed almost immediately after we were seated. Colbert made a brief appearance to film the segment, before disappearing again and allowing the warm-up comic to do his shpeel.

What ensued was a truly hilarious exchange between to the two comics, with the “off-camera” banter being highly inappropriate and the recorded segment being highly improvised! And for the record: After it was filmed, there was a lengthy discussion at “The Daily Show,” which we could see via video feed, as to whether or not to re-shoot the “toss.” They didn’t!

After the credits rolled, both hosts thanked us (and Colbert fired off a few of his “WristStrong: bracelets and extra pancakes from the video clip above into the audience) and that was it!

The Verdict

All I can say is what an incredibly awesome experience these tapings were!

That said, did I have a preference as to which taping was better? Yes.

Having attended both, I thought “The Colbert Report” was a much more fun experience (which you can partially chok up to “Colbert” being my first taping and the serious tenor of “The Daily Show” that night). “Colbert’s” staff was considerably nicer than those at “The Daily Show.” It’s also a more intimate experience, as the studio is smaller and there isn’t a huge gulf between you and Colbert (as is the case with Stewart).

The Colbert Report Studio
The Colbert Report Studio (Photo Credit: James Trosh)

And after all, Colbert’s character is just so absurd, you can’t help but have fun!

But you know what? I left the studios beaming both days. What an incredibly fantastic and free experience! Believe me when I say that come mid-May, I’ll be looking for tickets to come again!

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11 Responses to Free Stuff in NYC: The Daily Show & The Colbert Report

  1. Lisa E @chickybus December 18, 2010 at 9:47 pm #

    Sounds like you had a great time. Cool to have seen both! I saw Letterman live a few times a while back. Enjoyed it, too!

    And wow re: the 9-11 responders. Very intense. Glad they spoke up/out re: what’s been going on re: their health and the bill controversy, etc. I feel for them…

    • Aaron December 18, 2010 at 10:11 pm #

      It was pretty awesome! And seeing those 9/11 first responders in person was just so much more gut wrenching in person. So very powerful…it still sticks with me today!

      I don’t watch Letterman, but I’d imagine that would be a fun one to go to.

  2. Dustin Main - Skinny Backpacker January 3, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    Who would like to see Colbert live? This guy!. I’m a huge
    fan, though I haven’t been able to watch a EP in over a
    year.

    • Aaron January 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

      You should totally come to NYC and see a taping (and tell me about all your wicked adventures!). He’s so much more amazing in person. I actually don’t watch his show all that much but I LOVED his taping!

  3. Dave and Deb January 16, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    Very cool experience and thanks for the step by step tips. We wanted to do something like this in New York but didn’t know how to go about it or how long it would take. Now we know!

    • Aaron January 16, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

      Thanks! It was loads of fun and surprisingly easy (I always thought it was nearly impossible). I’m sure the chilly weather helped too!

  4. Drensky June 23, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    this is a brilliant post for the first-timers! thanks so much.

    can you recall whats the security policy regarding camera/ taking pictures?

    • Aaron June 23, 2011 at 9:42 am #

      Glad you found this useful! Taking pictures is a real big no, no once you’re in the studio. You have to go through a security checkpoint on the way in and they have ever present security guys who keep a watchful eye on the audience.

      • Drensky June 23, 2011 at 10:17 am #

        ok but that means I can still have the camera with me stuffed in the pocket — want to at least get the audio :))

        • Aaron June 23, 2011 at 10:20 am #

          Good luck with that. I don’t think they’d take kindly to you turning on a camera to record the audio once you’re in the studio…

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