Oh yeah, that's right. Saturday Night Live happened this weekend. I realize that SNL happens most weekends, but this weekend we were there to witness it.
Since moving to New York, tickets to SNL have been some of our most coveted event tickets. However, they are quite difficult to get. There are only 330 seats in Studio 8H at Rockefeller Center, and each taping of SNL yields two sets of 330 tickets to distribute (one set for the dress rehearsal, and one for the live taping). That sounds like a lot of tickets, but the majority of them are reserved for VIPs. As a member of the general unimportant public, each August you can email SNL to enter the ticket lottery - only one entry per household, and people email from all over the place. Honestly, I thought this was just a formality to make the public feel like there was a chance, but that nobody ever actually got tickets this way. That is, until one of Eric's friends actually did get tickets this way. If we didn't actually know someone that it happened to, I would never believe it. We have been emailing religiously for four years, with no luck.
Assuming the lottery doesn't pan out for you (which it won't), you can camp out for the standby ticket distribution every Saturday morning. What this means is, every Saturday (on a show day) at 7:00 a.m., they distribute standby tickets. These "tickets" are not actually tickets at all, but rather a chance that you might get in to either the show or the dress rehearsal if luck is on your side and some of the VIPs/lottery winners don't show up to claim their tickets. Now, if the host/musical guest for that given week is a huge draw (such as last year's Justin Timberlake/Lady Gaga show), people will camp out for days just for standby tickets, for the chance to have a chance at seeing the show. Even for less popular hosts, people start camping out as early as Friday afternoon.
Eric and I have been dying to see SNL live, but I had written it off as a "never gonna happen" because 1) we are not VIPS, 2) the lottery was not working for us, and 3) I wasn't up for sleeping on the streets of New York just for a chance that maybe we might get in to see the show. That is, until Friday night, when Eric had a crazy idea - let's just do it.
The host this weekend was Charles Barkley, with musical guest Kelly Clarkson. These are both people we know and like just fine, but they're not the ones to draw an enormous crowd like, say, an Alec Baldwin episode. Also, the weather was unusually warm (it only got down into the high 40s that night). Eric thought that instead of camping out all night, we might just be able to go out there at 3:00 a.m. and have success. Apparently he caught me in a crazy mood, because I agreed to it.
(FYI, this post is going to be very detailed, because I know Eric has done a ton of Googling to find out how this SNL ticket-getting process actually works, so I'm hoping by sharing all the details of our experience, we can help out some other future SNL-goers. Bear with me!)
So, at 10:00 on Friday night, we went to bed for a four-hour nap. We woke up at 2:00 a.m., got dressed and made our way to Rockefeller Center. We arrived sometime between 3:00 and 3:30, and were pleased to see that the line was not outrageously long - maybe about 50 people in front of us. Those at the front of the line had started camping out at 4:00 on Friday afternoon, but we still felt like we were in a good position, and the line only continued to grow behind us. We settled in on our chairs with our blankets and let the waiting begin.
See the line forming behind the barricades on the other side of the NBC Studios sign?
Line down the block (there's me, to the left of the tree on the far right!)
Settling in for the wait. Surprisingly enough, I was not the only pregnant lady hanging out on the streets of NYC in the middle of the night for SNL tickets!
Just a little trivia: did you know that they turn off the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree at night? I did not know that, but Eric went to take some pictures of it shortly after we arrived and lo and behold, it was dark.
It's kind of sad, really. But good for the environment, I suppose.
Between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m. a Chock Full O' Nuts truck arrived and announced they would be serving free breakfast: coffee, tea, hot chocolate and buttered bagels. Not exactly gourmet, but much appreciated, and it saved Eric from being asked to run over to McDonalds to get me a snack. I needed some hash browns in my life, but a bagel was sufficient for the time being. So we ate and continued to wait. (The truck also had hand warmers for sale for $2, and blankets for $5, but we came prepared in the warmth department so did not make use of those offerings.)
The source of our free breakfast
Eventually, they did turn the tree on and Eric was able to get some nice photos without the usual crowds in the way.
Ah, there she is!
Rockefeller Center through the illuminated trees, and the pretty tree itself behind the flags around the plaza
Around 6:00 a.m., a security guard made his way down along the line hollering at everyone to "wake up, stand up, pack up your stuff and leave your trash." So, our time of comfort in our chairs was over and we stood for the next hour.
Here comes security!
No more sleeping, lots more standing
At 7:00, the ticket distribution finally began. It was very slow going at first, I think because they were taking down names and checking IDs for the early people (perhaps to keep them from selling their tickets?). They weren't doing that anymore by the time we got to the front, though, so I can't say for sure.
Making our way to the front of the line!
When you get to the front of the line, you are asked to choose if you want a standby ticket to the dress rehearsal or the live taping. Each set of tickets is numbered, and when you return that night you will line up in your number order. Eric and I decided ahead of time that we would take tickets to whichever show had the lower number available, because in our minds, that gives you the best chance of actually getting in. When we got to the front, the number was 40 for the live show or 36 for the dress rehearsal - so pretty close, but we thought our odds of getting in were better for the rehearsal anyway, so we took those. Numbers 36 and 37!
Front of my ticket and the back of Eric's
And so we went back home to sleep and relax until we had to return for our chance at actually seeing the show. We had to report back by 7:15 p.m., and we were a little early. We got lined up and waited for instruction. After they moved the line of people with actual tickets in through security, they moved us up to be next in line. They made sure to tell us repeatedly, "do not get excited, stay calm!" and constantly reminded us that we weren't guaranteed a seat in the studio until our behinds were actually in said seats.
They let numbers one through thirty in first. They made them sign their names on a clipboard (I assume because they had them sign earlier when they distributed tickets) then took them through security. After the first 30 were through, they let in another 10 - including us! We went through the metal detectors and got into one of the little elevators headed upstairs. As soon as we stepped off the elevator, a page was there handing out wristbands and telling us, "Congratulations, you're in!" HOORAY!
Thumbs up for SNL wristbands!
(We obviously took this photo when we got home that night - you don't actually pass a dishwasher on your way into the studio.)
I have to say, as we walked in to Studio 8H at Rockefeller Center, I got goosebumps a little bit. We had already been in there when we took the NBC Studios Tour, but this was for real. We were shown to our seats, which were literally THE WORST in the entire studio. I'm not making this up - even some of the SNL cast, namely Jason Sudeikis and Kenan Thompson, repeatedly acknowledged us in the "shitty seats" when they were speaking to the crowd before the show. I guess at least it got us extra attention from the cast? Every time they said something to us we all cheered and waved. Good times!
I don't usually take pictures of my TV when I'm not actually on the TV, but this is a shot of the studio from the live show. We were waaaaaay up there in the corner for the dress rehearsal.
As I mentioned, Jason Sudeikis and Kenan Thompson came out for a bit before the show. Jason gave us some instructions (funnily, of course) and Kenan sang a song. Then the show began, and it was AWESOME. Very funny, naturally, but it was also so cool just to see everything happening. The set changes happen so fast, and they really utilize every bit of the floor in that studio for different sets. In between each sketch, the crew goes into overdrive as they set up for the next sketch and get everything (scenery, props, cameras, microphones, cue cards, etc.) in place. Lorne Michaels was wandering around the whole time, and it was cool to see the cast getting set before each segment. Bill Hader seemed very relaxed and goofed off for the crowd a couple of times, while Seth Meyers seemed to be a little nervous and getting himself pumped up before "Weekend Update." Another highlight for me: seeing everyone crack up laughing during the "Joann's Announcement" sketch. Of course, this was just the dress rehearsal so it didn't go down like that on the live show, but it was hilarious when it happened in rehearsal.
The cool thing about going to the dress rehearsal instead of the live show was that we got to see an entire extra half hour of material that ultimately got cut from the live show, including at least two sketches and some "Weekend Update" jokes. Even some of the pre-taped things were shortened and/or changed between the two performances. Actually, two of my favorite sketches were two that were cut, including one about a lady telling crazy stories at a party and another about an Irish quartet of brothers (including Charles Barkley) on a PBS telethon. At one point during "Weekend Update" in the rehearsal, Seth Meyers even said to the crowd, "you all didn't laugh long or hard enough, now I'm going to have to fight to keep that joke and I really wanted to tell it!" (For the record, he must have won his fight, because the joke made it in to the live show.) It was interesting to see how they switched up the order of things, as well. Really, if I had to do it again, I think I would choose the dress rehearsal over the live show again. It was fun to see the extra material and then still be able to get home in time to see what made the cut!
A couple other little fun facts: I don't think the floor seats are the best seats at all, although you might think they are. They're definitely the best for the opening monologue and "Weekend Update," but other than that, there would be some sketches that you wouldn't be able to see at all. The floor seats are swivel chairs to give them the best view they can, but still, not the best seats in the house. Also, there is a prop that looks like the clock on top of the information booth in Grand Central Station that you often see when they're coming back from commercial. I always thought it was a full replica of the information booth, but really it's just the very top and it descends from the ceiling just for those opening shots!
All in all, it was a fabulous show and a great experience! I'm so glad we were able to cross this off our NYC bucket list after all!
Self-taken iPhone photo outside NBC Studios after the show!