My wife and I’s favorite TV show is Saturday Night Live. We grew up watching it and have watched it all through our marriage. We have watched its cast constantly change as it has become one of the most impressive star-makers anywhere in America. In our early 30’s, the show predates us by a few years, but we have enjoyed catching up in reruns from previous seasons.
The past fifteen years have brought some of the most successful stars in the show’s history through its cast: Adam Sandler, David Spade, Jimmy Fallon (on whom my wife has a huge crush), Will Ferrell, Tina Fey (on whom I have a huge crush), Amy Poehler . . .and on and on they’ve gone. These recent years of success have really turned us into SNL junkies – we never miss a show. This infatuation had created in me a real desire to want to be in the crowd and see the show live, so I added it to my (unofficial) bucket list.
A few times over the past two or three years, I had looked at what it would take to get into a taping of SNL. I looked and looked and didn’t really find out a whole lot. It seemed that SNL tickets were available to the public through a lottery system that runs only in the month of August. See the details here. I also caught small tidbits here and there about a standby line. We never had the money for a NYC trip, so I didn’t look into it too seriously.
Then, in 2010, I decided I was going to surprise my wife with an anniversary trip. We had celebrated our 10 year anniversary in 2009, and didn’t have the money to go anywhere, so I thought a year later we could make up for it. Our anniversary is December 18 and when I looked at possible places to go and saw that December 18 was a Saturday, I thought that would be about the time for the taping of SNL’s Christmas show. When I saw that it was, I began trying to figure out how we could be there. Obviously, there was no way to guarantee that we could actually get tickets to the show, so I put the plans together for a four night trip to New York and left Saturday wide open so we could at least give it a try.
In the months leading up to our trip, I scoured the Internet for stories of people who had actually gotten SNL tickets. I didn’t find very many, which is why I decided to blog about it here – hopefully help out some other interested folks! I did find a few people who had tried and blogged about their experience – some had tried and failed, others had succeeded, and all their stories were very similar.
On the day of a live show, NBC hands out standby tickets for that night’s show. You can choose to attend either the live show at 11:30 or the dress rehearsal at 8:00. The catch is, though, that people begin lining up for tickets on Friday morning – 24 hours before they hand out tickets. From all the situations I read about online, it looked like your best bet to actually get in the show was when the weather was bad, the host wasn’t a huge draw, and you got in line early enough.
The trip was a complete surprise to my wife who didn’t find out where we were going (or that we were going anywhere) until we had gotten to the airport. On the plane, I shared with her all the plans that I had made. I had gotten us tickets to a Broadway show, had saved up some extra money to go Christmas shopping on 5th Ave. and that I wanted us to try to get tickets to watch SNL. However, I wanted to be sure that she knew that standing in line for tickets would probably cost us an entire day of our trip and there was obviously no guarantee that we’d even get in, so if she didn’t want to take that chance, I would understand – there are plenty of other fun things we could find to do in New York. She decided that it was too good of a chance to pass up, so she was in.
Here’s how things went down . . .
We got to our hotel around 7:00 Friday night. We had decided we’d go check out the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and peek in at the studio to see if anyone was already in line. It was after 10:00 by the time we finally made it over to the studio to find about 25 people already standing in line for the stand-by tickets. That was a little disheartening because we had already decided we weren’t going to wait in line that long. It was freezing outside, so everyone was bundled up with everything from sleeping bags to air mattresses to tents . . . incredible. They told us that the first person in line, arrived at 7:00 am on Friday morning! [The picture below is from online – not ours. It was a lot colder than this!]
We had already decided that we were up for waiting in line, but we were not going to wait there all night. We went and hung out some more in Manhattan, went back to our rooms to get a few hours of sleep, and set the alarm for 3:00 am. From my research, it seemed as though if we were in line by 3:00 or 3:30, we’d be in good shape.
We set two alarms – and both failed to go off! Somehow, I woke up just before 4:00, and we got our things together as quickly as possible and booked it to the line. We stayed only a few blocks away, so we got there pretty quickly. It wasn’t long after 4:00 when we got in line – we were willing to wait three hours in the freezing cold for our shot! I had just learned last week that the host was Jeff Bridges and the musical guest was Eminem. Bridges probably wouldn’t be a huge draw for people – but Eminem would be. We’d have to wait and see.
As we waited in line, it wasn’t long before we just had to know how many people were in front of us. My wife and I both counted (and the person in front of us counted) and we all came up with about 75. I had learned that 30 or 40 was a sure bet . . . this was going to be close.
The time passed quickly at first. The three kids in front of us were from Staten Island and they were there to see Eminem. I’m pretty sure they had never seen SNL – they wanted to know when they were going to show it on TV. Um . . . The woman behind us kept us entertained – she was from Georgia and had been in the city for a few months. She had tried to do the SNL thing another time and had failed – she had tried the dress rehearsal and had a number in the 60’s (I think). Another couple came shortly after who had tried before and failed – they had been in the 80’s. These weren’t exactly great omens.
By 5:30, time seemed to be passing by more slowly. The cold was really setting in. People were getting tired. We had read the scrolling news stories on NBC’s building 1,000 times, so now we just waited. My wife went and got us some hot chocolate which helped kill some time. We learned alot about the lady behind us. She learned alot about us. Everyone was pretty friendly and were enjoying the conversation to help the time pass.
About 6:30, things really started to happen. This was the first time we had seen anyone from NBC. They walked along the line and instructed everyone to get their tents put away and their sleeping bags wrapped up and bring the line closer together. The line had grown slowly when we first got in (maybe a person every 15 minutes or so), but by 6:00 it was growing pretty long. There was definitely more people behind us than in front of us.
At about 6:45 someone from NBC came out and began giving instructions. We’re still not sure what happened, but apparently there was some people holding spots in front of us, and the guy from NBC really laid into someone. In any case, though, the line did balloon in front of us a bit, and when all the numbers were handed out it appeared that there were 100 people in front of us – 20 more than we had counted – so, something fishy happened.
Promptly at 7:00 (maybe even a little before) the line began moving as they handed out tickets for both shows. We had talked before which one we were going to try, and we decided that if we were going to try – we might as well go for the live one. When it was our turn, the three in front of us chose the live show, and we had the option for numbers 59 and 60 for the live show, or somewhere in the 40’s for the rehearsal. Hopefully we wouldn’t regret those 20 extra people.
Our tickets looked like this. We went back to our hotel and tried to get a couple hours more sleep to prepare us for, what we hoped would be a long day. 11:30 was a long ways away. Per the ticket, we arrived back at Rockefeller Center at 10:45 and held our breath. We had to walk past the line of people who had actual tickets – fortunately, it didn’t look like many. I had read the studio holds around 300 people and only counted about 100 in that line, so we were cautiously optimistic. At about 11:10, they took those with tickets through the metal detectors and up to the studio and moved those of us with standby tickets to where the other line had been. They explained that we would have to go through the metal detectors before going to the studio and not to get too excited because if we made it that far it didn’t mean we’d get in.
They took the first 30 in front of us (we were lined up according to our numbers) and brought them through. They repeated that we weren’t guaranteed a seat until we were actually sitting in it. A few minutes later we heard the first group cheer which made us think that they had all gotten in. They came back about five minutes later and took another 15 getting us pretty close to the front. We heard another cheer, and things were getting pretty exciting now.
What happened in the fifteen minutes leading up to the live broadcast became a complete blur. Another five minutes and they took about seven or eight. Now we were only five or six back. They came back and got another five or six leaving just three in front of us. By now it was after 11:20 and the show was going to start in less than ten minutes – and we still didn’t know if we’d make it is or not. Our hearts were all racing as it was quite a rush. The NBC pages kept telling us – “It’s not over yet, we’re not done yet,” keeping our hopes alive.
Next they came back for two – but the group in front of us had three so I thought they were going to let us go ahead of them. Instead, the couple ditched their third wheel. Now, there was only one in front of us! We started thinking, “Are we going to get this close for nothing?” Another minute and the page came back for two more! Two!? Only one of us could go. I told my wife she had to go. If only one of us got in, that’d be better than none.
They rushed her through the metal detector as she pleaded her case for me to get in all the way to the studio with her. I heard her yell at them, “It’s our anniversary!” They radioed up to see if they had just one more spot for me. .
Another minute went by and they came to get me – just me – and hurried me through the metal detectors and up the elevators. They put us on different elevators – keeping the drama alive, I guess. When we reached the studio level, they took our ticket and then told us to run. “Seriously,” the page said, “you guys need to run down to the studio to your seats”. Ran we did, all the way into the studio where another page took us to our seats – two of the famous yellow seats in the front row nearly front and center. It was incredible. What a rush! We sat down, kissed each other, had about two minutes to look around, and then it started. It came down to the absolute wire.
I glanced back and saw two more people come in behind me – we had made it by that much. If we had slept in about fifteen more minutes we wouldn’t have gotten in. We talked with a guy who had gone to the dress rehearsal and he said that only about 20 people got in, which, if accurate, means the lady behind us would not have gotten in – and we wouldn’t have either if we had chosen the dress rehearsal!
In any case, we sat there and got to watch Keenan Thompson usher in, “Live, from New York, it’s Saturday night!”
If you are interested here is The Atlantic’s coverage of the episode. The highlights for us were probably Jeff Bridges singing with Cookie Monster during the monologue, the Akon digital short “We Just Had Sex,” and the cold open, just because of the thrill of seeing it live.
I prefaced all this by saying that we’re huge SNL fans, so I’m jaded in saying this, but it truly was one of the neatest experiences I’ve ever had. We’ve done other TV show tapings, but nothing was a unique and rewarding as this. It’s hard to imagine that we’ll ever get to do it again, but if we happen to be in NYC during a taping, it might be hard to keep us away! If anyone else stumbles across here with an experience, feel free to share. I would love to help others have the experience that we had.