I’m a total city mouse and ever since my college days, I’ve developed plenty of go-to hacks for free entertainment opportunities in New York City. Register for a ticket to an AOL Build talk! Go to Broadway in Bryant Park! Most especially, sign up for free tickets to one of the late night talk shows. I attended a taping of Late Night with Seth Meyers in February 2016 and two tapings of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, once in May 2016 and again in February 2017. I’m even waiting on my ticket status for another visit next month because, yes, I love Colbert and his show just that much.
While I definitely need to score a ticket to Jimmy Fallon just to check all of the major New York shows off my list, I could honestly see myself planning an annual visit to The Late Show for as long as possible (you’re required to wait six months before requesting tickets for another taping). As weird as it sounds, I now have a special fondness for the corner that the Ed Sullivan Theatre is on, both because of all the hours I’ve spent queuing outside the building and its position right next to the Broadway Theatre, where the last revival of Fiddler on the Roof played (I’m sort of a major Fiddler fangirl). The street is technically in the theatre district but is so far up that it’s a relatively calm area far away from most theaters and only a few blocks’ walk from Central Park!
Colbert in his own form has always struck me such a class act and when the guest lineup of my second taping didn’t live up to the first one, I didn’t even mind. He and his house band put on a spectacle that only feels emphasized because of the literal theater you’re in as opposed to the smaller TV studios at NBC.
Back in the day, I know I had plenty of questions about going to a talk show taping. Going to The Late Show also requires a bit more prep than a NBC taping does, so I have five tips on how to make the most of your experience!
1) For a guaranteed spot in the first few (likely center) rows, arrive at the theater between 1 and 1:30 p.m.
I was alone for my first Late Show experience, but had my sister with me for the second. However, for both visits, I ended up exactly in the second center row but just facing opposite sides of the stage each time. My secret to snatching such a great view is to get there early! When I went to see Seth Meyers with a friend, we were called into the studio by ticket color and assigned random seats wherever there was vacancy. There was no rhyme or reason to the seating, and it didn’t seem that early birds were rewarded for being punctual.
The seating system is totally different at Colbert — if you put in the effort to get there early, you get the best seats, plain and simple. I believe official emails ask you to arrive at the theater between 1 and 2 p.m., but I try to get there by 1:30 at the latest. For both visits, I believe I was one of the first 10 or so people in line.
Check-in then begins around 4. Because my first visit was so early on in the show’s run, the CBS pages ran the check-in a little differently than they did as of last year — once we were assigned our ticket numbers, we got to leave for dinner, come back, and enter based on our number. Last February, we were kept in a holding pen outside after checking in and then admitted inside around 5.
Depending on the weather, waiting outside for so long can be a drag, but it’s worth it. And if you are worried about the wait…
2) Grab snacks/lunch beforehand or, if you’re with someone, one of you can go pick up food while waiting
Across the street from the theater is a Starbucks and a Pret. If you’re at the front of the line, there’s a quick-service pizza place right next to the building. When I went to the show with my sister, I left her in line and grabbed us drinks and snacks from Starbucks. All members of your party have to be present when you check in, but that still leaves plenty of time for one of you to go find food if need be.
If the pages still run check-in as they did last year, then you have a long time to go before you can eat again (tapings usually end around 7). I would try to eat a big lunch before lining up and also bring snacks to munch on while waiting.
3) If you’re attending alone, you have a great chance of getting an aisle seat
I believe a person can only register for two taping tickets each, but I’ve seen couples on double dates and parents with their grown kids at The Late Show. It seems that multiple people in big groups often register for tickets intending to sit together. By all means, if going with a group is possible for you, do it! Being an introvert who loves independent adventures, I had no issues going to my first Colbert show alone and, if anything, being on my own made the experience even better. I ended up in an aisle seat in the second row, resulting in Ryan Gosling high-fiving me twice!
The only time I’ve seen another solo guest at a taping was at Seth Meyers, so most audience members, if not everyone else there, will be in groups. If you end up at the very front of the line, this means that the pages will need a single person to fill that empty seat at the end of a row.
If you like being an early bird but are worried about waiting alone for so long, bring your Kindle or tablet to entertain yourself! On my first visit, I had Me Before You on my Kindle to keep me company. You could always make friends with the people near you in line too (overly early people are bound to get along), but I prefer the more reserved approach to waiting.
4) Be prepared for the weather
My first taping was in May, when I sat in the sun for quite some time but was able to sit on a storefront’s ledge to ease up on my legs. On the other hand, I think waiting in such a confined space in the February cold turned my sister off from late shows forever. So, if it’s going to be sunny on the day of your taping, bring some sunscreen, water, sunglasses — anything you need to be comfortable during the wait! Similarly, pack scarves and gloves if you’re headed there in the winter, just to be safe.
5) Try to sign up for tickets within the first week of the month before you want to see the show
This is advice that applies to all three of the Big Three’s New York late night shows. You can register for tickets to Colbert, Fallon, and Meyers through this site, and in my experience, Fallon tapings usually fill up the exact day of its new ticket release. I once signed up for two tickets within minutes of the next month’s launch and still wasn’t given a spot. I later found out that the show I wanted to go to was Michelle Obama’s last Tonight Show appearance before leaving the White House, so my theory is that some Secret Service agents had to be in the audience undercover.
I’ve had more luck getting approved for Colbert a little past the first week deadline, but I’d still recommend signing up as early as possible!