I finally saw The Colbert Report live. I expected it to be fun because it’s a funny show, but I did not anticipate the level of hassle involved – it was comparable to air travel. And seeing The Colbert Report truly is a journey.
First we reserved tickets months in advance. When the day finally arrived, we had to trek out to 10th Avenue and 54th Street, which, as New Yorkers know, is not near any subway. So of course it was a hot, humid day, with threats of severe thunderstorms, but we braved the walk from the D train.
Next we waited in line. The doors open at 5:30, but they overbook to ensure a full audience section. So we set out from home at 3:00 and joined the line of sweaty leftists around 4:00. Then we stood and waited. And stood and sweated and waited. Eventually the urge to sit on the dirty concrete was irresistible, though I really wished I had resisted anyway when I got further up in line and saw graffiti announcing “I peed where you’re standing.” It was dated about a month ago. I prefer a much longer interval between people peeing on the ground and me sitting on the same spot.
My favorite graffiti was an acrostic of “Colbert,” with a word for every letter except E. Excellent? Entertaining? Educated? Eloquent? It’s just way too easy. Maybe all the standing had caused the author’s blood to drop from her brain to her feet, because otherwise there is just no excuse.
I had brought a book to pass the time (not that my husband isn’t endlessly fascinating) but couldn’t grok the abstractions of Kabbalah with the group in front of me yakking loudly about – well, I can’t even remember what, so I’ll assume it was something inane.
More sweating and waiting, now without even the book to distract me.
Eventually an intern started wandering down the line, asking to see people’s tickets, matching them against a list, and asking for IDs. Photo IDs. Security at The Colbert Report is far more rigorous than at, say, Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center.
More sweating and waiting, and then came the cheerleader. She was short and blonde and “super-psyched” and wanted to make sure we were psyched too. Just in case we weren’t, she delivered her scripted banter with an enthusiasm usually reserved for clowns. Were we psyched?!! How great will it be to get into the AC – what up with the weather, anyway?!! Her function was to hand each ticket-holder a blue laminated numbered pass that would determine the order in which we were admitted to the studio; I don’t know whether she was also paid for the grating performance or whether that was just a freebie. Then more standing, sweating, and waiting.
If you wait long enough the messiah will come, and in our case he manifested in the form of a security guy who had the compassion and grace and all-around humanitarianism to let us out of the mugginess and into – a holding cell. To give this room its due, it was air-conditioned. But it had no windows, no exit except the narrow and heavily guarded door we came in through, and nowhere near enough space for all the audience members. (Or so I thought.)
We weren’t there long enough to stop sweating before being subjected to the most rigorous security I have ever seen. And I have flown to Israel a lot. Not only was there the trial by metal detector, but there was also an exceedingly invasive tote bag-cavity search. This guy opened every zipper, snap, and button on my purse. He even took out my wallet and opened every compartment. He went through my wallet! Never happened to me before. I know people who won’t go to the Middle East out of fear for their safety, but apparently the dangers are greater on West 54th Street.
We finally satisfied the guard’s standards and were let loose into the holding pen. We did now have air conditioning, but we also had more standing, this time packed against each other like riders on a Japanese subway. And we were in there for probably an hour. Meanwhile, a long line formed outside the women’s room and – you already know how this ends – the men’s room never had more than one or two people in line. Each bathroom was a one-person bathroom. So I got in the men’s line. Did my business, got out, and the women’s line had barely moved. What is the point of limiting one of these bathrooms to men? Just make them both unisex. And why didn’t any other women join in on my scam? And, as long as I’m asking rhetorical questions, why was it so important to me not to stand in line, given that otherwise I was still standing, just not in any particular formation?
Anyway, eventually they started letting people into the studio and seating them according to their laminated passes. They started with white passes. I hadn’t seen any white passes and don’t know where they came from, but I did notice that the front row was occupied by a gaggle of cute girls with shampoo-ad hair, so I have my suspicions.
At the back of the pack were a whole bunch of stand-bys who got in with hard-won red passes. That made me feel like a real yutz for showing up so early. Tip for future Colbert Report ticket holders: don’t show up so early.
Once we were all seated, a security guy came out to make a general announcement that if there was a fire, the best way out was the way we had come in. Suddenly a major announcement about fire safety, after stuffing us into a firetrap for an hour? After him came a stand-up comic who was very good, even if he did make fun of my husband’s hair (if you ask me, he was just jealous).
Finally the man himself came running onto the set, high-fiving, jogging around his desk, and generally sending everyone into a genuine tizzy. It really was exciting to see Stephen Colbert right there in front of me, larger than life (or at least taller than I expected), so familiar though I had never seen him in person before. He joked around with the audience and we were bedazzled. I wanted to run down and give him a hug, maybe a pat on the head, just because I was so glad he was on the planet.
Everyone – the cheerleader, the stand-up comic, the tall black-clad curly-headed dude who let us into the studio in an airport-like numbered-group fashion – stressed that the audience was the most important part of the show, and we had to laugh and clap and whoop it up. Like Tinkerbell, it seems, without our applause, Colbert would die.
Even without all the exhortations we would have been game, though, because Colbert earned it. Even while taping the show, the few times that he messed up he hammed it up self-effacingly for the live audience before reshooting the segment. And the man’s comic delivery was so good that even when he shot a joke a second time, our laughter was still genuine.
Sadly, instead of a guest interview, The Colbert Report had a band called Vampire Weekend. I had never heard of them, but that apparently is due solely to my extreme decrepitude, because Colbert said they were “it on a stick.” I would not put down money that they were all out of high school. Colbert disappeared during their song. I wouldn’t have minded doing that myself. After they finished shooting the show the band played a second song, and this time, rather than leave the stage or stand around with the crew, Colbert watched the performance sitting on the floor under the front of his desk, legs crossed lotus-style. In his suit. I don’t know if he was truly absorbed or just really polite, but either way it was adorable.
I did not expect seeing Colbert in person to be much different than watching him on TV. I like to think I’m immune to celebrity. Turns out it just depends which celebrity. Colbert made all the sweating and standing and security worth it. So if you’re a fan, do yourself a favor and see the man in person. Sign up now for your 2011 tickets – if there are any left. www.colbertnation.com/tickets.