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Getting to see what I had dubbed the Daily Show host trifecta was one of those dream 'if only' things to do in New York City. I was lucky enough to get tickets to both Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart a couple of months ago, which in hindsight wasn't that hard in that the shows were both in work schedule rather than on break, and they do four shows a week. Getting a ticket to John Oliver, the brand new so-hot-right-now show that's only on once a week on Sundays, and I had exactly one Sunday in NYC? That was far dicier. The tickets for each show are made available online three weeks ahead of time, and disappear in minutes. Being in Switzerland my attempt at signing up meant discreetly ducking out of a friend's dinner party for a few minutes, but while I got through the sign-up process all I received was an email that essentially said, "Thank you, we'll get back to you if you get a ticket but if you don't hear from us by two weeks before the show you haven't got one." Which wasn't heartening.

I didn't end up getting an email. Then again I had a lot of other things to deal with - packing, moving, finishing up at work, etc., I chalked it up with an "oh well maybe another time" and jumped on the plane across the pond to JFK. I went straight out for dinner with my brother, then drinks with friends who had just arrived for their first USA trip, and then more drinks with said friends who I met again the next morning bringing brother along. Despite the rain my brother and I took them to check out Fifth Avenue and after lunch brought them to T-Mobile in Times Square to sort out SIM cards for their upcoming travel adventures. While that was being organised I logged into T-Mobile's free wifi to check emails, and then I saw it.

"We just got some more cancellations than expected. Sorry for the very last minute notice. Please get back to us immediately or as soon as you can to confirm or cancel [your ticket request for Last Week Tonight]."

I hit 'reply' so fast I made a typo in the confirmation header and had to resend it. Within minutes I had a reply saying "Confirmed! We look forward to seeing you at the show tomorrow!"

There may have been a little victory dance in the T-Mobile store as I triumphantly showed the message to my friends and brother.

* * *

The rain of Saturday morning had disappeared completely by the afternoon and left Sunday with clear blue skies, perfect for heading over to Brooklyn for lunch at Smorgasbord. We ate ramen burgers and ice cream sandwiches by the water and worked it off walking across the Brooklyn Bridge back into NYC. It tired me out enough to catch a nap in the afternoon before bouncing up again to head to the Last Week Tonight TV studio on 57th Street.

The email confirmation said line-up was from 5:15-5:30p.m. Unlike The Daily Show and The Colbert Report which overbook ticket numbers meaning you need to line up at least two hours ahead of time to be sure of getting a seat, the tickets for Last Week Tonight are guaranteed entry. That being said, I turned up at 4:30p.m. out of curiosity only to find that the queue was already going through security, so I quickly joined in and passed the time chatting with other people in the queue until we were called into the studio to be seated. The advantage of attending TV show recordings solo is that the floor managers often use you as a tiny Tetris piece to fill any spare single seats, which in my case meant a spare single seat front row and centre. I did a little squirmy victory dance in that seat. Once the studio was filled the audience was told the usual ground rules: no photography, no recording, turn off cell phones, no walking onto the stage, and emphatically no sitting at John Oliver's desk.

The warm-up comedian came out to get the party started by picking out members of the audience. The first fellow he picked turned out to be a fellow Aussie who was in New York City working in banking, the second was a woman from LA - and then there was me. I had been trying to point to the woman beside me who had her hand up but no, bad idea, that put me in the spotlight especially as I was sitting in the front row with an obvious red hat. So I ended up explaining from-Australia-via-Switzerland to everyone in the studio, and, in reply to the comedian's comment about how everything in Australia can kill you, deadpanned that kids in the Northern Territory get lessons on how to get away from crocodiles while schools in Sydney have classes on swimming away from sharks. It took him a moment to realise I was joking.

The warm-up for Last Week Tonight also involves a t-shirt gun being fired into the audience. I didn't get one, but that didn't matter because with once the t-shirt shooting range was over that was the signal for John Oliver himself to come out.

He bounced. Literally. I had seen John Oliver do stand-up comedy in San Francisco years ago when he bounced in jeans and a t-shirt, now on Last Week Tonight his hair was slicker and he had a sharp business suit on, but he still bounced. And looked at us cheering with the biggest grin and air of disbelief that he this bespectacled Brit really is headlining his own successful show in New York, the United States of America. It's incredibly adorable and also an interesting contrast to Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report is playing a character and it's emphasised how much he needs and psychs himself up with loud audience support so he comes running out into the studio; Jon Stewart on also needs the audience but has been doing The Daily Show for well over a decade so there's a sense that he's seen it all. Last Week Tonight being a brand new show in its very first year, and a very successful first year? John Oliver probably pinches himself every morning to make sure he isn't dreaming.

To our cheers he grinned, he did a little awkward dance (still so British) and thanked us all for coming was there anyone who wanted to ask him questions. Me being front row and centre with a red hat shooting my hand up like Hermoine at Hogwarts, I got the first question. I said hello from Australia (reply, "G'day, mate!"), thank you so much for the gun control piece you did while you were at The Daily Show and also for the hilarious Last Week Tonight piece on Prime Minister Tony Abbott (I made him laugh to remember it), and pleaded please please pretty please do another piece on Australian politics because we have so much to make fun of right now. (I may have mentioned that Tony Abbott is Australia's politico-cultural equivalent of George W. Bush). John Oliver replied that actually, yes he and the show's team have been following what's happening in Australia (his sister is moving to Melbourne) and there's a good chance they'll do another Aussie piece in future.

There were other questions about The Bugle ("No, I'm not doing anymore puns!") and what Backstreet Boy are you, which was hilarious because it meant John Oliver started trying to awkwardly, adorably dance like one. He also pointed out that the cityscape behind him has the castle of King's Landing from HBO's Game of Thrones. (They originally wanted Hogwarts but Disney didn't let them.)

And then the show began. The role of the audience is to cheer and laugh as much and as loudly as possible, and generally enjoy John Oliver do his thing. Which he does, and all that experience at The Daily Show and his stint behind Jon Stewart's desk comes through wonderfully well. John Oliver ran through every segment without a slip, except one small one where he jumped a line or something whereupon he swore and collapsed into laughter on his desk. And then got it together in a heartbeat to do a second, flawless take.

The long-form piece was on civil forfeiture laws in the United States. Like all the long-form pieces John Oliver has done it's fantastically executed and horrifying in the subject matter it explores. But it did include a sketch video Law & Order style where they teamed up with the actual *Law & Order* cast to create "Law & Order: Civil Forfeiture". I had to rewatch that segment when it aired because when it was playing in the studio I spent most of it watching John Oliver who again, adorable, was laughing trying not to make too much noise at his own desk because he was just that pleased with what he had created. The only thing more adorable than John Oliver? John Oliver holding a King Charles Cavalier spaniel wearing a crown on its head. Yes, that is a thing and it's more adorable than all the kittens on the internet.

Then it was over. John Oliver thanked us all and bounced out, and we the audience patiently filed out of the studio and back onto the streets of New York. I found the King Charles cavalier spaniel guest star hanging around outside and had a moment to play with him and chat with his handler, which was a great way to end the show. Every time I visit New York I find people are happy to chat and say hello welcome to our city. To be able to say to friends and family back home that I've had the opportunity to watch and speak with John Oliver in person is the icing on the cake, and with The Colbert Report wrapping up I'm glad to have Last Week Tonight on air, and hope to be watching it for years to come. Possibly in person again if I can manage it!
tingjz: (Default)
In going to see The Daily Show With Jon Stewart today I soon realised that The Colbert Report a fortnight ago had inhaled all the excitement at the newness of the experience, leaving me with more restless anticipation for *The Daily Show* than bouncing off the walls. At the same time I had learned from my previous experience and turned up to to *The Daily Show* studio better prepared with a bottle of water, a bagel, and a book to pass the time. My sibling couldn't believe I was going to line up two and a half hours early, but as it turn out I wasn't even the craziest - even that early there were already people queuing ahead of me.

The outdoor waiting area for The Daily Show isn't as comfortable as The Colbert Report. Whereas The Colbert Report has you waiting alongside the building off the street and under shelter, The Daily Show queue is on the busy sidewalk of busy 11th Avenue. Getting there as early as I did I managed to sit against the wall in the shade of the overhang and the 'Abandon News All Ye Who Enter Here' sign, which in summer wasn't too bad but I imagine would be rather unpleasant in snowy winter. As the clock ticked down the queue numbers went up until the queue stretched to the end of the block and doubled back in on itself.

Eventually and much to everyone's relief (with the exception of the people anxiously hovering on standby) the tickets were given out (my ticket: number 8) and we were filed through security into the waiting room. It's smaller than the waiting room at The Colbert Report a block away, and more stark, with the decorations being pictures of the correspondents and show alumni in some of the more hilarious costumes they've used for pieces: Jon Stewart in a fat-suit, John Oliver as a Dickensian chimney-sweep, Jason Jones as a mariachi, Samantha Bee as a banana. (There's also an audience Release sign, notice of which is given before you enter the studio, and which I had great fun reading.) The Daily Show waiting room is also smaller than the one at The Colbert Report, so if you're holding a ticket above 40 you have to wait outside.

Size goes the other way inside The Daily Show studio which fits about 240 people, more than double the capacity of The Colbert Report. My seating luck didn't correspondingly increase, and despite having ticket number 8 I ended up sitting in the middle of the fourth row of the middle block, with a great line of sight to the desk. Unlike The Colbert Report, you are allowed to take photos inside The Daily Show studio to your heart's content inside as long as you stay in your seat. No going onto the set, and definitely no sitting at Jon's desk for a selfie (there went that idea for a new Facebook profile picture).

The format of the tapings is by and large the same. Once we were all seated a studio crew member came out to welcome us and run through the audience dos and don'ts (no photography during taping, turn off all cellphones, laugh and cheer loudly, etc). Following her was the warm-up comedian who much to my amusement was the same comedian from The Colbert Report warm-up - it's easy enough for him to do both shows since the studios are literally around the corner from each other. His routine was the same as before, and he had some fun with some Canadians in the audience before he got us cheering for Jon Stewart to come out on set.

Jon Stewart really is as short as various sketches and jokes have made him out to be. He just walks onto the set, no running out seeking high-fives the way Stephen Colbert does, and picks up the mic getting straight to business welcoming the audience and taking questions. Kudos to me, I managed to get his attention to ask the first question. I said I'm from Australia, we love the show - he asked how I watch the show in Australia and I answered I watch the clips on The Daily Show website (The Daily Show and The Colbert Report aren't licensed in Australia other than on cable TV that hardly anyone uses, and I certainly wasn't going to say Australians torrent the show) - and how does it feel to take over television with smart politically-aware comedy not just with his show but by unleashing Stephen Colbert and John Oliver? He answered self-deprecatingly that they hadn't tried to take over television, they've just been lucky enough to find some incredibly talented people. Unfortunately for The Daily Show when they put said talented people in front of the camera, other networks notice how good they are and headhunt them offering to pay twice as much as what Jon can pay. That being said, Jon is extremely proud of all of them (AW <3).

The questions that followed were a mix about some of Jon's past work, other shows, and how did it feel to get cancelled by MTV back when he was doing the Jon Stewart show? To that question Jon joked about drinking a lot, but then gave a serious answer that I loved: the best thing about failure is realising the next day that there is a next day, that failing isn't the end of the word, and you can still wake up every day and write. It's an answer I'm going to remind myself of every time I fall into a terrified fear-pit of failure.

And with that last answer, they launched straight into taping.

The taping itself went incredibly quick. With only the barest of announcements from the floor manager, the screens rolled the opening date announcement and credit music. In that short space of time the floor crew had moved cameras into position with, Jon sat at his desk, and the floor manager was signalling us to cheer which we did. There had been no instruction as to who to look to or what signals were going to be used, or even an introduction for the floor manager, the floor manager just appeared and did it. The Daily Show is a show that has been running for a very long time, and the absolute professionalism and efficiency of the crew was fascinating to watch in itself. Even more amazing was watching Jon Stewart doing his thing. Each segment, the monologue, the correspondent chat (we had a bit with Larry Wilmore who I didn't even notice appearing, I just looked up at the screen above me then back down to the desk and he was there), the interview and Moment of Zen, each segment was done in a single take, no pauses, and no reshoots necessary. Out of all TV shows I've been in the audience for, The Daily Show has been the most efficient.

It also, despite being a comedy show, feels more serious than The Colbert Report. The personality-based nature of The Colbert Report makes it more of a crowd-pleaser to watch live, especially when everyone is at pains to emphasise that Stephen Colbert needs an energetic audience to bounce off of. Jon Stewart and The Daily Show on the other hand is a different beast: Jon Stewart doesn't play a character, he's on the show as himself, and it's his own voice and emotion that comes through on the show. Whereas Colbert does faux-outrage on his show through the lens of his character, Stewart's disbelief and outrage at the news and news media, even when he's making fun of it, is his own. That outrage and disbelief comes through loud and clear on a television screen, and it has even more force to see in person.

The taping wrapped up just after 7pm. Jon Stewart announced the Moment of Zen, footage played, then the music rolled and the lights went down. Afterwards he came back on to bow and thank us all for coming, and that was it. He went backstage to oversee editing for tonight's show, and we all filed out back onto the streets of New York. I'm so glad I went, but compared to bouncing out of TCR, I came out of TDS much quieter and introspective. I'd certainly like to go again, even better if I could manage to go during an Indecision election year. Next time!
tingjz: (Default)
I've been the biggest fan of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart for years and long dreamed of attending their shows live. With two weeks vacation in New York staying with family, the biggest challenge was going to be getting a ticket to either of those shows because those tickets disappear *fast*, especially with Stephen Colbert wrapping up his show at the end of the year. I ended up following a Twitter feed that sends out ticket alerts to no avail, and flew into New York resigned to seeing neither show.

Then yesterday morning, my very first morning waking up in NYC, I saw the Tweet alert for one ticket tonight. One ticket. And I managed to get it.

The taping for TCR starts at 7:30 p.m. however it's recommended to get there by 5:30 p.m. to line up for tickets. The reservation on the website, should you get one, does not guarantee entry as the show purposely overbooks studio audience numbers. Each ticket is numbered and going by the girls I chatted to afterwards who were the very last ones, there's at most 110 seats. If after reserving a ticket you arrive and you're number 111 in the line? You don't get in. I arrived at the studio to line up at 4:30 p.m. Even at 4:30 p.m. there were dozens of people already ahead of me - 74 people, actually, going from the ticket I was handed.

A ticket in hand, the next gate is security. All bags are checked for cellphone, weapons (why a weapons check? America), drugs and other suspicious items. Having cleared that I then milled about with the rest of the audience in the waiting room which is decorated with various posters and pictures of the show from the Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear poster to a portrait of Grand Moff Stephen Colbert with Darth Vader. There was even a life-sized cardboard Stephen on the wall obviously placed there just for people to take pictures with him, which everyone did sometimes making new friends in the process. As chance would have it I ended up in conversation with two young women discussing the Weeping Angels from *Doctor Who*, which wandered into a conversation about anime and manga and then the American television/pop-culture industry and copyright law, so the waiting time went very fast.

The doors to the studio opened about an hour later. Going inside and getting seated is done by ticket numbers ten at a time, with tickets 1-10 seated first, then 10-20, etc. Holding ticket #75 I was resigning myself to being seated up the back but as it turned out, since I was there solo the floor manager directed me to fill up an odd single spare seat in the very front row. If photography was allowed inside the studio there would been one of me grinning like a lunatic. As it is, when I watched the episode later that night I realised I could see myself bouncing up and down in the opening credits sweep.

Once the studio was filled out came the warm-up comedian to get everyone ready for the main event. His approach consisted of picking members of the audience to ask them about their home town, work or family and make fun of their answers. This being an enthusiastic Colbert Nation audience everyone was happy to play along, and promised to abide the basic rules for audience conduct: no photography, turn off all cell-phones, emergency exits are that way, and finally, Stephen feeds off the audience energy so be very loud, very excited, and *applaud wildly*. The floor manager had us practicing our cheering, and only once we had proven our enthusiasm to his satisfaction was it time for Stephen Colbert himself to appear.

Stephen Colbert came out running to massive cheers and high-fived the entire front row. That would have been more than enough to make my night along with all the shouting and clapping of 'STEPHEN, STEPHEN, STEPHEN!'. (The chanting is somewhat annoying when I'm watching the show on a screen, but there in energy of the studio is *incredibly* fun.) Somehow he got us to settle down a notch enough to have a Q&A as himself out of character. 'Stephen Colbert' is loud and strident and obnoxious. Stephen Colbert himself is calm, softer-voiced, and all in all lovely. Sitting in the very front row with my characteristic red hat I managed to get Stephen's attention to ask him a question. I beamingly told him I was from Australia where he has a great following, thank you so much for your show we're going to miss you when you move to *Late Night*, and how does it feel to know that there are so many people around the world who get their insights into American culture and politics from him and Jon Stewart? The answer was simple - "Like I'm winning :D" - and was followed up with me catching one of Stephen's WristStrong bands which now sits in my travel memory box.

The taping itself is was impressively quick. Like Top Gear the professionalism of a top-tier TV show is great to see in action, with most segments done in one take and usually needing no more than a second when called for. The complete video can be seen on the TV screens around the studio complete with the graphic overlays and news-clip excerpts, however I made a point of watching Stephen himself as much as possible (at least when there wasn't a cameraman directly in front of me). In the rare moment Stephen fluffs a line he immediately drops character and makes a sad face, which is adorable to watch, before snapping back into character to get the second take in the can.

The guest that night was Stephen M. Wise, a lawyer advocating for the legal recognition and protection of intelligent animals - chimpanzees, apes, dolphins, elephants. Being an elderly lawyer and not an actor or politician used to being on camera, he gamely made an effort of his interview which I, also being a lawyer, found highly interesting. And watching Stephen Colbert do his thing completely improvised and unscripted was amazing in itself.

And then it was over! We cheered and applauded Stephen for another great show and I danced out of the studio at about 8:30pm over the moon and swapping contact details with the audience members I had been chatting with before heading home. I get to do it all again when I see *The Daily Show With Jon Stewart* in a couple of weeks, and only the knowledge that I still have two weeks to spend enjoying New York City is curbing my impatience.


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May 2016

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