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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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