One of the thrills of an NYC visit is the chance to see a live taping of a TV show you would normally watch on the small screen. Among the City’s most popular tapings is The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the most watched nightly show on late-night television.
You may have some questions (the answer to the first: yes, it’s totally free to be part of the studio audience). We’ve got answers, along with ideas for where to hang out before and after the taping. Trust us; we can see the Ed Sullivan Theater, the show’s Midtown studio location, from our office. So read on and start planning your day.
How to Get a Ticket
You’ll need a combination of persistence, luck and, ideally, flexibility to score tickets. Each month’s openings are posted roughly a month ahead of time (so for June’s tapings, online bookings would be made available sometime around late April or early May; check the show’s Twitter and Facebook feeds for announcements). Certain tickets are issued for “priority” entrance, which gives you a better chance of admittance than “general admission” bookings—but as long as you show up in advance of check-in time with either type of email confirmation, you should be good to go.
If you don’t manage to secure either of the above, another option is to look for VIP tickets. These are tickets you have to bid and pay for, and can cost a pretty penny—but they entitle you to cool bonuses, including a studio tour.
Five Rules to Keep in Mind
· You have to be 16 or older to attend a taping.
· There’s a two-ticket limit.
· There is no photography in the studio.
· Dress appropriately—you might be shown on-screen. (And leave any large bags at home or in your hotel room. And please, don’t bring your own Big Furry Hat.)
· Tapings take place Mondays through Thursdays. On Thursdays, two shows are taped back to back (they’ll use the second one on Friday).
So you’ve scored a ticket. Now what?
Plan on devoting at least half of your day to the show. While check-in for priority admission typically begins at 3pm—you’ll receive a check-in deadline time on your email-ticket confirmation, and a notification beforehand of what time check-in opens—people sometimes show up as early as noon to stake their place in line. Count on arriving at least an hour before your prescribed time.
You’ll get a number when you get a ticket; that corresponds to your place in line when you come back to enter the theater and then the studio. So you’ve got a better chance of sitting up front (where you might get to slap hands with the host as he enters) if you arrive early.
It’s good to come as a pair. That way one of you can wait in line while the other, say, grabs a cup of coffee or a quick bite and returns.
As mentioned, check-in for priority admission begins at 3pm. You’ll receive a ticket with a time stating when you should return—usually around 4pm. So you’ve got an hour to wander around and have a snack or poke around the area (the southern end of Central Park is just a half-dozen blocks away) if you like.
Once you’re allowed into the theater, you’ll wait in a bit of a holding pen in the lobby, perhaps for 30–45 minutes. It’s a good time—your only time once inside—to go to the bathroom or take some selfies with cutout images of Colbert. Or do some last-minute texting and posting to jealous friends; once you’re in the seating area, those phones should be off.
Before the main act, a warm-up comedian (Paul Mecurio) aims to put you in a laughing mood starting at around 5pm. Also expect music from Jon Batiste and the Stay Human band before the host steps out to do an audience Q&A. Then the real business begins.
The actual taping tends to more or less mirror real time; it may not be an hour, but it should be no more than an hour and a half. Though it may end earlier, count on being there until 7pm (and, if something arises, beyond). In other words, think twice before booking a dinner reservation at 7pm or making an early curtain time at a Broadway show.
All seats are good, whether you’re up close or in the balcony; however, there may be times, particularly on the floor, when cameras get in your way. Of course, you might also be in just the right seat to be selected for a part in a sketch like First Drafts.
The neo-gothic Ed Sullivan Theater, at 1697–1699 Broadway, was the former home of the Late Show with David Letterman and, before that, of The Ed Sullivan Show. It was extensively remodeled for Colbert’s moving in, including the marquee and the C-O-L-B-E-R-T lettering that hangs vertically on the side of the building; note, the host’s office is right by the “C” on top.
CBS had lost the lease a few years after The Ed Sullivan Show ended its run in 1971 but bought back the building after it signed Letterman away from NBC. It was originally built in 1927 by Arthur Hammerstein (yes, part of that entertainment family) and was known then as Hammerstein’s Theater. The interior is landmarked. The long-obscured domed ceiling of the 1927 theater has been restored (with Colbert’s face projected on it, and sometimes it bears an animation of a different lofty being for a recurring sketch; skip to 3:38 in the video, if you like). There’s stained glass all around, to go along with other elaborate touches.
Five nearby food vendors for a quick bite
A food truck with enormous plates of chicken or beef over rice; it’s all just a vehicle for the addictive white sauce.
The place made famous by Letterman has fully transitioned to Colbert; honor the house with a Colbert sandwich: chicken cutlet, American cheese, sweet peppers, lettuce, tomato and mayo on hero. The deli also serves as a stand-in for an official merchandise shop; pick up a Late Show cap, T-shirt or mug for a keepsake.
It’s right on the street corner; they make thin, crisp personal pizza pies.
In keeping with a TV theme, this is the place lampooned in Seinfeld episode “The Soup Nazi”; besides soup, it’s known for a very affordable lobster roll.
Choose between pizza, Bolivian meat pies, Russian dumplings and a whole lot more in this underground food hall.
Five nearby cafés for a hot or iced beverage
Bibble & Sip
They’re known for their matcha cream puffs; pair one with a latte for an on-the-go boost.
This mini NYC chain entry is a tidy little spot for an espresso or drip coffee.
The baked goods here take the cake, so to speak, but the joe is good too.
Radiance Tea House
You don’t have to get coffee. You might prefer tea!
This cheerful café carries Stumptown java and does tasty light fare.
Five nearby spots for a drink after the show
This refined wine bar makes a good place to ponder your next move.
Gallaghers Steakhouse Bar
You’ve earned the right to have a martini at this clubby, old-school steak temple.
A lively, weathered Irish pub that’s suitable for throwing back a few.
Come here to keep the good times rolling; free-flowing vodka and a piano tend to help.
Steal away to this downstairs hideaway for a classic cocktail.
Five nearby restaurants for dinner after the show
You can’t get any closer to the theater than this next-door pizza spot, which fires up good coal-oven pies.
It’s a casual, hidden boite—in a posh hotel—for burgers, fries and beer.
The intimate, elegant Danji serves Korean bites such as braised pork belly and kimchi fried rice.
The only Druze restaurant in the City does inexpensive vegetarian plates, cheese-filled borekas and other Middle Eastern fare.
Nip upstairs for grilled meat skewers and glasses of Sapporo.
Five fast facts
· Colbert’s version of The Late Show debuted September 8, 2015, and celebrated its 500th episode on February 21, 2018.
· The studio seating holds 370 people.
· The host’s former show, The Colbert Report, was filmed just a few blocks away at 513 W. 54th St.
· Colbert sometimes makes use, like Letterman before him, of locations in proximity of the studio. Like this one of the many local Duane Reade stores (from 2:30 on in the video).
· According to The Onion’s AV Club, Colbert’s most frequent guest has been astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. You can find more Tyson in the City at the American Museum of Natural History, where he narrates Dark Universe and serves as director of the Hayden Planetarium.
Congrats. Now make sure to get back to your hotel room by 11:35pm to watch the show. And know that you’ll need to wait six months before trying to get a ticket for another Late Show taping.