The show is taped in front of a live studio audience in New York City in a custom studio on 11th Avenue, between 51st and 52nd Streets. The closest Subway is the "M" line on 8th Avenue and 50th St, or you can walk to the studio in a little over 20 minutes from Times Square. Tickets are free, but even though we had reservations for the tickets, we were informed that they give out more reservations then the amount of people they can fit into the studio, to ensure that they are always full audience. The correspondence we received from the shows producers stated to be at the studio by 4:30pm, but we were advised by reading articles online to get there earlier. We arrived just after 3:30pm and there were already over 160 people in the line! So we waited, and waited and waited.... and then we did some waiting. At about 4:45pm, with around 400 people in line, ushers for the show came and gave the people in the line a ticket with the number you were in line (thus how I know there were 160 people in front of me) and the studio only holds about 220 so there were some very disappointed people turned away who had been waiting a fair amount of time.
Our confirmation letter indicated that things would start happening around 5pm and that the taping would finish around 7:15-7:30, 3.5 hours before the show would go to air. It was 5:45 before we were let in (so a total of 2hrs 15 standing in line outside). We did luck into front row seats which was nice.
Once seated, the experience inside starts with a warm up comedian coming out and entertaining the crowd as well as ensuring the audience is excited and vocal for the taping. The comedian at our taping was Paul Macurio and he was very funny and had the audience buzzing by the end of his set. Then Jon Stewart himself came out for a 10 minute question and answer session with the audience, where he answered a variety of questions posed by the audience, mainly around what was wrong with the current political and media environments, and what steps he would make if he was in charge to change them. After this session, the taping began.
I've been to several television tapings for non scripted comedies in the past, where about 2 hours worth of footage was recorded to make a 22 min TV show and most of the best stuff was what never made it to television, usually either because the subject had drifted so far away from where it started or because it was dripping in profanity.
This wasn't the case here. They filmed the show like it was live, including just having loud music play in the studio for the several minutes where the ads would be. There was only a tiny part that had to be re-shot and about 6:50 we were up and out of the studio.
It was a funny show and everyone got a good laugh but the 2.5 hours of waiting certainly wasn't worth it, especially as we saw pretty much only exactly what went to air (We did watch the show that night at 11pm). With approximately a third of the show being taken up with an interview with a guest, the quality of the guest can also have a large bearing on how good the taping experience is. Our guest was an obscure political author, where as that very night on the sister show, The Colbert Report, had George Lucus as their guest. Any amount of time in line would have been worth waiting to have seen that. It was interesting to see the process of how the show is shot and hearing Jon talk to the audience was a highlight, but if your visiting New York and would like to see the show, I would only recommend it if you have a free half day in your schedule, and don't forget to take a big jacket in winter as you will be standing out in the New York elements for hours.
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