For years, I’ve had a weekly tradition of tuning in at 11:30 PM to watch Saturday Night Live as it airs. To me, SNL is the pinnacle of comedy, with hilarious sketches and insanely well–produced pre–tape videos, all created from scratch within a week.
Usually, I watch SNL from my computer or phone as it airs, but it's always been a dream of mine to see the show live and in person from its studio audience. Over fall break, my friend Kai and I decided to fulfill this lifelong goal by securing ourselves standby tickets to the live taping of the October 8th episode, which had Brendan Gleeson as host and WILLOW as musical guest.
For each SNL show, there’s a live studio audience of a couple hundred people. The majority are never seen on camera; there’s a semicircle behind the cameras that loops around Studio 8H (where SNL is filmed). Kai and I were mere commoners within the SNL social ladder, so our only chance to get into the live broadcast was through the standby line.
Depending on the guest host, the standby line can begin days before the live broadcast; when BTS performed, fans lined up nearly a week beforehand. For Gleeson, the line began at around 7 p.m. the Friday before the live taping. Nestled in Midtown between 30 Rockefeller Plaza and Radio City Music Hall, Kai and I hopped into the standby line at around midnight. Normally, I wouldn’t be caught dead being anywhere near Midtown, Broadway, or any tourist hotspot past midnight, but tonight was a special occasion.
Waiting in the standby line was by far the most gruesome and unpleasant part of the SNL experience. We both had prepared for a cold evening, packing multiple blankets and layering up to the extreme. What we didn’t prepare for was the possibility of rain.
I don’t know if you’ve ever slept on a bitterly cold sidewalk in New York City with rain falling down all night; chances are you haven’t, but trust me, it ain’t fun. All of our blankets got immediately soaked, which, accompanied by the 30–40°F outside temperature, made for a chilly night. Luckily, my years as a competitive swimmer with early morning practices in frigid pools kicked in, helping me survive the cold.
By around 6 a.m., Kai and I had gone a little mad: We began singing renditions of “Yesterday” and devoured packets of SkinnyPop (we were desperate). Finally, at 7, some pages emerged from 30 Rock with standby cards. Those in standby have the option to attend either the dress rehearsal at 8 p.m. or the live broadcast at 11:30 p.m.; we chose the live broadcast, getting the 26th and 27th standby cards. After getting our cards, we were free from the shackles of the line, although we still had no guarantee we would get into the live taping.
At around 9:45 at night, we returned back to 30 Rock for the live broadcast, still not knowing if we would see SNL in the studio. By now, nerves were high. For over an hour, we stood in a tightly–packed line of other standby guests, slowly marching up one flight of stairs after another.
Finally, we arrived at an atrium covered with images from famous SNL sketches like “The Target Lady” and “More Cowbell.” When we got to a pack of elevators at the other end of the hall, we were given wristbands and told to enter elevator one. Upon entering the elevator, the doorman told us: “Welcome to SNL,” to which we replied with leaps and screams of joy.
As for the show itself, it was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I was mesmerized by how systematically yet chaotically the whole night ran. Whenever a sketch was happening, the studio was motionless except for what was happening on–camera. Then, moments after a skit ended, all of SNL’s production staff rushed in, switching people’s costumes and setting up the next set within a few moments.
The best part of the night, though, was seeing everything that happened off camera. Whenever you watch the show on TV, you’ll usually hear the Saturday Night Live Band for just a few seconds during a transition or when the host begins their monologue. But, in fact, they’re actually playing jazz and blues songs the entire night!
The craziest part of the night, for me at least, was seeing Lorne Michaels in person. Michaels created SNL and has been its head producer for decades, helping jumpstart the careers of some of the world’s greatest comedians. He’s probably the most influential person in comedy, so seeing him make live calls and decisions as the show went on was insane to witness.
Looking back on my SNL experience, the sacrifice of waiting in awful conditions for a night was well worth it. Hearing the cast scream the iconic phrase “Live from New York, it's Saturday night!” is a moment I’ll cherish forever.