Standby tickets for Saturday Night Live

I’m going to take you on an adventure of what it takes to obtain the sought after standby ticket to see Saturday Night Live. Let me explain who all is allowed to participate in the viewing of an SNL performance. There are three types of audience members. Those that won the Saturday Night Live Lottery, those that know NBC employees and those that wait for standby tickets. The Lottery only allows people to sign up in August and if SNL draws your name, you are able to go to the show but you do not have a choice of which host you want to see. If you are not in the first two divisions, you are one of us. Simply a diehard fan hoping to catch a glance of our favorite actors and actresses doing the hilarious skits right in front of our faces rather than through a broadcasted signal to our television.

Maya Rudolph hosted Saturday Night Live on February 18, 2012. Anytime a past SNL member comes back to host the show, you are definitely going to see other past members join them on their old stomping grounds. This being said, everyone and their mother wants to see this show because you never know who it will star. A showing like this will entice the fans who do not have a lottery ticket nor know any of the NBC employees. Thus starts the adventure to get the lowest standby number possible to have the chance at getting into the theater.

5pm Friday night, I receive a call from Marlyse, “Hey! I was walking by the NBC building to make sure we knew where to go at 3am when we plan on standing in line for standby tickets. There is already a line of people so I am in line!” Our initial plan was to wake up at 2am, jump on the train and get there around 2:30-3am. She counted 45 people in line by 5pm th e previous day when the standby tickets are handed out at 7am Saturday morning. “You are in line? Um…ok, so I guess I will pack some food and warmer clothes for us,” I replied. “You should bring the tent and Coleman stove!” she said with excitement fueled by adrenaline. “I am not bringing the tent due to Occupy Wall Street people being forced to take down their tents. How are we supposed to cook over an open flame on the side of the street without a permit!” I often think of consequences first before thinking of possibilities. It is something I am working on. I offered to bring our folding chairs but she told me to bring the air mattress. So I brought an entire bed set.

6pm, I arrive to Occupy NBC ready for some urban camping in front of the Rainbow Room entrance on 49th Street. We have a full length camping backpack where I even stored a rolled blanket on the bottom. I either looked like a camper or homeless! Sunshine still casts over the city while we wait for the sun to appear again. Luckily, the neighboring air mattress had a battery powered pump as the only one I have is electric. I was planning on huffing and puffing but she saved my lungs. The sidewalk area designated for SNL fans was only so wide that the edge of our air mattress was about 8″ from the curb. Had I rolled off from the slant of the curb, I would have been in the street! After this, we make our sandwiches for dinner as I brought lunch meat, cheese, cut tomato, spinach and bread.

8pm and the sun has set while the temperature has dropped. It was around 45 degrees when I got there and now it has to be closer to 38 degrees. All of a sudden, two men who were dressed in chef outfits pushed a cart next to the barricades. “Corn Chowder courtesy of Lorne Michaels, the Saturday Night Live producer.” Lorne Michaels bought the diehard fan dinner! Our neighbors said that when they were in line to see SNL hosted by Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy bought pizzas for everyone in line. While this is not a typical thing, it is definitely nice when you are standing in line for so long. Further down the line, someone setup a 4 man dome tent for just herself! She was asked by the police to take it down about 30 minutes later. Then somewhere around 2am, she put the poles back in and set it back up after the police left for the night.

10pm and now it is starting to get pretty cold. Probably the 100th person asked us what we were waiting in line for. To which some responded “SNL” as if everyone knows what the acronym stands for. When I responded, I tried to explain a little more in-depth but could have reduced the questions with a sign stating the information. That is what I do for a living! Reduce questions by making processes easier to understand! The NBC public bathrooms close at 11pm so we have to use the facilities for the night, otherwise, we either hold it or find a 24 hour place. Marlyse and I finished up another round of Rummikub where she wins and then we bundle up under our blankets because it feels like the temperature is below freezing now.

1am Saturday morning and we only have six more hours to go. Now, the party goers are out and driving around. Back-to-back for about thirty minutes there were people shouting from cars, “wake up!” or just obnoxiously honking. I was probably most scared during this half hour because you never know if the driver fully has his eyes on the road. Also, all of the fans were barricaded closest to the road rather than against the building wall. I prepared myself by covering a little more in case an inconsiderate passerby decided to throw something liquid out the window. Luckily that did not happen but I was as prepared as I could be for it.

3am and it is bathroom time! From the hot chocolate we got from Starbucks, the water we brought and the soup we ate, our 11pm bathroom break did not last us long. Marlyse goes to McDonald’s on 47th and when she walks in, it is a graphic crime scene. People are in line and the registers are rolling but there is blood splattered all over the floor! Not intending on purchasing anything, she just needs to use the bathroom but out of gratuity, she plans on buying the cheapest thing on the menu. She asked the person in front of her, “what happened here?” Evidently, a man that just paid for his food and was waiting got beat up by someone and his face had leaked blood all over the floor. No one from McDonald’s had cleaned it up! Marlyse got to the front of the line and first asked, “Are you still serving food?” The cashier replies, “Yes, how may I help you?” She responds, “Maybe someone can clean the blood up off the floor here? Anyway, I just need to use the bathroom. Do I have to buy something?” Seeming to ignore the blood comment, “You do not need to purchase anything. The bathrooms are upstairs.” While talking, the man that got beat up came back for the food he purchased. He still had blood all over his face. She goes up, uses the bathroom, comes back down and there is still blood is on the floor. The icing on the cake was that the guy went back up to the counter to complain there were no onions on the burger he ordered!

4am the line is awoken by a man yelling out, “free bagels, tea and coffee!” I was not sure if Lorne Michaels paid for this also or Chock Full o’Nuts was doing this as additional business in the middle of the night. They were selling everything else but offered hundreds of people a free morning breakfast which was nice.

6:30am and the sun is starting to shine on the tallest buildings. The sky gradually changes from midnight to navy blue. Excitement and anticipation fill each person that just went through an urban camping experience. It seems everyone is up and begins packing at the same time and around 6:45 everyone cinches up due to the void of camping gear.

7am rolls around and the pages are walking around but still no tickets. An entire hour passes and they do not start passing out tickets until 8am. When it is your turn, you have to weigh the odds. We are next in line. “How many people have signed up for the dress rehearsal versus the live showing?” The attendant’s response was, “25 for the live show and 18 for the rehearsal.” Again, there are better odds for the rehearsal so we went with the rehearsal. We trek back home, take the dogs for a walk and then go to bed.

7pm Saturday, we are walking through the rain to get to the Rainbow Room. As we walk in, all of the lottery ticket winners are there and the hundreds of standbys wait. Around 8pm, they split the standbys. “The first 60 people, please step over here!” At first, we think they are allowing 60 of us but this is just in preparation. Then phase 2, “the first 30 people, go through the metal detectors!” Heart pounding of the possibility to get in. There could be 1 seat or 60 available in this 300 seat theater but we do not know at this point.

We line up in numerical order in front of the elevators just waiting for the NBC Pages to count the number of available seats. From afar, Marlyse and I hear, “18” and my heart sunk while my eyes were as wide as possible. We hold ticket numbers 19 and 20. In fact, they put 1-10 in elevator G and 11-18 in elevator H. Our neighbors were able to go up and we stand there waiting to see if possibly they found more seats. “19”, we hear a page say. “Who has lucky number 19?” I shove my wife forward and say, “She does!” The page opens the elevator doors and she gets on the elevator alone while 20-30 watch her. Tears start to well up in her eyes and I simply say, “have a great time!” I wanted to take a picture of her in the empty elevator but my phone just did not want to function fast enough.

The elevator door closes and then that same page states, “thank you all for coming but we do not have any more seats available. We look forward to seeing you next time.” I slowly put my jacket on and take my time walking out the Rainbow Room revolving door. I knew that there was a possibility of not getting in but I never considered the possibility of being split up. I walk around the city and then make my way back to Rockefeller Center, sitting inside facing the ice skating rink and watching people experience skating on a popular touristy piece of ice.

After the elevator doors shut, Marlyse exits alone and the page at the top of the floor tells her, “Run! You have to get in there right now!” She walks briskly and the page repeats herself, “Run! They are starting right now!” Marlyse gets a wristband put on her and they sit her on the stairs during the opening. A page tells her, “We are going to put you here for right now but I may move you.” Obviously, someone miscounted when saying there were 19 available seats or possibly a guest was in the bathroom. They end up moving her to the security guards chair! Feeling bad that they told her she could watch the show and putting a wristband on her, they did not want to send Marlyse away. The security guard says, “You know, up here is where Lorne’s friends and family sits. His office is right over there.” The view in the top-left corner of the balcony is horrible. You cannot see anything but the band stage from there, but you are there able to get a glimpse of your favorite actors and actresses. With a standby seat, you never know where you will sit to fill in the gaps!

Want to have the chance to get a standby ticket? Here is a list of what you should bring with you if you are going during the winter!

– Photo ID (cannot get tickets without this)
– Air mattress (and pump) with blankets and pillows
– piece of plastic to cover your body and belongings in case of rain/snow
– A sign explaining “Waiting in line for Saturday Night Live hosted by (name) and (band) is playing”
– Propane gas with stove top that attaches to the bottle (saw others doing this)
– gallon jug of water (or more) with pot so you can make tea, hot chocolate, etc
– ear plugs (if you can deal with the noise of traffic or crazy people)
– bread, lunch meat, cheese, snacks
– gloves, extra scarf, extra socks, warm head covering, extra blanket
– entertainment: book, board game, cards, fully charged electronics (keep them near you)

Comments 10

  1. Cassandra

    Aww! I was hoping you both would make it in, and sit together, and have a FABULOUS time. Though this entry was very detailed and way worth the read, I’m sad because I now feel very confident that I’ll never get to see SNL in person unless I end up in one of the two first divisions (those that won the Saturday Night Live Lottery or those that know NBC employees). Now, to develop some NBC contacts…

  2. Post

    The difficulty is not so much getting standby tickets in general. It is getting tickets when someone big to the show is hosting it. When someone not as well known or is up and coming is the host, you have better odds of showing up around 3am and still getting into the dress rehearsal.

  3. Sara

    Hi Cassandra I think you should try it. I’ve entered the lottery for years now and have never got tickets, but I have done the stand-by line six times and I have gotten in everytime. I’ve seen both dress and live it really is awesome. My goal is to somehow do both in one night. You’ve got to put in a lot of work, but it is cool seeing the show live or dress.

    Brett – I must say I am jealous about the chowder – I’ve never gotten free food, just met Bill Hader or Fred who’ve come out and say hi. FYI the coffee truck isn’t Loren.

  4. Monica

    thanks for sharing this story! We are planning a trip in 3 weeks, and are considering “camping” out as well. I see on the photos that someone has a tent on the sidewalk. Did you think there was adequate space for that, or was it kind of risky? Thanks for any info!

  5. Post

    Hey Monica!
    Tents are not allowed and that person had their tent up about 30 minutes before they were told to take it down. Just take an air mattress, blankets, warm clothes, food and games!

  6. Kelly

    Hi! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I’m planning on going next weekend and this has been extremely helpful!
    I was wondering, do you happen to know what rules they have about photography? Or if there’s any chance for the audience to interact with the talent afterwards, etc.?
    Thanks again! 🙂

  7. Post
  8. Lucy

    You could always try it again!!!! Me and my friends waited yesterday for Zack Galifinaikis and we were 2 people away of getting in for the live show, even though we couldnt see it, the people were so nice in the line, I think it is definetly an experience, we are trying to go next week for Kristen Wiig, but we would be arriving maybe around 3 pm that friday, do you think it’s fine? With Zack Galifinaikis around 180 people got in, but I want to ask you since Kristen Wiig was a former cast

  9. Sonali

    Hi! This story was crazy! Thanks for the detail. I am an SNL fanatic and I worship Tina Fey. I am randomly in town for work next weekend when she is hosting the season premiere, so I feel like I owe it to myself to try for standby tickets, but I KNOW it’s going to be crowded. I am willing to stand in line Friday morning, but my guy friend can’t join me until after work on Friday. I know we are not allowed to save spots for anybody, but I don’t want to spend the night outside 30 Rock alone. Do you know if this would be OK?

Leave a Reply