Part One: The Wait
I live and die by Saturday Night Live.
One of my few childhood memories is how exciting it was when Comedy Central (back when Penn Jillette was still the voice of the network) had 24 hours of SNL (apparently in 1991). Regardless as to the decade or any string of bad episodes, I not only stuck with it, but relished in it.
So, you can imagine, seeing the show live has always been a dream.
When I was in town in April 2010, Joe Geni and I stood on line for a few hours in the hopes of getting into the Tina Fey/Justin Bieber episode. With our standby tickets in the 100s, we never really had a shot. It seems like 30-50 people usually get in on standby.
This time, I was ready to wait all night, writing on the NYC CouchSurfing board to secure a sleeping bag (and a tent).
Delayed a bit, I got to the line at about 10 PM. I was told by the Rutgers students in front of me that I was number 46. With some people choosing dress rehearsal and some choosing the live show, I figured my chances were decent, given the normally even breakdown of people requesting dress rehearsal vs. live.
A cop went by and I asked him if there would be a problem with my intended setup. He said I should be fine. I began to set up my tent.
Cozy, I went to sleep.
A couple hours later there was a knock at the tent, with someone yelling “No tents!”
By time I peeked my head out, there wasn’t anyone there, so I went back to ‘bed’.
Knock again. Ignored again.
Third knock was serious. I bluntly told the security guard that I had talked to a cop before and he told me it was fine. Since this guy represented no real authority to me and debased whatever respect I might have had for him by claiming that this sidewalk was private property, I told him that I would only take it down if a cop told me to.
Back into the tent.
I kept peeking out, but no security guard and no cops. Seemed safe. The dudes behind me on line agreed that the guy must have given up.
5-10 minutes later, the dudes behind me yelled through my tent that the guy was coming back with three cops. They sounded a bit scared.
I peeked my head out. Two chick cops and one fella. The fella was shorter than either chick. They all had slightly amused looks on their face, the kind of look a cop has when they realize something is stupid, but they don’t have anything better to do, so it’s worth the distraction.
“If I have to be cold, so do you,” said the guy, in what was meant to put us on the same level.
I argued my point that I was told prior that I’d be fine.
“No structures,” they responded. Obviously, this tent qualified as that. I asked them what the line was, considering that there were air mattresses further up. “No structures. You can have a sleeping bag or whatever else.”
I asked what it would take to make them happy.
“Well, untie it from the post…”
I told them that it didn’t make any sense that the guy was claiming it was private property. They agreed. It’s the sidewalk, where you can’t have structures.
I asked if I just took the poles out, if that would work.
“Well, that’s just semantics,” one of them said.
“This whole thing is semantics,” I replied.
The people around seemed fairly spellbound that I was putting in so much of a fight.
I began to take the poles out. My tent looked like a giant popped balloon.
They seemed content with this. They moved on, and I went back into my Flatland tent.
A truck came by around 5:30 AM, offering free hot chocolate or coffee or tea, with paid snacks available as well. (No free bagel this time, though, which was a disappointment.)
I got my standby ticket. #33 for dress rehearsal. I went back to my grandmother’s wayyyy uptown apartment to go to sleep.
Part Two: The Show
I got to Rockefeller Center about half an hour before the 7:15 PM arrival time. You have to line up in order of your standby ticket. Since it doesn’t matter how early you show up for this line, people don’t get there hours before. This caused undue optimism on the part of some people on the line who hoped that the 90+ people in front of them just wouldn’t show. I tried to temper their expectations.
The main problem with this line of people is that it is some of the worst energy you’ll find. Almost everyone is panicked and saying things like “Well, I won’t kill myself if I don’t get in, but…”
Eventually, the line started moving. I got further than the time before, up to the line to go through the metal detector. The 30 first people went through and got on the elevator to go upstairs. They were safe.
4 more people were allowed to go up, which split the couple behind me. “Just go,” the woman told the guy. “Save yourself,” was what I heard, in the style of a cliched war flick.
I never do well with metal detectors, because I always have so much crap in my pockets. The guy at the metal detector told me to slow down, that I’d be fine. I started to slow down, went through, was told I was OK and began to put the stuff back in my pockets.
Then, I was yelled at to hurry up, because I might miss the magical elevator.
Into the elevator, we went upstairs, the Rutgers kids ecstatic. I was still trying to sort out all of my crap that was formerly in my pockets, so I ended up being the absolute last person in. Along the hall were pictures of various hosts and skits and the like. I wanted so badly to take pictures but knew that wasn’t in the cards.
Inside Studio 8H, Jason Sudeikis was doing the warmup. It surprised me that it was done by a member of the cast. While I had missed a chunk of it, he never gave the sort of spiel that the Daily Show and Colbert warmup people give about the audience being important. I wasn’t sure if this was just because it was dress or because it was just a different environment. Sudeikis was exactly as he is in every sketch, smug and funny enough.
After the warmup, Kenan Thompson came out with some of the female cast as backup dancers singing Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting”.
Then the show started. Armisen as Obama, which seemed drier than when I usually see it. Paul Rudd’s monologue felt like it was watching it on TV. And so on.
The problem is, as anyone will tell you, it’s a relatively small space, packed to the gills with set pieces. A good portion of the time, you can’t see the actual performance, or at least not everyone in the skit, and have to look to the monitors. And for whatever reason, it just felt lackluster. I don’t know if it was just because it was dress rehearsal, because ever since I’ve watched after being there live, there have been a lot of points where I just don’t see the cast invested in their roles.
In some ways, after the fact, I felt like I watched a magician revealing their secrets. While I’m still watching SNL as dutifully as ever, some of the lustre is gone. At the very least, I have it confirmed that I would never want to be a cast member. Watching the face of Bill Hader after he beat himself up after his Julian Assange bit and feeling the general energy of the crew rushing around to set stuff up between commercials, it just seemed like a lot of stress to be around week in and out. I never felt camaraderie between the performers or the crew. The performers seemed like they were in their individual worlds and the crew felt like they were just doing a job. No love, no magic. It was work.
Maybe that’s camera work. It’s part of why I lost interest in acting overall, once I got involved in it to the extent that I did.
Plus, there are few things that I’ve found more depressing than Paul McCartney trying to still be Paul McCartney. Arthritic kicks and plastic surgeried skin are no way to be remembered.
Be warned: while it may seem like it’s worth the wait, be prepared for your dreams to get crushed. I walked into Studio 8H giddy; I walked out disconnected from former lifelong ambitions.