Test Taping ReporT: September 3, 2015

Taping Report - The Late Show This is my personal account of the final test taping ahead of the “Late Show” premiere on September 3, 2015. This is the “Stephen Takes Over Manhattan” Edition.

In my last taping reporT, I was leaving The Colbert Report studio for the last time. It felt like a wake, like a goodbye, like an ending. On September 3, 2015, I attended the last test show before The Late Show’s premiere, and of course, it was quite the opposite. I have read and remembered a lot that has been written about Stephen in nascent stages of his career and of course the launch of The Colbert Report, but this was my first opportunity to actually witness the beginning of a new Colbert project. It was not easy for me to make it to New York (again), but that I did to merely be present for what proved to be a very joyful time.

After consuming every little media morsel detailing the progress of Ed Sullivan Theatre’s renovation over the past several months, it was surprising to run down 56th street in a harried attempt to get in line early and then see the new Colbert marquee in all its glory. It was truly breathtaking to take in after all this anticipation. Also amazing was seeing Stephen’s face basically plastered on every taxi, bus stop placard, and reflective surface. At certain points the advertisements were reflecting on other advertisements themselves, creating odd Colbert-infused prisms everywhere. Just when you thought maybe you’d seen enough of Stephen, a bus would pass by with a ginormous advert with him sprawled across it in spectacular fashion.

Stephen's picture papered Manhattan ahead of the "Late Show" premiere. Image courtesy Sharilyn Johnson.

Stephen’s picture papered Manhattan ahead of the “Late Show” premiere. | Image courtesy Sharilyn Johnson.

For a fan like me, it was, in a word, wonderful. Wonderful to see Stephen properly celebrated and promoted in a way that will certainly bring more people into appreciating and knowing just how great his work truly is.

I got into line at about noon, behind two young ladies and older gentleman who seemed like he was just getting into Colbert. Usually, I like to ask people waiting about how they know Stephen and how they are fans, and responses are typically hard to predict and all over the map. I was third in line. Seconds after I arrived, what felt like 485 people lined up behind me – okay, I am exaggerating – but people kept passing us and asking what were we waiting for, did we have tickets, how do we get tickets, etc. I tried to hide behind the cute young girls so I wouldn’t have to greet every passers-by. At some point, CBS audience staff in snazzy white and black uniforms arrived (the head ticket lady gasped upon seeing the line forming), and begin to separate the stand by hopefuls from the ticket holders. I would say the audience coordination at the time of this report was more like organized chaos. [Note: I suspect that after the show launch, the line system may be better now.]

When the audience staff arrived there were a ton of people milling about the front of the theater. Unlike The Colbert Report, where the audience could be tucked along the side of the building, this space is a lot more challenging — it’s important at Ed Sullivan to have some kind of organization, as you are in the middle of an incredibly busy sidewalk. You definitely felt like you have to be more open about your Colbert-holism if your scarfing down sandwiches while being passed by hundreds of pedestrians, and pretending not to care. There are stores and restaurants and Time Square and Broadway and just … New York happening. Also, it was blazing hot, so there was also a need to keep people out of the sun as much as possible to prevent heat-related issues.

Once the audience folks started working, things got better, and once they started taking our names and checking IDs, even more so. My friend and I received numbers 4 and 5, and were mercifully told we could leave for about an hour (3:30 pm.) It gave us some to hydrate, eliminate, fix ourselves up so we didn’t look like sweaty messes, as best as possible.

My friend's taping ticket. #4 seems cooler than #5.

My friend’s taping ticket. #4 seems cooler than #5. | Image courtesy Sharilyn Johnson.

Once we went through security, my friend and I were standing basically right in front of the closed double doors to the inner sanctum of the theatre. I could see red seats through the slit in the door. You have no idea how excited I was to be able to get in there and have a look! It was like Christmas morning.

Finally, several hours after we first arrived to theater, the doors were open. It was so great to step in and see with my own eyes what we have all heard about these past few months. Rows of deep red upholstered seats. Stained glass windows. A vaulted dome with a carefully crafted projection of more stained glass colors, the CBS logo, Stephen’s face, and the name of the show delicately lettered.

We were seated in the second row. I could see the wax gleaming off the floor of the stage. The beautiful Late Show desk, complete with light up logo. Blue and white lights every where, lining the staircases, outlining and headlining. Stage right had an elegant two-level bookcase design. Stage left was all about the band, with a secret door in the center of the wall and an open area above – which clearly was designed to be for jamming band members (and/or audience members? Fingers crossed on that one.) It was interesting that the set incorporated so many design elements, the traditional, sort of English-study design of the book shelves, the modern, bright lighting, the stained glass, the exposed brick and gritty elements of the band area. Harmonious and eclectic, it seemed like a larger, more upgraded version of the old Report set, and, in a word, very Stephen.

The audience was just buzzing with excitement. Soon, familiar warm up comic Paul Mercurio was on the stage. He led pretty much the same warm up he did on The Colbert Report, even prompting us to chant “Stephen, Stephen,” which for an amped crowd is never hard to do. He then proceeded to select various audience members, sometimes bring them on stage for some good natured ribbing. In the past I was not a fan of Paul’s abrasive style, but in the larger space his approach of singling out audience members really seemed to work.

What really was different about the show more than anything else, in my view, was the band. After the warm up, Jon Batiste and the Stay Human + guys (and one gal) came out in a line. They were immediately jamming. After seeing much press coverage on Jon it was great just to be there and see him finally embracing his new, new, new role as band leader. Once the band started playing, Stephen’s voice came over the microphone and he bounded in! Looking just the same as always, but this time with an even bigger grin than ever. The crowd was shrieking! Ahhh! It’s Stephen!!! It was like your favorite professor coming back after a long sabbatical, but in a really nice suit. The band settled into their spot and he started taking questions. He even said something like, “does anyone have any questions to humanize me before the show?” Except this time he didn’t say, “before I say all those awful things …” Sorry, Mr. Former Character.

(May I just say that I am glad he is still taking questions? Especially since the Mainstream Audience probably still doesn’t know he doesn’t pronounce the “T” in Colbert, there can never be too little information.)

Here were the questions from the audience Q &A:

  • (Posed by my astute friend): “Does it freak you out to have fans that are [as fanatical] about you the way you are about LOTR?” He laughed and said, “no, it’s lovely, and I’d be very happy if people loved my work that much. But I am half elf,” and then he did his ear-popping trick for the audience.
  • “Boxers or briefs?” Stephen’s response: “I’m freeballin’.”
  • “Trump or Sanders?” “They both have great hair and I’d like them to cage match.”
  • He was asked about the set and what was brought over from the old show. There’s three things: the Captain America shield, the March on Washington pennant, and a photo of his Dad.
  • Stephen’s advice for improvisors? He said “shut up” and recognize that the other person in the scene is more important than you.
    I won’t go into the elements of the show too much, as they may be shown in the coming days and/or weeks. The Oreo bit shown on premiere night was featured at our testing taping, however, and it killed on both occasions. I can certainly say again how awesome the band is, and what a huge impact they bring to the show. Jon Batiste and Stay Human were all over the theatre and stage, playing through all the breaks, performing crowd-pleasing songs such as “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Batiste would request the audience to join in, and they certainly did. They played all genres of music, and at one point Batiste was on top of the piano, jamming on his melodica (or “face piano,” as producer Barry Julien called it.) To hear a Colbert audience united in song while Stephen and his production team were conferring at his desk was surreal! The band almost, I say almost, stole the show from Stephen, and that’s really hard to do, especially in a room stocked with what I presume to be Colbert devotees.

    At the end of the show the band lined up once again, this time with Stephen joining them. He also jumped into jamming out, playing the cow bell. (During one of the breaks, he was tapping on his aluminum water bottle, in similar fashion.) Music always seems to energize him, so for that reason alone, the band is earning their keep, in my view.

    I like to think that deep down, Stephen is not all that different from the band mates. The band is young, vivacious, with a wild energy. They are excellent musicians, with hipster fashion sense and a strong desire to connect with the audience. The only distinction is that Stephen looks like a traditional talk show host, but nothing about what I saw indicated to me that this new Late Show would be conventional in any way.

    The "Late Show" was not yet in service during my test taping experience, but all indications pointed to the makings of a hit show. Image courtesy Sharilyn Johnson.

    The “Late Show” was not yet in service during my test taping experience, but all indications pointed to the makings of a hit show. | Image courtesy Sharilyn Johnson.

    Usually, I’m kind of sad to leave a taping. In this case, I was happy bounding out. Frankly, I was relieved. Stephen is demonstrating that in his new environment, he is not only going to survive, but going to thrive, and all the new elements of the show coming together are going to make it happen.

    Fangirl success means catching your flight, getting in line at the right time, and being on hand to celebrate  an exciting new chapter in the Colbert universe.

    Fangirl success means catching your flight, getting in line at the right time, and being on hand to celebrate an exciting new chapter in the Colbert universe.

    • Colbert-holism! love it!
      thank you for this reporT!!

      • CN Helper

        Thanks, tamara! 🙂

    • DeeCee

      Thanks for the reporT
      I’m hoping that he gets the band more involved in the show as time goes on (I wouldn’t mind if Stay Human was the “musical guest” once a week).

      • CN Helper

        I agree, aren’t they great? They make the taping experience so fun. Thanks for reading.

    • This is an absolutely fantastic Taping ReporT, CN Helper! I am so happy that you got to have this experience. It is definitely something you will never forget. I LOVED the question: “Does it freak you out to have fans that are [as fanatical] about you the way you are about LOTR?” I have often wondered that. Case closed! Thank you so much for sharing this with The Hub and all of The Colbert Nation. Under-the-desk high five to you, my friend! Oh, and you look beautiful!

      • CN Helper

        Thank you my beautiful friend 🙂

    • K.V. Lady

      I am as fanatical about Stephen as he is about LOTR

      • weasley_isourking

        I’m so glad I discovered this site, no one else I know is as crazy as I am about Stephen and his comedy. Any Strangers with Candy fans?

        • We here at The Hub are always happy to have new people discover our site. Welcome! And thank you for commenting. Oh YES, I’m a big fan of ‘Strangers With Candy!’

        • CN Helper

          I’m a huge SWC fan! *embraces you*

          • weasley_isourking

            I have found my people!

            • CN Helper


        • i just now got the dvds (had already watched it sooo many times online) and the commentary in the episodes by Amy/Paul/Stephen is so hilarious!

          • weasley_isourking

            “You’re late, Jerri. I hope you have a good excuse.”
            “My daddy died.”
            “WHOSE DIDN’T, JERRI?”

            • Gina (aka CN Helper)

              I love how my taping reporT just became a Strangers With Candy quote-off. 🙂

            • very slender retort, Jerri!

    • sharilyn_j

      Since the photo credits give it away, I may as well own up to being the “astute friend” in question. 😉

      CN Helper did a great job of capturing our experience. Indeed, seeing that marquee when I frantically ran around the corner with my suitcase (long story) was a wonderful moment. And I had seen lots of leaked photos of the inside, but wasn’t prepared for how overwhelmingly beautiful it is in there.

      One thing to add: when we received our tickets and hand stamps, we had the option of going in between the doors of the Ed Sullivan Theater and having our photos taken against a greenscreen. They wouldn’t tell us what it was for, but it turned out to just be a dry run for the premiere, when they used audience photos behind the musical guests.

      What I’d most like to ask Stephen about are process and comedic philosophy and things that are a little too dry for the pre-show q&a. Ideally you want to throw something at him that results in interesting insights, but that he can also turn around and get laughs with. I’m pleased my offering went well. Ear trick for the win!

      Metafilter and Gothamist both reported on our taping in detail, so the guests aren’t a secret anymore — you can Google those if you wish. The first guest was an absolute delight, and I hope Stephen has her on for real (and that they repeat something they did together). I knew in advance that one of my favorite standups would be on, and it was great to see him do a set and watch how Stephen handled such a strong personality in the guest chair.

      From a personal standpoint, I was thrilled we got run-throughs of such overtly silly bits: the Oreo/Trump bit from the premiere, and the lifestyle brand piece. I’ve been studying physical theatre and clown this year, and the weekend before this test show I’d taken a very demanding intensive class. I basically spent 3 days forced to look like an idiot on stage and (try to) be okay with it. It was stomach-churning, and I sure related to Mo Rocca’s “unembarrassment bootcamp” phrasing from Stephen’s CBS Sunday Morning interview. Having my first real dose of LS-era Stephen be him dumping Oreos on his face and prancing through a field felt like a nice reward from the comedy gods.

      And the song at the end of the taping, with Stephen joining in (he rocked that cowbell!) was perfect. I wish he’d do that on-air.

      In all, the experience was incredible, and more joyful in spirit than the premiere taping (though that was spectacular in other ways, and I’ll be able to comment on that when those ReporTs come!).

      • CN Helper

        Overwhelmingly beautiful? It is Colbert Cathedral. It’s the Colbert Temple. Thanks to Sharilyn for getting the tickets (I suck at ticket-getting technology), and insisting I be her guest. It’s the first time I was outgunned in Colbert knowledge. I happily concede to her.

    • Claudia

      Hi all! First time here & I’m really enjoying reading all the entries – love this reporT, Gina! I’ll be attending my first taping in mid-November and I’m already thinking about logistics, as I don’t live in NY (Miami, but NYC-born!) and have a kid to add to the logistics mix! 🙂 Can anyone recommend what’s the best time to line up for tickets, and do you always get a break after receiving your ticket, meaning you’ll be asked to come back at a specific time for the actual taping? Thanks for any insights!!

      • Gina

        Hi Claudia! I am glad you enjoyed my reporT, and welcome to the site. Things have changed a little since I was last there. Can any of our more recent taping attendees offer any advice? Generally, getting in line earlier is better.