I Am America and So Can You: My night with Stephen Colbert

On my wishlist for America last year was to see a taping of The Daily Show, hosted by Jon Stewart, a favourite tv show as well as one of my bigtime celebrity crushes. So for months I logged onto The Daily Show website to score some elusive tickets. I had a lot of black mornings when I just missed out. I also tried to score tickets for The Colbert Report, but that was hopeless too. And then it happened: a few mornings into my New York trip I managed to secure some last minute tickets to see Stephen Colbert for later that evening. FTW!

After we met with a friend of mine for a coffee in the West Village, we walked over to the studio to secure our spot for that night’s taping. If you add up the amount of time we waited outside the building, in the foyer before the taping, and when the show actually started – we waited around for about four times the length of the actual taping of the show. But I’d come prepared with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so I was good for the wait. One intern after another warmed up the crowd, as we travelled from one waiting area to the next.

No graffiti on this wall
No graffiti on this wall

Everyone was super psyched to be there. The audience had come from all over the States, and there were even a few internationals like me.

Middle Earth
Middle Earth

When the studio doors finally opened, I discovered it was Hobbit Week…and we had entered Middle Earth. It turns out that Stephen Colbert is a bonafide Tolkien nerd (confirmed by the entry about him on Wikipedia, which means it must be true). In any case, he had a Q&A session with the audience beforehand and challenged people to out-Tolkien him. Did anyone know the name of Samwise’s first daughter? “Elanor,” said a girl close to me. “I love you,” he said, and she and her friend both squealed in delight. He then asked her if she knew the name of Samwise’s second daughter…and she didn’t. So he won. The Q&A strategy was a great way for him to build rapport. After all, it’s the audience which gives a live show its energy. I’ve been to my fair share of tv show tapings and this was the best one yet. By the end of the Q&A, before the taping had even started, we probably would’ve walked on hot coals for him. It’s great being in a crowd that’s enjoying itself, but given that I’m a fan, he pretty much had me at ‘hello’.

That night there was also the celebrity factor – his guests were Sir Ian McKellan and Andy Serkis. Ian McKellan was great, hilarious actually, and Colbert seemed genuinely starstruck by the charismatic British actor. His parting words to the audience was, “I think I’m in love with Sir Ian McKellan”. And there’s nothing sexier than a liberal-minded hetero man who owns his geekness and wears glasses because he’s actually short-sighted…and isn’t afraid of admitting to a crush on another man. Oh, Stephen, as though you weren’t enough already!

He nailed the script and only needed a few minor retakes right at the end. I really admire people who can just switch on and perform live with near-perfect fluency. I’m always trying to push myself to get up on stage and perform in public, but it’s hard for me and I don’t know if I’ll ever be really great. Colbert made it look effortless.

Andy Serkis!
Andy Serkis!

After it was all over – and we squeezed in a photo with Andy Serkis! – we left on a high, and my brother was happy he’d finally ticked The Colbert Report off his ‘to see’ list after more than a year and a half living in the city. We grabbed dinner nearby in the neighbourhood he first lived in when he moved over in 2011.

As for me, I felt like I made the most of my trip to New York, and got to do something really special: have a night with Stephen Colbert.

(The title of this post is a reference to the book I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert. If you want to see The Colbert Report like I did, follow the @dailytix twitter account and use auto-fill for The Colbert Report ticket form. I’m not even exaggerating when I say you have two seconds to submit the form the moment it goes online. Good luck! Totally worth the effort!)

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