Live from New York, it’s My SNL Experience!

This weekend, Saturday Night Live is back, celebrating their 40th season. A few weeks ago, Grantland did an incredible job documenting all things SNL. From interviews, to sketches, to movies and even voting for the best cast members in a March Madness-style bracket. (Will Ferrell was voted the best, as he should). So I figured I’d get in on this celebration. SNL has been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. I’m sure everyone has stories of when they were kids and they’d try to stay up late to watch it, and I am no different. But the story I’m telling today is unlike any other SNL stories you’ve probably heard. This is the story of seeing Saturday Night Live, live.

If you’re a big fan like me, you know there aren’t many options to seeing the show in-person. There’s the unofficial way of waiting all day outside of Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center hoping there are extra seats the night of, but only one official way. The only official way is by emailing them in the month of August giving them all of your contact information and being entered into a lottery. You do not receive an email if you are not selected. The second year that I ever put in for tickets was August of 2011 and I received an email in January 2012 saying that I have been offered 2 tickets for the show on March 10th, 2012. You are not to reply, just show up. If you can’t make it, tough. There are no make-up dates for you. Now in the email, they give instructions about what time you need to be where and really that’s it, no RSVP-ing. This is your one and probably only chance to go, so you go.

The day finally came and I met my brother in NYC. By now we knew that the musical guest was The Shins and the host was Jonah Hill. On that Saturday, Mike and I went to 30 Rock around 12:30 to get clarification on what time we really needed to show up. One of the pages working said 10:45pm would be good enough. (My email said no later than 10:15…) We were not there more than 15 minutes, when on our way out, I was about to go through the turn-style doors until Mike said Jonah was coming in! I stopped and in came Jonah Hill with I assumed his parents. I wished him good luck and mentioned that we’d see him tonight, and he said, “Thanks guys.” We regretted not getting a picture, but it was still very cool to see him. The rest of the day was a bit of sightseeing and relaxing.

SNL1

I remember watching Louisville play Cincinnati in The Big East championship which was also in NYC that weekend. We decided to leave our hotel and head over to the studio at exactly 9:30pm. I don’t know if Mike could tell I was anxious to get going, but I could tell he was set on 9:30. We walked over to 30 Rock and I was kind of nervous. I just kept hoping that we would get in because again, I wasn’t even sure if we were guaranteed a seat. We got there and because I was the one who received the email, I stood in a small line to claim my tickets. Mike went to “Kara’s Line” to hold our spot in that line. (Forgot to mention the email said something about checking in with Kara’s line). I very quickly checked in with two ladies, showed them my email and my I.D. and was given my tickets. Mine said #259. SNL2We stood in “Kara’s Line” with probably about 25 people in front of us – good thing we didn’t get there at 10:45 like that guy said! More people kept filing in behind us so we were not the last ones in line. There were at least two other separate lines of similar length. There was also a smaller line across from us that we later guessed were people who had some kind of connections (those people ended up sitting on the floor). I figured the studio would not be able to hold this many people and that we might be cut out. I was #259 after all! After a few minutes, a lady we thought was the head of the pages came over and asked if we were excited and to get ready to have fun! She mentioned that we all should brag to friends as this is really the hardest ticket to get and even gave the stats of the number of people who put n for tickets vs. who actually gets them. Unfortunately, I forget what they were though. Honestly, her saying all of this really enhanced my confidence big time. But later she said it to another line and that line ended up being the first ones let up! Well sure enough she comes back to us and said that we were next. I was so pumped. I almost could not believe it. It really was happening; I was seeing Saturday Night Live.

We passed through the metal detectors and on to the elevators and were reminded again that no pictures were allowed and to turn off our phones. We had to show our tickets to another page and each received a wristband. Once upstairs we stood in another line which led to the studio. There were a few starts and stops with the line until we were led all the way in and were directed to seats on the far right side (if you are looking at the stage). I certainly was not complaining about the seats although the couple next to me was. I was just thrilled to be there. We watched the crew working hard to set up all of the skits, yet still making sure we could see enough. There were also TV monitors above us. I noticed a few open bleacher seats looking directly at the stage which were later filled by Jonah’s parents and other family/friends. I say parents because it was the man and woman who were with him when we saw him earlier. After sitting there for a little while Jason Sudiekis came out and announced that we couldn’t use cell phones, take pics, etc. He also criticized the section we were in referring to it as the “Shitty Seats”. While we applauded and laughed he continued to joke that in about 20 minutes we would know what he’s talking about and that he hoped we DVR’d it. Then he reminded us once more about phones/cameras, housekeeping issues (fire exits, etc.) and assured us we were going to see a great show, and to have fun. He left and Kenan Thompson came out and sang “Long Train Runnin’” by the Doobie Brothers, with Nasim Pedrad, Abbie and Vanessa Bayer as backup singers. That was pretty cool – who knew they did stuff like that? The band played with Kenan and when he was finished, they continued to play a few more songs and were great.

Then the show was ready to get started.

Everyone could tell that we were about to go live and I was very anxious. We watched the cold open, a skit making fun of Rush Limbaugh; which was very funny. “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” Legendary Don Pardo announced the cast, musical guest and our host for the evening, Jonah Hill. Personally, I thought he seemed a bit nervous when he came out, even though he had hosted before. His monologue set up a pre-taped skit about being nominated for an Oscar. When the video ended and went back to Jonah on stage, Tom Hanks came out! The whole thing was very funny. In between commercials the crew was going crazy setting up for the next skit. The first skit from the break was very funny; Jonah portraying a 6 year old Jewish kid at Benihana with his father, who is on a date. Then was the Digital Short: which was kind of like SportsScience. Hilarious. A few other skits I remember were J Pop America and Brutus the Ape. At one point during the show I’m pretty sure Jonah’s dad checked his phone, which is a huge no-no, to which an usher quickly went over to him. He looked flustered and did not hand over his phone (The page must not have known it was the host’s father). Then Weekend Update came on which had Kristen Wiig as Paula Deen, Andy Samburg as Sarah Palin and Bill Hader as Stefon, a fan favorite. Once again, all were very funny. The other skits were Wiig as Liza Minnelli trying to turn off a lamp, and a proposal skit which somehow turned into the entire cast cast singing a Coolio song (the last of the night). That skit was shot right below where we sat and the cast even passed through the floor audience! I swear you can hear us laughing and/or clapping in half of these skits.

Throughout the show, I enjoyed seeing cast member’s facial reactions during skits, and I could read the cue cards of what some members were going to say. The two songs performed by The Shins, were also really good. They were “It’s Only Life” and “Simple Song”. During the show we waved at people like Fred, Seth, Jason, Bill, and others. Some we wished luck, others we just waved to and yelled their names. There was one point during commercials when there was going to be an ESPN skit, with Jay Pharoah. The crew set it all up, but it must have had to cut because they took it down minutes before they went back live. It was kind of amazing how quickly the crew took it down. One member yelled “Ya crew!” which led to applause from the audience. The entire cast, band and cameos appeared on stage for the final goodbye and I truly could not believe an hour and a half went by so quickly!

After the show, Mike and I waited in the lobby behind the seats, simply because so many other people were. One lady was asking others if they were waiting for someone, but we avoided her. Taran walked by us and I told him he had a great show tonight, which received a thanks. Little later when we started walking away I turned around and saw Jack McBrayer going from one room to another. We continued to walk slowly towards the elevators and we stopped at one point, turned around and saw Kenan walking our way. We both said waddup and he said hey and put out his hand. I told him great job and that I was a big fan. Mike said that the, “stoned since Good Burger” line from the week before was great. Kenan laughed and said have a good night.

We eventually went downstairs and stood around in that lobby for a bit. While just standing there, we saw Scott Adsit, Lutz and one of the female characters from 30 Rock (not Tina Fey). I told them all that I loved the show. They were very nice and thanked me and said to have a good night. I kind of wish I had asked for pictures. Funny side note – Lutz started walking towards me when I said hello, as if he knew me. After a couple steps he must have realized that I was not somebody he knew and kinda awkwardly said hi and walked away. Finally, some guy came over to tell us that we had to wait outside. We were going to go back to the hotel, but I kind of just stood around outside the building. There was a decent sized crowd already waiting outside for pictures/autographs, so we stood a bit on our own. Sure enough a bunch of cast members and writers came out and got into cars/taxis. Bobby, Fred, Higgins, Abby, Taran, Jay, Vanessa all came out basically one by one, mostly all quickly chatting with the fans. Jay made it all the way down to us and we talked to him about the skit that got cut, and he seemed pretty positive about it. He was a good guy; great attitude, and took a picture with nearly everyone, including us. SNL4A little later, Vanessa came down to us too and we took a picture with her. She was also really nice and we told her she’s doing a great job and wished her luck. SNL5At one point Lorne came out with two other guys but they went directly into a limo. I think I was the first to notice that one of them was Martin Short! The other was Stephen Spielberg! I didn’t really see him but Mike and other people were yelling his name. Unfortunately we didn’t get to meet them – that would have been nuts.

A while went by before anyone else came out, so we just decided to leave. I would have stayed all night, but it was cold, and we really didn’t know when anyone else was coming, or if we would be able to take a picture with them. I’ve always dreamed that we could’ve somehow snuck into some kind of after party. Either way, that was one the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. It truly makes me want to be at every live show, watching it from home is just not the same. Even watching old episodes, I can’t help but think what it must have been like to be there for that particular show. While I may never be a cast member or writer for SNL, seeing it live ultimately encouraged me to do something like this blog: an outlet for my thoughts and ideas. I highly recommend attempting to see Saturday Night Live because  you really will have a once in a lifetime experience.

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