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Tim Goes To A Taping Of ‘Last Week Tonight With John Oliver’

It wasn’t easy, but I got in!

“I think he’d live near the top”

– Two girls discussing Donald Trump outside Trump Plaza.

I was watching Maury on Thursday morning, as I do most mornings, but this occasion was different as Anna was getting ready for work at the same time. The ad for tickets to the show came on, to which Anna laughed and said, “That could be some fun!”. Indeed it could, Anna, very much so.
Later that night I was watching Conan, the late night talk show, not the Arnie flick, and I mentioned how much I would love to be in the audience for a taping, because I’ve been a Conan O’Brien fan for the best bit of 20 years, but forgot the show moved from N.Y. to L.A.
Anna began looking at how to get tickets to shows and stumbled across a ballot system for an extensive list of TV shows, of which we narrowed down to four that we’d definitely want to be in the crowd for:

last_weekThe website stated that Maury and Jerry Springer are easy to get tickets to. In fact, Anna received an email the next day confirming that we had been selected to receive tickets for Jerry Springer. You read that correctly, we’re going to be in the audience of The Jerry Springer Show in a few weeks. Saturday Night Live is apparently extremely difficult, bordering on impossible, to get tickets for, but there are two ways to get tickets for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver; You can apply on the website at 3:00pm on a Wednesday on a “first in, first served” basis, or you can wait outside the studio on a Sunday afternoon and try to get standby tickets for that night’s taping. I had no plans so we decided that that’s what I was going to do.

I always found John Oliver hilarious during his skits on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, but it was when he filled in for Stewart during his three-month vacation that I discovered how truly funny this man was, wondering how long it would be before he had his own show. That is exactly what happened last year and for those unfamiliar with Last Week Tonight, a little background info:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is an American late-night talk and news satire television program hosted by comedian John Oliver. Last Week Tonight shares some similarities with Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where Oliver was previously featured as a correspondent and fill-in host, as it takes a satirical look at news, politics and current events on a weekly basis.
Oliver has said that he has full creative freedom, including free rein to criticize corporations.

The format is John Oliver sitting at a desk in front of a backdrop of a skyline containing buildings from around the world as he reports news of the week, or a political issue. Each episode covers a small handful of shorter segments, and then one main segment — while the short segments almost always relate to news of recency, the episode’s main segment covers in length and detail a political issue (even if that issue did not see attention that specific week).

The ticket sign-up is around 4:15pm and it was recommended that you line up about two hours in advance, so our plan was as follows; I would get up, have lunch and start walking to the studio at some time between 1:00-1:30pm. It would take about 45 minutes for me to reach the studio on 57th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenue. Anna would have brunch with friends and meet me there around the same time. Let’s see if our strategy would come to fruition.

Sunday, August 23, 2015
We went out on Saturday night, so I woke up around 11am on Sunday, had a cup of coffee while watching an episode of Silicon Valley, jumped in the shower and then went to the awesome ramen restaurant around the corner.
As seems to be the case almost everywhere I go now, I ended up being seated near a table of frat-boys, caps backward, all talking about how much poontang they’re going to get this year. An example of the pearls of wisdom spewing forth from these pillars of society:

Chad: “She should definitely be a Victoria’s Secret Angel. She has the perfect body for it and the perfect personality, as well.”
The Other Chad: “Bro, you can’t tell a girl’s personality from a photo…”

I finished a damn fine bowl of noodles while listening to these pituitary retards and then I was on my way with plenty of time to spare.
Walking in Manhattan is quite easy, as the whole island is a grid of streets and avenues, all of which are numbered. The streets are straightforward, however, whoever was responsible for organising the avenues might have suffered from A.D.D., as that is the only way to comprehend this system, going from east to west:

  1. First Ave.
  2. Second Ave.
  3. Third Ave.
  4. Lexington Ave.
  5. Park Ave.
  6. Madison Ave.
  7. Fifth Ave.
  8. Sixth Ave.
  9. Seventh Ave…..
The line doesn't seem to bad...

The line doesn’t seem too bad…

My walk took me from 35th Street to 57th Street and from Third Avenue across to 10th Avenue and all was going well until I found myself in Times Square. Times Square is kind of cool the first time you see it, but it’s a pain in the ass if you are actually trying to get somewhere; There are thousands of people taking photos and looking at maps, film crews constantly setting up shots and people with ridiculous signs trying to sell you something. There is just no way you can get through there unscathed, but fortunately, on this occasion, it didn’t slow me down too badly.
I eventually arrived at the studio (left) at a bit before 2:00pm and was instantly relieved to see only four people waiting. After about a quarter of an hour Anna called me to say she would be there in about another 10 or 15 minutes, but, in true Anna style, actually took an hour to show up. By that time there were now six people in front of us, as a couple at the front had been saving a spot for two of their friends, but I was doing the same thing, not only for Anna, but also for one of her colleagues. Luckily, nobody behind us was annoyed.
At about 4:15pm, a woman with a clipboard came out from the studio, took the names, state/country of origin, e-mail addresses and phone numbers of everyone in the line, which amounted to about 30 people by this stage. She went on to tell everyone that this was in no way a guarantee of a ticket and that we now needed to return at 5:45pm. We had an hour and a half to kill, so off we went to a nearby bar for some drinks and some oysters.

We returned on time and, by this time, there were legitimate ticket-holders in a separate queue with more constantly continuing to arrive. For some reason a lot of bums had started to linger around the area, too, but Anna’s colleague informed me that they were just junkies heading to the methadone clinic down the street. That’s alright then, because I would have been really pissed if they managed to get tickets but I didn’t!
After the ticket-holders were all inside they began to call out people on the list, two at a time. Then they called out my name, “Tim Abel, are you with anybody else?”, to which I replied I was with my wife and one other. It turned out that, at that stage at least, there was only a maximum of seven unclaimed seats and I was the seventh person called up. Anna and her colleague both knew how much I love John Oliver and both insisted that I go in. I was then told there was still a possibility that they would be able to get in if standing room became available.

It's true, I really do like pickles...

It’s true, I really do like pickles…

In the past I worked at channel nine studios in Melbourne on several occasions as part of my job, plus we were taken to a taping of Sale of the Century in primary school, so I had a decent idea of what to expect. The seven of us standby guys were taken inside, walked through a metal detector and informed again that this was still not a guarantee of getting a seat. It was at this time I realised I could really, really be in trouble. Why? because the security guard said to me, “Hey, cool shirt!”. The shirt I was wearing? The one pictured, right. I bought it at a market stall on Saturday when I also bought some of their homemade pickles and now I am just about to more than likely become an audience member of an internationally televised satirical comedy show in a bright green t-shirt that leaves me open to dick jokes. Whoops…

We were told after passing through the metal detector to turn off our phones, John Oliver would do a quick Q&A so don’t ask any creepy questions and that this was our last chance to go to the bathroom. After standing around most of the afternoon and then having a few beers at a pub, I needed to take advantage of that oppourtunity and then we were taken two at a time to the elevator that would take us to the studio. There was an odd number of us, so I spent an uncomfortable moment alone in limbo. I mentioned that Anna was waiting to get in and asked if there was a chance she would. The woman watching me said she was still outside and that it may happen. I was then taken to the elevator, told, “Wow, you must really like pickles!” by the female lift operator and then guided to my seat, the final vacant seat in the audience.

Inside the studio after the taping

Inside the studio after the taping

The studio had a capacity of about 200 people and, because of the need for a second part added to the set, no room for standing room audience members. It really looked like Anna wasn’t getting in, but I was still distracted by looking for her for quite some time.
My seat was next to a Russian family and I had heard them speaking English to somebody earlier, but for the rest of the evening, the man next to me would spend the entire night sitting with his arms folded, refusing to applaud and barely cracking a smile.

As is the case with most live tapings, there was a warm-up guy to get the audience into it. On this occasion, the one we got was actually pretty funny, I was just begging that he wouldn’t see my pickle t-shirt and roast me in front of everyone. He then took a t-shirt gun, mentioned he was untrained in using it and tried to shoot it without realising the t-shirt had fallen out. He then accidentally shot the next one at such a pronounced angle that it hit one of the lights.
John Oliver came out next, did his Q&A session and what immediately struck me was how naturally funny he is. His work isn’t just the result of a great group of writers, he is absolutely hilarious. One question that had me laughing:

Audience Member: “Do you have any topics you are working on for future episodes of the show?”
John Oliver: “Yes, otherwise this would be our very final episode.” 

Anyway, here is the main segment of the episode that I went for, however, unfortunately I can’t find a free video of the full episode (if you’re willing to pay, the full video is available here). A few points of interest:

  1. From 04:04 – 04:35 required a second take because Oliver said “strips” instead of “stripes”. His explanation at the time?

    “I Ron Burgundied it, I knew it should have been ‘stripes’, but it was spelt wrong on the teleprompter and I just read it! ‘Go f__k yourself, San Diego!'” (If you don’t get the reference, you need to see Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.)

  2. From 10:24 – 11:25 also required a second take, as Oliver could not stop laughing at the context of the story. Even during the second take you see him start to slip.

One last thing, this clip is definitely NSFW!

All in all, I was in the studio for about an hour and a half, the full episode is half an hour long. I had such a great time, it was even better than expected, that man is absolutely hysterical and I didn’t get called out for my pickle t-shirt. Unfortunately, Anna and her colleague didn’t get in, but they didn’t mind too much, Anna just went and got a massage. The show is on break for two weeks, so on Wednesday at 3:00pm I’m going to try to get tickets to the September 13th episode. We’ve still got Jerry Springer, too.


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12 Comments on Tim Goes To A Taping Of ‘Last Week Tonight With John Oliver’

  1. Leor Tehrani // March 5, 2016 at 6:01 pm // Reply

    How much were tickets approximately for the show?

  2. About how much were tickets when you purchased them?

  3. Nice report. Is it possible though to turn on your phone after the taping and make pictures in the studio (in other words did you make those pictures yourself)?

  4. Nice report. Is it possible though to take pictures with your phone after the taping in the studio (in other words, did you make the pictures yourself)?

    • I took the ones of the set, it’s okay while you’re first seated and nothing is happening, but at soon as the crew comes out you need to switch your phone off.

  5. Dude, this is the most concise guide to getting tickets, thank you so much!

  6. Hi Tim !
    Could you tell precisely at what time you did get out of the studio ?
    I would like to know if i could go to the taping and then go to a knicks game which is at 7:30 in Madison Square Garden.
    Thank you very much !

    • Hey Jeffery,
      To be honest, I really don’t remember what time I got out of there, but I highly doubt it was quite that early so I wouldn’t be planning to go to MSG straight after. My wife says that while I was in there, she went for a drink with a friend and then went home so it takes a while.

  7. Dr. Tan’s Travels // February 15, 2019 at 1:09 pm // Reply

    ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’ returns this Sunday, February 17, 2019 and tickets are free…

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