Ever since I can remember, I’ve been staying up late to watch Saturday Night Live. Whether it was with my parents, or in my dorm room at college, or now on the couch with my husband (who just barely makes it to the end without falling asleep). So when we moved to NYC, I knew that getting the coveted tickets to SNL’s weekly show was at the top of my city bucket list.
I read lots of different articles and blogs about getting tickets to Saturday Night Live. I’ll link one of the more helpful ones here, but there is a ton of information online from others that have done it before. During the month of August each year, there is a ticket lottery where you can enter your name in to be chosen for tickets. You don’t get to select your show or the week if you win them, but you are technically in front of the ‘standby’ crowd if in fact you do get chosen. This means seats are more guaranteed and a little better in the studio. Information on that lottery (as well as NBC’s information on standby) can be found here.
Everything we read encouraged us to show up outside the studio sometime on Friday afternoon (the day before the show). The tickets are given out at 7:00 AM on Saturday morning, but you generally can’t expect to show up at that time and get tickets. The show we were going to was featuring Chance the Rapper as the musical guest and host, so although he is incredible – we figured he wouldn’t draw as big of a crowd as Taylor Swift, Harry Styles or BTS. (These artists drew crowds as early as the Monday morning before the show!) We arrived at the 48th street entrance at 4:30 PM, which is about 15 hours prior to the ticket release. We estimated our spot in line at about 30 or so. While you start at the 48th spot, as of this year, they now move the line at 7PM to the 49th Street NBC Studios entrance. This (as many line goers said who had done this before us) is quite an improvement to where everyone previously lined up. 49th Street is clean, wide and leaves you protected by barricades, which makes sleeping/lounging in the street a little more enticing than being on a busy exposed street.
While many fellow line-sitters around us were able to sleep for several hours of the night, John and I opted for Netflix binging and each only slept for an hour or so. This was fine for us because we had completely blocked off Saturday morning/afternoon so that we could plan to sleep after (hopefully) receiving our tickets. The Rockefeller Plaza concourse (an entrance is located right at 49th street where the line begins) is open from 6:00 AM – 11:00 PM. This is FANTASTIC because until 11:00 PM, this is where you can find food, coffee and (clean!) bathrooms. (This is also where I got to say hello to Lorne Michaels as he was leaving for the day at around 8PM, so keep an eye out for high profile faces in this area!) For bathroom needs at other times of the night, there is a 24-hour McDonalds (note: you get what you expect, but at least it’s a free facility to use) at 47th & 6th. Other line friends noted that they sometimes used the local bars if the owners were ok with it (sometimes they grabbed a beer quickly, used the bathroom and then came back to the line), and there is a local deli/convenience store close by that sometimes was available too. But your most reliable restroom option was the McDonalds, and Rockefeller Plaza from 6:00 AM – 11:00 PM.
To ‘camp out,’ we brought two chairs, two blankets (one to lay on the ground to separate our bags from the dirt of the street), snacks, iPad + headphones, a portable phone/iPad charger, and layers of clothing. At 5PM when we arrived the temperature was mild, but by 4AM it was pretty chilly, so adding layers throughout the night was crucial in staying warm. We brought cash for the dollar store around the corner and in case we wanted to grab a drink or snack off of a food truck parked near by. Our chairs have little pillows with them, which I would recommend if you intend to sleep. Our neighbor in the line used a large black trash bag to lay under her setup, and the people next to her used a tarp. She had a fold out cot that sat off the ground, and a sleeping bag and pillow. She slept for several hours, and her setup indicates that she brings those purposely to do so. (She was super nice and brought her Corgi named Devito. This was her 20th time in the line, and she had made several friends whom she’d been in line with before. There were other people that had seen the show upwards of 50 times or more, which is incredible. One guy mentioned he does this camping out gig just about every other weekend!)
We got through a whole series on Netflix and I finished a movie while we were camped outside. Several people walking by asked what we were waiting for; at times it was fun to talk to people about it, because they were genuinely interested in what you were doing and would stand around and chat for a few minutes. However, we did have just a few bothersome folks who would say things like “I would never do that,” “why in the world are you doing this?” and “you’re literally waiting all night just to get tickets?” So if you can handle the nay-sayers, it really wasn’t bad at all. A tip I had read in other articles was bring a sign to put at your setup, and that way people will read the sign and not bother you with a question. (I didn’t mind chatting with people, so we did not bring a sign with us.) When the clock struck 6AM, we went for a bathroom break into Rockefeller Plaza. We then packed up our camp around 6:45 AM, eagerly anticipating the ticket release at 7AM.
They came out with the tickets at about 7:15AM, which was pretty prompt considering. At this point, you can choose between the Dress Rehearsal and the Live Taping. We gathered lots of intel from people on which one to choose, though we were pretty set on the Live Taping for our first experience. The Dress Rehearsal gives you more jokes and more sketches that eventually may get cut from the live show. This gives you an opportunity to see more of the cast, and more of a behind the scenes in terms of jokes that are written. The dress rehearsal runs a bit longer than the live show, but many say they prefer this because you see more of it. A downfall, however, is if there are celebrity cameos, or special guests, they often won’t perform during the dress rehearsal. Therefore seeing the Live Taping is the most effective way to ensure you’re seeing all of the surprises that SNL has up their sleeves for that week. When we got our tickets, we were number 35/36 in line, and number 17/18 for the Live Taping. This meant that the 30 or so people in front of us chose an even split of Dress Rehearsal vs Live Taping. I read that showing up for the dress rehearsal gives you a better shot at getting in if you are further back in the line, and the night we went about 70 people from the line got in for the dress rehearsal. They were good about telling us how many people had chosen each one when we requested our tickets, so when you request your tickets you can make your decision based on your place in line if you’d like.
We requested the live taping, and therefore had to show up at the NBC studios shop no later than 10PM on Saturday night. (We went home and slept for 8 hours, 10/10 recommend doing that if you can!) When you arrive, you are corralled in a line that is based on your numbered ticket (so there’s no harm/benefit to showing up right at 10 or earlier than that). I love that your spot in line is guaranteed at this point, especially after spending the night on the street. When they take you through the metal detector, you are continuously warned that at any point you can be ‘cut’ from the line, meaning until your butt is in a seat in the studio, you are not confirmed. (We talked to a guy behind us that said one week he made it into the studio, and there were no more seats left and was turned away – talk about crushing!) They make you turn off your phones as you get onto the elevator, so I couldn’t even text family or friends to let them know I was confirmed. It truly is a crap shoot, which was both anxiety-fueling and a little bit exhilarating. When we got off of the elevator, you are instructed to walk down a hallway where finally your ticket is taken. This is usually a pretty good sign of your attendance, but again not guaranteed. Your next steps are directly into the top of the studio (the bottom level that you often see on TV is VIPS, friends of the cast, performers, etc). From this point you give the number in your party and are ushered to your seat (if you are a large group you are split up, so just be leery of this if you go with a large group). We were seats 60A and 60B, and at this point — when our butts were in the seats — we did a little happy dance!
The show itself was incredible. Michael Che served as the warm up for the crowd (if you’ve ever seen a live taping of anything, or even gone to a comedy club, you know there’s a performer who gets the audience excited and hyped — this is especially important to a group largely made up of people who slept on the street the night before!). Then Keenan Thompson and three of the female cast members (Heidi, Ego, and Chloe) warmed us up even further with a performance of Gimme Some Lovin’ by the Spencer Davis Group which was a fun intro! It was so cool to see the cast hug and laugh with one another and the host before the show. From watching the sets change, to hearing the producers count down to show time, it was an incredible experience.
I want to leave some of the behind the scenes magic out for those of you who might experience this yourselves, but I do have to talk about a hilarious part of the show we did not anticipate seeing. The host is involved in just about every sketch, so they need to be out of one scene and into another very quickly. In order to do this, SNL has one of their producers (or handlers??) quite literally drag the host off set and back on set. It was one of the funniest parts of seeing the behind the scenes. Imagine when your mom was mad at you when you were misbehaving in the grocery store and she dragged you down the aisles; this was EXACTLY what this female handler was doing to Chance the Rapper. It was comical. I’m sure it was necessary, but definitely comical.
At the end of the show, there are barricades set up at the 49th + 6th street entrance for those audience members to meet and greet any of the cast that comes out to visit at the end of the show. We were able to meet Alex Moffat, Melissa Villasenior, Kyle Mooney, Beck Bennet, Aidy Bryant, and Chris Redd. (Just one or two of the other cast members came out after left at 2:15 AM. We learned that higher profile characters, Keenan Thompson, Kate McKinnon, Chance the Rapper, Cecily Strong don’t typically come out at the end of the show.) We then slept until noon the next day, and had happy comical dreams of SNL.
After sharing our experience on social media, I got some feedback from others that had done it in the past. For example, some say that they have showed up at 4:30AM and have been able to get a seat at the show. For our first experience, I wanted to make sure that we had the best chance of getting seats, so I have no regrets for the camping outside experience. But if you feel like you can gamble, we’ve heard between 3-6 hours before can sometimes still get you into the show.
If you’ve made it to the end – you’re probably an SNL fan who is interested in potentially doing this yourself one day! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out – I’m happy to pass on any knowledge that I can regarding our SNL experience!