I glanced over the large pile of stuff sitting by my door, checking for the last time to make sure that I had everything I needed: blankets, pillow, gloves, hat, scarf, fuzzy socks, my North Face jacket, an extra sweatshirt, water bottles, granola bars, and readings for school that I was two weeks behind on…the bare essentials for spending the night on a New York City sidewalk.
While absentmindedly scrolling through Tumblr and avoiding my responsibilities several weeks earlier, I stumbled across the information that Lady Gaga would be the host and musical guest for Saturday Night Live on November 16. I have been a self-proclaimed “little monster” for about four straight years, and have laughed until I cried at SNL since I was approximately six or seven years old. I immediately texted Erin, my best friend from high school who currently goes to Hofstra University on Long Island. This was an adventure that was right up our alley. We had to go.
SNL tickets are free, but they’re not exactly easy to come by. Most tickets are reserved for VIPs (friends and family of the cast and that week’s host and musical guest). NBC also runs a lottery every August, where you can email them your contact information and are presented with two tickets to a predetermined dress rehearsal or live show if your name is picked. The rest of the tickets go to people who wait in the standby line on 48th Street near Rockefeller Center. NBC interns hand out numbers at seven o’clock the morning of a show for both the dress rehearsal and the eleven-thirty broadcast. The number of standby ticketholders allowed in depends on the number of seats left over after the VIPs and lottery winners have been admitted. So no matter how early you get in line or what number you are, there is no guarantee that you will get in.
Armed with my amateur camping gear and a plethora of first-person accounts of SNL standby attempts that I’d read on the internet, I took the Metro North into Manhattan and walked the six blocks up 5th Avenue to 48th Street. I was pleased to see how short the line was. I was sure it would have already snaked around the corner by the time I got there, but it only stretched about half a block. Erin was finishing up a project for school and wouldn’t make it into the city until later in the evening, so I set my stuff down behind a woman in her early twenties and began my wait.
The first few hours, while the sun was still out and the weather was relatively mild (at least for November), went by in a flash. I caught up on some reading for school, then started talking to the guy who got in line behind me. I was eventually joined for a couple hours by my friend Spencer, who was visiting the city for a week. Around seven o’clock, he left, and Erin showed up. People in the standby line are allowed to leave for minimal short intervals in order to get food and use the bathroom, so we headed to the McDonald’s a couple blocks away before returning to eat our food, catch up on each other’s lives for a few hours, and eventually try to get some sleep.
Sleeping on a New York City sidewalk in November is exactly as comfortable as it sounds. The temperature didn’t dip below forty-five degrees, but I still had to layer up and cuddle close to Erin in order to stay warm. I woke up about once every hour, either because I shifted in my sleep and lost some of my blanket, or because a truck blared its horn loudly as it drove down the street. And then, around three in the morning, it started to rain.
Erin took action immediately, running across the street to the Duane Reade to purchase a two-person umbrella so that we’d at least be able to keep our heads dry. But by that point, it was impossible to fall back asleep. The blanket I had been laying on was soaked, and I was chilled to the bone despite all my layers. So we huddled under the umbrella for the next four hours, really starting to hope this whole thing would pay off.
When we had originally decided to try for tickets, I had wanted to do the live show. There was just something alluring about the sound of my laughter possibly being heard on live television. Perhaps the camera would even pan to the area of the audience that we’d be seated in. But when Erin went to get some of the free breakfast that NBC was providing, she told me that the vendor had predicted that Gaga would be bringing a huge entourage to the live show that would take up a lot of the VIP seats. We had better odds trying for dress rehearsal.
Finally, seven o’clock rolled around, and NBC interns began moving up the line to give out standby numbers. Erin and I confidently declared that we wanted to be put down for dress rehearsal. We were given numbers nineteen and twenty, and told to return to Rockefeller Center at seven o’clock that night. Exhausted and soaking wet, we headed back uptown to my dorm to take a nap and shower. Before we knew it, we were on our way back downtown again, fingers crossed that our efforts would pay off.
Another line awaited us when we entered the overheated lobby of 30 Rockefeller Center at seven o’clock that evening. The interns monitoring the line waited until approximately quarter of eight, when it didn’t look like anymore VIPs or lottery winners were coming, to let the first thirty of us through the metal detectors and into yet another line in front of the elevators. I knew from the accounts that I had read on the internet that this didn’t mean squat; you weren’t “in” until your butt was in a seat in Studio 8H. At five of eight, they let all thirty of us into the elevators, and before I knew it, an admission bracelet was being tied around my wrist and I was running down the hall to be seated by another intern. We had made it.
Saturday Night Live dress rehearsals are exactly like the live show, except better. The cast gives it their all as if it was eleven-thirty, and the dress rehearsal is still taped in case something goes wrong with the live broadcast. The sketches are longer, and there are more of them, some of which are too risqué to show on national television.
It was one of the greatest nights of my life. Our seats weren’t the best, and we ended up watching most of the show on the monitors, but I didn’t care. I still got to see people in real life that I had previously only been able to see on my television and computer screens. Bobby Moynihan even waved to our section of the audience after a sketch was over. It was awesome to watch the crew change the sets and see the cast members get a whole new look in the space of ninety seconds. And of course, there was Gaga. There were moments where I was no more than twenty feet away from a woman I had idolized for over four years. It was fun, exciting, and totally worth seventeen hours of waiting on a New York City sidewalk.