So…you wanna go to SNL?
It’s not as hard as you think…but it does involve waiting. Lots of waiting. And a little bit of luck. I should say that, too.
What do I know? I have been to SNL a successful 13-for-13 times. I have attended 2 live shows and 11 dress rehearsals. I attended 6 shows during Season 42, including the premiere, the holiday episode, and the finale. If SNL is taping and I can go, I will go.
I’m going to do my best to answer all of your questions here. If I miss something, ask me in the comments, and I will get back to you! So, let’s get started.
All right…what’s the get-a-ticket process?
A standby line for SNL tickets forms on W. 48th between 5th and 6th. Often, the line starts in the middle and heads towards 6th Avenue, but in the event of a super popular taping, they occasionally have the line go towards 5th. I recommend walking down from 6th towards 5th. If you don’t see anyone on line on the 6th Avenue side and think it’s your lucky day, you’re probably (sadly 😦 ) mistaken. Keep walking past the plaza entrance, as the line is most likely going towards 5th. Note: The line also sometimes goes towards 5th if the Nintendo Store has something going on, so always ask whoever you get in line behind.
At 7 AM the morning of the taping, at least two delightful NBC Pages will come out with tickets and a clipboard. This will be a magical moment, because at this time, you have probably been standing outside for hours in some possibly unfortunate weather (more on that later). They will start in order and ask you if you would prefer tickets to the Live Show or Dress Rehearsal. If you’re first in line, I’d highly recommend Live, but if you are like everyone else, your number probably won’t be as favorable.
Once you have selected your show, the Pages will ask for your I.D. – DO NOT FORGET THIS! They will write your name on the back of your card and on a list. This is so you can’t sell/give your ticket to anyone else. You will be required to check in later that night, and they will check your I.D. again.
Follow the instructions on the card, show up to the NBC Store at the designated time (get there early), and find the Pages so that you can check in. As each ticket has a number, the Pages will help you get back in the order you were in. You will probably see some of the people you were standing near while you waited. And then, the possibility of you getting in begins (Yeah, it technically hadn’t started yet).
I should note that a Page may also start at the end of the line and may give you a number like 250. They are starting at the back of the ticket pile, but not every ticket before 250 is going to be given out. The Pages will regroup and they will close the gap and will connect the line. The person in front of you may be #80.
Okay, I’ve got a ticket…what happens next?
Just because you have a ticket does not mean you are guaranteed a seat. A number of seats are allotted to different people:
- those who miraculously won the lottery (enter during the month of August – it’s the only time you can!)
- guests of the host, musical guest & cast, NBC staff, etc.
There is no way of knowing how many seats are actually available when you get there. There’s also no guarantee that one show gives you a better chance than the other (though I would venture a guess and say Dress does). As they will tell you, you aren’t guaranteed a seat until your butt is in it. One time, my husband and I were the last two to get sent up to get seats. There were at least 10 people behind us that had gone through security and got to the next step of getting into the show that were left behind. You can be cautiously optimistic, but don’t get carried away.
After everyone is checked in, NBC staff will tell you the process. They’re going to take about 30 at a time (I’ve seen them take smaller numbers, so don’t panic if they say 15) through security. When you get to security, please take everything out of your pockets before it’s your turn. Seriously, just do it. Everyone gets really annoyed with you when they are waiting for you, including security. You can keep on your jewelry.
When you’ve gone through security, they will have you line up two-by-two in front of a staircase until everyone in your group has gone through. This is the time they’ll ask you to turn off your phone. You CANNOT take pictures anymore at this time. There are absolutely no pictures allowed upstairs or in the studio. If they catch you, two things can happen:
1) They will stand over you while you delete your photo (definitely will happen)
2) They will escort you out, thus ending your SNL dreams (I have only seen this if you argue with staff, but it has happened)
You will be guided upstairs to another area where you will wait on line. You’re almost there! You may be standing here for a while. When staff is finally directed to send people up, they will give you a wristband and send you to an elevator. Try and put that sucker on as you are in the elevator. Usually there are 15 people in an elevator at a time.
Once you exit the elevator, a Page will direct you to towards the studio. They will be looking for your wristband and at this time, they will take your SNL ticket. Then, they will (hopefully) direct you to your seats. You will either enter straight ahead, or to the right.
Finally, a Page will direct you to the seat you will occupy. Take your seat and enjoy the show! All the seats are obstructed in one way or another (you’ll understand what I mean once you’re in there), but there are monitors so you can always see what is happening.
So…how do I up my chances of getting in? When should I get in line?
Obviously, the earlier you get there, the better your chances, particularly for live. I live pretty close to 48th and 6th, so I often check the line around 5 PM on Friday afternoon and do a count. If you see 30 people, don’t get discouraged – remember that some of them are going to take Live and some of them are going to take Dress. If they split down the middle and you get on line right after them, you’re #16. That’s not so bad.
I usually do multiple checks before I decide the time I am going to line up. I check somewhere between 9 and 11 and then make my final decision. If there are 7 people, then I would probably go home and pack up, too, because I would have a good shot at Live. If there are more than 50 people in line and I really want to go, I would also go home, pack up my things, and head back. If the line is between 25 & 40, I will most likely go home, take a nap, and come back between 1 and 3 AM.
I’m sorry, did you say 1 – 3 AM?
I sure did. If the weather is miserable, I am not going to spend an extra 2-4 hours outside when I don’t think that other people are going to be coming anytime soon. I might also ask the last person when they got there. If it’s 11 PM and they said they got there at 9, then I’m going to hold off because there seems to be a lack of urgency. When I went to see Ryan Gosling host, there were 35 people at around 11 PM. I came back around 1:30 AM, and there were about 45 people. Not a huge difference, and I still got in.
I also noticed there is an influx of people that come around 2:30-3, so if it’s someone I really want to see, then I would probably come closer to 1. There is no way to predict, so go with your gut instinct.
What should I bring?
It’s all about the weather. Wear layers. Hand warmers are great. Put some warmers in your shoes. Bring something to sit on. I have a vinyl blanket, but some people bring lawn chairs or use cardboard. That ground is cold. You can stand, but it’s a long time to stand in one place. If you’re going to try and sleep, bring some blankets. Yes, you can sleep on the street. There is security, and there are also a lot of people around, so you are safe. I just always make sure to connect my valuables to my waist, fanny pack style.
You can’t bring a tent. Security has to see how many people are on line at all times (and it helps prevent cutting).
It’s never a bad idea to bring snacks, an ipod, or a computer/ipad with movies to pass the time.
What if I have to go to the bathroom/need a poncho because it started pouring rain?
There is a 24 hour Duane Reade on the street and a 24 hour Deli (called Deli 48) you can walk to. The deli has a bathroom for customers, so get yourself some hot chocolate while you’re in there.
Can I really leave the line?
You can, but only for brief periods of time (think no more than 10 minutes). This is when it helps to go with someone else, because they can stay there while you take a quick break. If you’re nice and chat up the people around you, they’ll verify you were there as well and you don’t have to worry about anyone thinking you were cutting.
My friend can get there at 11 PM, but I can’t get there til 3. Can he/she hold my spot?
Nope. There will be a lot of angry people coming after you if you try to cut the line. Think about it. If you waited in line for 3 hours and someone jumped 15 people in front of you, you’d be pretty angry, too. You can hire someone to stand for you in line as long as there is an even swap, but if you have to come late, you have to go to the back of the line. Make sure you tell your friend in advance, because if I’m them, I’m either coming later, or not sitting with you. 🙂
There are better seats than others…how do I get the best seats?
I have never been able to get seats on the floor. If anyone knows that secret, I am all ears! There is no way to predict where your seats will be. Sometimes, when you’re one of the last people selected to go in, you get better seats because the staff is filling seats that were originally reserved for others. When we were the last two in for this past season’s opener, we had second row center in the balcony. Other times I have been one of the first people in and have been seated in the center. The problem is you don’t know how many actual ticketholders have shown up. If you get a seat, just be grateful – most likely, there are at least 30-40 people waiting outside who will not get in to the show.
The moment has come…do I pick Live or Dress?
Personally, I say check the numbers. I have only gone for Live tickets once when I was #9, and I was really nervous. The other time was lucky – I stopped by the NBC Store, they were letting more people in, I figured, why not, and I got in. I have heard stories where people have been #100 and have gotten in and people who were #3 and did NOT get in. After a night of standing in awful weather, I want my best option. As a result, I almost always pick Dress.
Okay, but which do you prefer?
I’m not going to lie, there is a special energy in the audience when you go to Live. It can be really special or really irritating, depending what kind of person you are. Sometimes, there will be people in the audience that will laugh at everything (which drives me crazy). I like when laughing is natural and doesn’t feel forced.
With that being said, I prefer Dress. Hear me out:
Dress is longer. You see more skits, and you get out in time so that you can see the live show at home. You can see what they chose to cut or what jokes they changed. I always find that interesting.
Weekend Update is also longer. They usually have three guests pop in instead of 2.
If there are special guests, they usually come to dress rehearsal. I still got to see Leonardo DiCaprio when he had a cameo on Jonah Hill’s episode. Unfortunately, there have been times where a cast member has to stand in for a special guest (someone stood in for John Goodman because he was currently doing a play in NYC), but they often show up.
When is the best time of year to try for SNL?
As painful as it is, the cold months. January, February, and March are probably the easier of the months (though I have had success for the December shows and in April; haven’t done too many Sept/Oct/May shows). With extremely desirable hosts, people start lining up as early as Wednesday (think Jimmy Fallon/Justin Timberlake). If you can take three days away from your life and going to SNL is on your bucket list, by all means, do it. The earliest I have ever gotten there was 10 PM on Friday night. That was for Chris Hemsworth/Zac Brown Band in freezing cold March, and I was able to get #9 (and I thought it was my best chance to get into Live – which I did). I should add that I had heating pads wrapped around my body and my partner-in-crime almost gave up by midnight because the temperature felt like 6 degrees. Those are the moments where picking Live feels painful because after being out in that weather, I had never wanted to get in so badly.
1) Do not bring a large bag or backpack with you. You cannot take it in the studio and if you want to go to the show, they will make you get rid of it.
2) Take a picture of your SNL ticket before you go to check in. In the event you go through, you will have to turn it in, so if you want the memory, take the snap at home.
3) Be nice to the people around you. You may be sitting by them later, and you’ll never know when you may need their help. I’ve also met some super cool people on line.
4) This one is super sneaky, but something to pay attention to. When you exit the elevator, they do not have you get back in order as of late. If you were #16 and somehow you end up the last person out of the elevator, you just pushed yourself 15 seats back. Sometimes it matters, sometimes it doesn’t (one guy got distracted, lost his place, and he got put on the side when he could’ve been front row balcony!). Be aware of your placement in the elevator. I try to take a spot right next to the door so I am in and out.
5) Pay attention to @NBCSNL on Twitter. This year they posted updates about giving out tickets (for example, they handed out tickets for the holiday show at midnight instead of 7 AM) and occasionally have contests. You can also check in at the NBC Store the night of (around 5 PM for Dress/8 PM for Live) to see if they are forming an additional standby line. You only have to wait a couple of hours, but it’s indoors (read: warm).
6) Don’t forget your I.D. I said it once, but it needs repeating. It’s not pretty when it is ticket time and someone can’t find their I.D. in their wallet.
If you’re still here, thanks for reading! Please feel free to write any other questions in the comments! Also, if you use my tips, please share your success stories!