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Saturday Night Live: a standby line experience worth the wait

SNL is even more impressive in person

Frigid temperatures did not prevent hundreds from spending the night in line in New York City.
Frigid temperatures did not prevent hundreds from spending the night in line in New York City.

If you happened to be one of the many people walking on West 49th Street and 6th Avenue around 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 14, you would have seen about 35 people decked out in their warmest clothes camping behind a barricade. Underneath the overhang of NBC’s famous Rainbow Room in New York City sat the standby line for one of NBC’s longest-running programs — “Saturday Night Live.” 

The standby line  

Throughout SNL’s 47th season, the show has implemented a first-of-its-kind digital standby reservation system. Traditionally, show attendees were those who won tickets through SNL’s ticket lottery or showed up at 30 Rockefeller Plaza before 7 a.m. the morning of the show to receive a ticket number. In an effort to digitize the process, SNL has made it so fans no longer have to show up and wait, sometimes days in advance, to secure a high number. They only need to be one of the first 550 people to send an email to the SNL standby line’s address with a list of up to four people who wish to attend the show. The submissions open every Thursday at 10 a.m. and close whenever the 550 person mark is met. The people who are chosen are then told to arrive at West 49th Street between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. the Friday before the show in order to check into their reservation. After 7 p.m., anyone without a reservation number is able to get in line and wait for tickets to be distributed the following morning. This reporter is one of those people. 

Around 7:30 p.m., the standby line was barricaded. It was about 33 degrees Fahrenheit, and an NBC security guard frequently patrolled the closed-down street filled with less than 40 people who would end up camping there for the next eleven-and-a-half hours. People snacked and talked about their love for SNL with their neighbors until around 11 p.m. Then, NBC’s bathrooms closed to the public for the next eight hours and the situation became less comfortable. By this time, the weather dropped to 21 degrees, and it became difficult to stay warm. People brought tents, sleeping bags, heavy blankets and a multitude of layers, yet the night was just beginning. 

At 1 a.m. (19 degrees), the barricades surrounding the line fell in a large gust of wind, waking everyone. 

At 3 a.m. (15 degrees), NBC and the police started to open a lane for cars to drive through the previously closed street, creating a clamor of car horns and commercial trucks. 

At 5 a.m. (13 degrees), early-morning risers decided to join the line, eating their breakfast and making conversation with each other.

At 7 a.m. (14 degrees), NBC employees arrived and handed out both dress rehearsal and live show tickets. Half of the hopeful audience members chose to attend the dress rehearsal — where they can see more sketches — while the other half chose the live show. This reporter received the 15th standby ticket to the live show. 

The show 

After clearing multiple checkpoints for tickets, vaccine cards and IDs, forty people on standby were let into Studio 8H for the taping of SNL hosted by Ariana DeBose with musical guest Bleachers. 

The taping started with the “Biden Spider-Man Cold Open,” a hilarious spoof of a press conference with President Biden. In the sketch, Biden (James Austin Johnson) delivered a message to Americans on how to protect themselves from the Omicron variant: Don’t see the new “Spider-Man” movie. Johnson delivered an exceptional performance as Biden with his pacing and mannerisms, and all of his jokes hit their mark. An especially notable moment was when a different version of Biden (Pete Davidson) arrived from the multiverse and offered warnings about different timelines. At the end of the sketch, a cast member dressed as Spiderman made an appearance. 

DeBose, who plays Anita in the newest movie adaptation of “West Side Story,” performed a monologue that catered to fans of the original musical. Joined by cast member Kate McKinnon, DeBose sang and danced to songs from the Broadway classic. The two expertly sang “Tonight” and “America,” among other songs, throughout the five-minute performance. 

The digital sketch “Urkel Reboot”  played for audience members on screens in Studio 8H. The premise of the sketch was a dark reboot of sitcom “Family Matters.”  Steve Urkel (Chris Redd) was seen fighting on the streets and cursing.

“Winter Formal,” a sketch about a couple who owns a dress shop, perfectly hit the school dance shopping experience. The main joke focused on the couple’s awkward son Donovan (Andrew Dismukes), whom girls were allowed to rent as a date. Dismukes perfectly encompassed the uncomfortable Donovan who is described as “having one huge computer and two ugly friends.” 

“NBA on TNT,” a sketch which centered around the Sacramento Kings facing a player shortage due to COVID-19 and having to enlist average people to join the team during a game, played well with audience members. The “regular” people described their experience on the team, while cast members playing commentators joked about their short stature and asthma attacks. One line about a little boy guarding Kyrie Irving was especially successful.

Another particularly notable sketch, “Eric Adams Press Conference,”  poked fun at the New York City mayor. In the sketch, Adams (Chris Redd) answered questions from reporters while talking about his “swagger.” He was tough with the reporters and consistently mentioned how he was a former New York City Police Officer and had never gotten sick in an absurdly hyperbolic amount of years that increased as the sketch went on. 

“New Governess,” a sketch spoofing “The Sound of Music,” saw Debose as a new nanny to a family of children. When teaching the children how to sing, instead of the typical lyrics to “Do-Re-Mi,” the lines were changed to include pop culture references such as Queen Latifah and “The Simpsons.”  The sketch highlighted DeBose’s musical ability and was very enjoyable. 

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“Kitchen Staff,” a sketch about workers at Longhorn Steakhouse who pronounced words in incorrectly, did not land as well as the other bits of the night. “Sappho,” a sketch about two professors speaking about their discovery of unknown fragments written by the Greek poet Sappho, also sputtered rather than soared. The jokes were repetitive and boring. 

The highlight of the episode was Elmo (Chloe Fineman) on “Weekend Update.” Earlier in the week, a clip of Elmo yelling at his friend Zoe’s pet rock Rocco on the popular children’s show “Sesame Street”  went viral. On “Update,” Elmo addressed their relationship. Starting off pretty calm, Elmo discussed his apology towards Rocco. But when Rocco was brought out in a tiny chair, Elmo lost his mind. After one of the cohosts of “Update,” Michael Che, revealed Rocco will host SNL in February, Elmo’s reaction intensified. Fineman’s impersonation was almost too good to be true. Her facial expressions were spot-on, and she landed a perfect impersonation of the Elmo character. 

The live production of “Saturday Night Live” was fascinating to watch. Every single space on the stage was taken up with crew members or actors. There were a multitude of sets that were constantly moved behind the scenes in such a fast manner. Cast members could be seen running around and making quick changes during filming. It was incredibly impressive that the show is able to deliver as much as it does in such a short period of time. It was truly a worthwhile experience. 



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