One very enjoyable part of my recent three-week trip to the US was the chance to be part of a studio audience for the recordings of two major talk shows: Conan, which shoots at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, and Jimmy Kimmel Live, which films at the El Capitan Theatre along Hollywood Boulevard. It was my first time at both shows, and I really lucked out: Ben Stiller turned up out of the blue for a pre-recorded segment at Conan, while the lovely Jessica Biel was the main guest at Kimmel’ s show. Though I must say that my experience at The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, which I could not get into, was made very unpleasant by badly planned logistics and some insensitive staff.

Craig Ferguson

Craig Ferguson found the audience members sitting on the sidewalk highly amusing. ©CBS

So how do you get in? Tickets to recordings, which usually take place from Mon-Thurs, can be obtained for free online. But it is not just a simple matter of turning up with your tickets. If you’re traveling to LA and thinking about attending these tapings, here’s my tips for getting in – and getting on camera. There are also tapings in cities like New York, but I shall confine my tips to shows in LA.

  • Make reservations early

I would recommend making reservations at least a month in advance, as the producers take a while to get back to you. Bear in mind that these talk shows are extremely popular, and literally hundreds of people – ticketed or no – will turn up in hopes of getting in. One way of increasing your chances is to make multiple reservations with different emails for the respective shows that you want to get into. I made successful reservations for Conan as well as The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, but both fell on the same date. And if you’re given tickets for say, the Tuesday show, you can’t change it to Thursday, so I was forced to choose. Both Ferguson and Kimmel are serviced by 1iota, while tickets to Conan can be obtained through the show’s website. Tonight Show tickets are also available here.

Conan O'Brien

The set of the Conan show.

  • Show up early

One very important thing to take note of: in order to ensure a capacity audience, tickets to talk shows are always given out in excess of the studio’s capacity. This means that even those with reservations are not guaranteed entry – at Ferguson’s show, we saw at least 20 people who with reservations turned away. So I would say that it’s best to turn up at least 90 minutes beforehand. At Conan, audience members were given queue numbers on a first come first served basis, which determined who got to sit in the coveted front few rows, while Kimmel’s staff arranged audience members in a seemingly random fashion regardless of your place in line. But I must say that Conan’s staff made the whole experience very pleasant: we were placed in a waiting area in a sheltered car park and even given popsicles.

Conan O'Brien

The lucky few who get into Conan’s show are given wristbands.

  • Try the standby line at your own risk

Every show has a standby line for those without reservations, but I can say from personal experience that your chances are extremely slim. We had been given tickets to Ferguson’s show by a member of the CBS staff along Hollywood Boulevard, who conveniently neglected to mention that they were standby tickets. This means that whatever time you show up, you will have to wait for literally hundreds of ticketed individuals to enter before your turn comes. Different talk shows are organised differently, but the audience members for Ferguson’s show were made to wait on the sidewalk outside CBS City. This was particularly baffling as those who gained entry were later ushered into a shaded waiting area with proper seats. 1iota staff there also seemed poorly organised and lacking in EQ. They would not answer our repeated questions as to our chances of getting in, keeping us around just in case there weren’t enough people to fill the studio. And when we pointed out that we had been waiting in the baking sun for an hour, one even replied: “So have I.” In the end, we waited two hours in vain. By contrast, though we were also standing on the sidewalk, 1iota staff at Kimmel’s show gave us constant updates on the number of people in line so that we could decide whether to stay or go.

Craig Ferguson

Audience members await entry into the taping of Craig Ferguson’s show.

  • If you can’t get in, ask the ushers about the next day’s show

The first time we queued for Kimmel’s show was as part of the standby line, and when we couldn’t get in, we asked the lead usher if there were tickets for the next day’s taping. To our surprise, he replied: “Come back here at 430pm (taping starts at 6pm) tomorrow, and I’ll see what I can do for you.” So we did just that, and sure enough, he let us into the line for ticketed audience members. To make the deal even sweeter, the taping turned out to be the last before the show took a two-week break, and it was also our last day in LA. Also, in fairness to Ferguson’s staff, those who could not get in that day were offered tickets to a future recording. But we declined, as we had already been turned off by the whole experience.

Jimmy Kimmel

We made it to Jimmy’s show!

  • Bring a sweater, and leave the backpacks and cameras behind

The temperature levels in the studio can reach Arctic levels, making a sweater essential. Also, no photography is allowed before, during, or after the recording. The level of security is comparable to an airport: backpacks are thoroughly checked, and in the case of Kimmel’s show, not allowed into the studio. So leave the backpacks and cameras in the car if you want to get through security quickly. This also increases your chances of getting a better seat.

Jimmy Kimmel

Audience members at Jimmy Kimmel Live have their bags checked before entering the El Capitan Theatre.

  • Dress well, make your own sign and be shameless

If you are happy just to be a part of the audience, then you can be as non-descript as you like. But if your goal is to be on camera and/or to get a handshake/hug/more than 10 words from the host, then the tips above should be right up your alley. A girl who made a sign proclaiming that it was her birthday got a hug from Conan, while another with a placard declaring herself to be Conan’s lovechild also got his attention. In addition, and I can’t say for sure that this is true, but it did seem to me that the better dressed/better looking people were placed in the front rows at Kimmel’s show. It’s also worth noting that a photographer at Conan’s taping went round taking photos of audience members, and she zoomed in specifically on those who had brought their own signs.

Postscript

While I enjoyed Jimmy Kimmel’s show, I did find the stage management aspect of it a tad annoying. Before the show started, the floor manager urged us several times to “show Jimmy the love and support” so that he could put on a good show. Bizarrely, she even asked us to practice laughing, which is a bit like urging your wife to practice her groans before she orgasms. The ubiquitous Applause sign, while used by every show, even flashed after some of Kimmel’s segments and comments by the guests. Kimmel was already amusing enough on his own, and did not require a manager instructing the audience to laugh.

Don Barris, Kimmel’s warm up act, also did a fine job of showcasing both his lack of charm, as well as a spectacular level of ignorance. Having asked the audience who was from out of town, he then turned to me and my girlfriend and asked where we were from. When we replied that we were from Singapore, Barris responded (and I really don’t think he was saying it for effect): “Talk about f***ed up places, I don’t even know where that is.” He even asked me if I knew who Kimmel was, as he must have assumed that Singaporeans make a habit of attending the tapings of shows they are not familiar with. Then again, given that Kimmel once wondered how Singapore even had 7-11s in a segment on mashed potato dispensers, it really shouldn’t be all that surprising.

 

What else would you like to know about attending the taping of a US talk show?  Have you been to one? Tell me!