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Published on November 5th, 2008 | by Sharilyn Johnson

33

Election Night at the Daily Show studios

I began this blog intending for it to never be personal. I may have given up my print and radio gigs recently, but I am still a journalist, and not the type to assume my personal opinions are of interest to the masses. Today, I hope you’ll all indulge me as write a post that is intensely personal.

It was April of this year – 7 months ago – that I obtained my pair of tickets for election night at the Daily Show. Tickets there are distributed online through an automatic system, similar to how you would reserve a flight or hotel. To say I was ecstatic is an understatement.

I received my initial confirmation email. All good.

Fastforward to October. I received a second confirmation email, followed immediately by another email saying that confirmation was wrong and that I’d receive another.

Finally received my third confirmation email. All good.

On October 27, yet another email went out to all the ticketholders, saying that we MUST confirm our reservation AGAIN via email, or else we would not be allowed in. I re-confirmed.

In retrospect, that’s when the audience department knew they were in trouble. One week out from the event, they tried to create a reason to turn people away at the door.

The instructions we received told us to get in line no later than 8:30, but suggested a few hours before that. I arrived at 4:15, just to be extra safe. There were maybe 40 people in line in front of me.  Home free.

Among those around me: my friend Mark, also from Toronto, who decided to make the trip for this. My British friend Tracey flew across the Atlantic JUST for the taping. I had friends from all over the US in the lineup — one who used her rent money to pay for a train ticket to New York for it.

We all had one thing in common, and that’s our answer to the question: “where do you want to be when the world changes?”

We wanted to be there. Nowhere else.

The hours ticked by slowly. The line grew and grew. We were offered water and popcorn by the show’s interns. The glow of iPhones under the canopy indicated where the news would come from. And when it trickled in, there were cheers, and even a few tears.

Finally, 9:00 came.  Time to get ticketed and go into the building.

It was assumed that not all ticket holders would get in. The Daily Show always overtickets, and I was turned away once myself a few years ago. It happens.

But none of us expected what happened next.

Security came down the line, and informed everyone that if they weren’t holding a laminated ticket, we weren’t getting in.

The number of people in the lineup of hundreds who were given a ticket? 21.

21. Out of approximately 250.

The studio was VIP’d to the hilt.

Panic set in. I yelled. I screamed. I shook. I cried, sort of, but tears weren’t coming out. I was numb inside.

“I understand” was the stock line thrown at us by security. No. No, you don’t understand.

They offered us VIP tickets for a future taping. An insult.

I went in search of Teri and Jessica from the audience department, but not surprisingly they had retreated far into the building.

One poor Colbert staffer walked by right in the middle of this, and graciously offered his cell to me to call a friend on staff, who was 10 minutes away from one of the bigger tasks of his career and definitely not answering his phone. (Few men have had the honour of receiving such a spectacularly frantic/hysterical voicemail from me. Maybe he can remind me exactly what I said, if he can make out my quivering voice.)

I cursed myself for not having all my contacts on the “inside” saved to my own cell’s phonebook. But it was moments before they went live, and too late for this. Nobody would answer anyway.

Many of you by now are surely begging for context. Why does this matter so much to me? Why the drama?

My love for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert has nothing to do with politics. And at the core of it, very little to do with how hard they make me laugh each night.

No one individual performer has had more of an influence on my comedic sensibilities than Jon Stewart. Since 1994, I’ve consumed every ounce of his work. He always trusted his own voice, and had the strength to stand by his ideas of what was good even when it meant being fired. He worked his ass off to get better, from the early-morning sets at an empty Comedy Cellar to making the Daily Show what it is today. He takes none of his success for granted, and continues working hard every day. In his own words, “there is no ‘making it’“.

These were not my reasons for becoming a fan when I was 15. But I can’t think of a better accidental role model to have.

I could write an entire book on my emotional philosophies of comedy, and how incredible it is that human beings have an ability to even do this. Stephen Colbert became another unexpected idol when I witnessed him bring my own philosophies to life. After years of watching him on the Daily Show, I encountered his “real” self at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal in 2005. I discovered the decency beneath his character and his natural desire to connect with people and create joy. It was overwhelming to witness, and it remains overwhelming to witness today when I have the opportunity to attend Report tapings. I am deeply touched by what he gives us every night.

The only thing greater than my admiration for them is their admiration for each other. It’s palpable. There’s a good reason why the tosses at the end of the show are so popular.

They are bonded by their work, and they are bonded by the joy they give each other.

All I wanted was to witness that bond when the cameras weren’t on them. A culmination of why I admire Jon and why I admire Stephen, played out infront of me. And on the most historic night of my lifetime, to boot.

Hundreds of us were denied this opportunity, because Doug Herzog’s second cousin’s babysitter’s hairstylist thought it might be, like, totally kewl to be there too — and the audience department thought people like that were more deserving.

It was absolutely preventable. It shouldn’t have gone down like this.

On October 27, when that email went out to re-confirm everyone, they absolutely knew they were in trouble. And their solution? Do nothing.

That frantic phone call I made just before the show began was one of any number of calls I could have made months ago — or a week ago. On October 27, I could have gone down my contact list and called in favours. I hate being the kind of person who asks for special treatment. I would indeed rather stand in line for 5 hours than ask to be hooked up. But you can believe I would have done it for this if I had thought it was necessary.

I was never given that opportunity. They knew what was going to happen, and they did nothing to communicate it.

Much of the production staff of the Colbert Report essentially had the night off. The Colbert studio is a 5 minute walk away. They could have planned to send us over there, flip the switch on the fiberoptic cable (which allows Jon and Stephen to film the toss), and shown us the raw feed. That could have been organized as late as day-of.

A simple solution. Again, they did nothing.

They know exactly how many fans attend tapings from out of town. They ask for your phone number when you reserve tickets. The area codes are not all 212. They know good and well we aren’t all tourists who are there to kill time before going to see Gypsy on Broadway. At least 2 of us had email correspondence with the staff that outlined our travel plans for this night alone.

They knew what we had gone through to be there. And once again, they did nothing.

And how they could let so many people stand in line for so many hours, knowing what the outcome would be, is inexcusable.

I don’t believe in being entitled to anything just because I’m a fan, or am a bigger fan than this person or that person.

But I am owed. Not the cost of my flight. Or the cost of my hotel. Or even the vacation days I took, which I could have used to visit my family. What I’m owed is the experience of witnessing history take place somewhere other than alone an empty bar on 11th Avenue, sucking on a can of Bud Light, feeling completely emotionally empty.

Because of the incompetence of others, I was robbed of an experience that should have been sublime, moving, and meaningful.

What was taken away from me cannot be remedied with a VIP ticket — essentially a shorter wait in line NEXT time. At this point, I can’t plan to have a next time. How do I stand outside under that awning again, without being reminded of what was done? How do I look at the heads of the audience department, knowing how negligent they were through this entire situation?

Make no mistake, the audience department consciously chose this outcome. They know the ticketing system inside and out. This staff has been through election specials before. They can predict VIP demand. They saw this coming a mile (or a week) away. Shocking to me, because until last night I thought very highly of those ladies. Teri especially, so incredibly sweet to me at my first taping back in 2002 when I was just a wee Jon fan elated to see him in the flesh. It’s hard to reconcile that they could allow the show’s biggest fans to gather in New York for this event, and treat them so poorly.

Most of you likely can’t understand how truly, deeply devastating this is, and think I’m being overdramatic and have my priorities wrong. Judge me if you wish. But know that what I’ve outlined above is very real, and I’m not the only person to feel this way.

The only good news to come out of this is that Tracey managed to get inside. Somehow, one of the VIPs was kicked out, and a kind security guard who knew her story retrieved her from the sidewalk.

When she emerged from the studio, we embraced, and cried. We had both volunteered for the Obama campaign. We may not be American citizens, but we contributed the way we could.  “We did this,” she said. Yes we did.

We waited around so I could say “hi-you-won’t-believe-what-happened” to my friends on staff (and “er, ignore that voicemail” to one). They stayed inside the studio, though, until Obama spoke. The limo drivers stood around outside the exit, and one of them opened his doors and cranked his radio so we could hear the speech. Tracey and I stood with the drivers in the dark, as it began to rain, and listened to Barack Obama accept his victory. That moment will be etched on my brain for as long as I live.

We said our hellos/goodbyes, had a spirited debate with a few bartenders over drinks, and visited an eerily quiet Times Square to swipe as much CNN swag as we could (if anyone wants a “CNN=Politics” lanyard, I have about 30 of them). At one point, even on a near-deserted street, a chant of O-ba-ma broke out. My cab driver back to the hotel could not have been happier.

Today is challenging. Every person I know knew what I was doing last night.  I’ve been talking about it for 7 months.  So I’ve had to look at a plethora of “so?? how was it???” emails. I have to recover enough to try to absorb the TDS writers’ panel this weekend as part of the NY Comedy Festival, and listen to them talk about putting that show together. I’m seeing Jon do standup on the 15th, for only the second time in my life, but I don’t know how I’m going to be able to enjoy it.  For weeks to come, I have to explain last night to everyone I know.

Ironically, when I need cheering up, I go online and watch clips of… yeah. Not entirely sure what to do with myself today.

It must be said that I am incredibly happy for America. As a country, you tick off the rest of the world an awful lot, but ultimately we all just want the best for you. I mean that.

I hope you all were able to enjoy this historic moment surrounded by the people you love. Perhaps in 2012 I won’t be prevented from doing exactly that.

Outside the Daily Show studios, listening to Obama’s speech on the limo radio.  Photo by Tracey Allan.


About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.



33 Responses to Election Night at the Daily Show studios

  1. Allisa says:

    Very well written. You did a good job of describing the devastation we all felt.

  2. j says:

    That’s terrible, and seems disrespectful to the fans who’ve supported the show for a long time (not to mention stood in line for hours!)

  3. Karen says:

    Wow, that’s just…wrong. *is stunned*
    I really hope you get some sort of apology, because as you say, this could have been prevented.

  4. Shanlee Davidson says:

    Your poignant description of the unfolding of last night’s events brought tears to my eyes. . . not only is your disappointment & pain intense, but your analysis of the treatment you all received is sadly & accutely justified. I can only hope that Comedy Central staff view this botched incident as more than just a wake-up call – the reason they have jobs are the TDS & TCR supporters who line up every day for tapings. No one at Comedy Central is above reproach – the way I see it, those who were left out in the cold, so to speak last night, deserve to be compensated with more than VIP tix. In my opinion, those not admitted are the real VIPs.

  5. meowhouse says:

    I am really sorry this happened. Sadly I am not hugely surprised because Comedy Central’s business practices as related to ticketing are and likely will always be a massive tornado of incompetence. It’s disgusting that they must have known they had a huge problem brewing at least a week or two ago and instead of having the decency to just blanket-cancel all “reserved” tickets, they let people show up.

  6. Kristin says:

    OMG, I am feeling so CRUSHED for you right now! I don’t even know what to say! D:

  7. Jessica says:

    I texted Allisa right after the show and when I found out what happened, I was pissed off.

    I’m so extremely sorry you couldn’t be in the studio. I don’t know what I would’ve done in your situation – probably cry. A lot.

    At least we elected the right guy President, right?

  8. Ashe says:

    Hopefully my landlord will be getting the rent next week….

    and I actually would like a lanyard. fun!

  9. @ meowhouse — yes, they absolutely should have been upfront with us. The majority of us would have canceled our trips altogether. I would have been out about $150 all things considered, but that’s better than the situation I’m in now. Even being in the US while this is happening isn’t the experience it should be; I still only felt about half-present today. Elated for the result, but still stunned and numb and hurt over all of this. I may as well have stayed home.

    @ Ashe — girl, after what you went through, damn straight you can get a lanyard. I’ll mail ’em out when I’m back in Toronto, so send me your address next week sometime.

  10. Chica says:

    What a horrid and easily avoidable experience. I was planning to go to this event too before unforseen circumstances forced me to cancel and now I am rather grateful I wasn’t subjected to the same crushing disappointment you must be feeling. As you said, this could so easily have been prevented, the VIP requests must’ve been clear a long time before the day of taping.

    I also heard the aftershow party was barred to anyone who was not an employee of Comedy Central, so even girlfriends weren’t allowed in. It seems the plan was to keep this special edition an ‘inside job.’ A great shame and I use the word shame in every sense.

    On the plus side, a friend of mine did travel from London to be there for the election and saw it in Times Square. He danced in the streets and kissed a hobo. Now that is VIP treatment. ;)

  11. Susie says:

    That’s a shocking way to treat the real fans. Especially since they would have known it was brewing when they asked for confirmations. It’s clear that this show was a special journey for a lot of people and they deserved to be in there witnessing it.

  12. Meaculpa says:

    Just posted a link to this entry @ http://www.dailyshownews.com

  13. @ Meaculpa – thank you

    @ Chica – I didn’t realize that about the party… though nothing should surprise me with Viacom at this point (they just cancelled their staff Xmas party to cut costs).

  14. Mira8 says:

    Yeah, I gotta say, wow. I’m so sorry. I’d feel like I was kicked in the gut. I totally understand what you mean about wanting to be there when the world changes. I feel like Jon and Stephen are such a huge part of WHY it changed. I feel for you. :(

  15. Oscla says:

    I am very disappointed with CC. As you say, they had plenty of opportunity to arrange a contingent plan of the raw feed at the Colbert Studios. I’m surprised they didn’t think of it for themselves.

    Needless to say, a show that gets saturated with VIPs, knew it was going to be 90% VIPs or more should never have offered tickets unless there was some guarantee of getting in.

    Frankly, I agree with your thoughts about the VIP ticket as a compensation. No, what they should do is guarantee a place for the Midterm show in 2010.

    Just a thought.

  16. Harley says:

    Thank you for writing this up. I was in line with you — I arrived at 4:30, so I suspect we probably met, particularly as I had chatted casually with Tracey and the girl who didn’t pay her rent so she could get a bus ticket.

    I really appreciate this. Because I felt lost and adrift after we were turned away from the studio. I, too, had told everyone (so excitedly) what I was doing for election night and had anticipated it being the evening of … well, my lifetime. Instead, I was left so shocked and disappointed that I could scarcely summon the energy to enjoy Obama’s victory. I wandered over to Times Square, hoping to catch the Indecision 2008 material on the jumbo tron there, but was hugely disappointed — nearly to tears, as pathetic as it seems — to realize that, without sound, the lived closed captioning was so far behind and so jumbled, none of the jokes were landing; it hardly made sense; it was just discouraging and further drove home my disappointment.

    I am a huge fan, and I feel betrayed.

    Thank you, again, for sharing, and I’m sorry this happened. For all of us in line.

  17. Very well written (but then, should I expect anything less from you?), it did make me feel like I was there, I felt your sadness when you had to deal with the … I don’t have any word for it … inflicted upon the true fans by CC (and, it seems only the suits at CC are to blame, not your insider friends (who were probably just “following orders”) and of course least of all Jon and Stephen (who probably didn’t know a thing about this and if they did would probably have had a few key words at people). I also felt very envious of hearing your story about where you were when history was made. True, you had a major ream-over in why you were there in the first place, but you were in the US when history was made, in Times Square to share in the jubilation, where the air, as I heard it, was simply electric and positive, for the first time in probably 8 years (even with the depression going on in another part of the city at Wall Street). And hearing Obama’s speech in the rain with your friends and a cabbie seemed like the best part of the story and the best way to share in the magic that was the 2008 election, made me feel guilty about just watching it on CNN in my couch in my basement thousands of miles away in Canada. One had to be in the US, with Americans, to get a true sense of the magic of that night. You were there. You have my envy for that (and zillions of other things :) )

  18. Angelina says:

    Thank you for posting, on behalf of the rest of us who were there. I paid for bus fare I couldn’t really afford, and that’s nothing compared to the expense and inconvenience incurred by many of the other people in line. What really gets me is that if they’d told us earlier–even by just a couple of hours!–alternative plans could have been made. Instead, many of us were stranded and stunned in Manhattan, left to learn the results of this historic election in underwhelming and disappointing circumstances. I would’ve been content to stay at home in my pyjamas and watch the news unfold with my family. I don’t think any of us fans expected special treatment, just common courtesy.

  19. @ Oscla – even a Midtacular ticket wouldn’t come close to making it up. Unless those of us who experienced this treatment receive an honest, sincere policy from Jon himself, none of us can even begin to feel better. It was his staff who did this to us on his behalf, and it’s therefore solely his responsibility from this point forward.

    @ Harley – Thank you for commenting. I think I might know who you were — there were a couple people I missed talking to. It sounds like you feel exactly the way I do: betrayed. That’s the perfect word.

    @ Angelina – You’re absolutely right — that’s all we expected. We ask very little. None of us expected to be called out and personally thanked for putting our lives on hold and making such sacrifices in order to be there. But when the people working to represent Jon turn their backs so callously on those who support the show the most, I have to question the integrity of what we direct so much of our money, time, and love towards.

  20. @ David Kendall – If at any point I implied that my own contacts at the shows were somehow responsible, I apologize. They absolutely were not. The responsibility for this mess doesn’t even rest completely with Comedy Central / Viacom. It rests with the audience department, and subsequently their boss (Jon).

  21. Krissy M. says:

    I was devastated. Totally devastated when I was reading your entry. I felt tears weld in my eyes. I know that if anyone in the entire world deserved to have that experience, it was you.

  22. Tori says:

    Ugh… I was there too and it was such a disappointment. . . I spent money I shouldn’t have, missed class, and wasn’t able to study for a midterm (I was in the section of line with no lights). There are ways to avoid situations like these, and I am truly surprised that TDS behaved in such an unprofessional manner.

    Oh and I don’t really care about the VIP tickets. I am SO not interested in going to that show any time soon.

  23. Pingback: Links and Thinks » “Daily Show” secrets

  24. CP says:

    Sorry, I think your exhaustingly long rant just sounds whiny. There are so many bigger issues in the world, its a shame you couldnt take a step back — a breath!– and just deal with this by contacting the staff directly. so many of us spent the night of the 4th wandering aimlessly on the street downtown – and it was awesome. who cares that you waited in line for a few hours? in the grand scheme, this was HISTORY you missed. History!!!

  25. CP, I’m glad you got to experience history the way you wanted to experience it. I didn’t have that kind of choice. As for “missing” it… I had 2 tvs infront of me, one on CNN and the other on CC. There were millions of Americans who were doing the same, and they didn’t “miss” history. I would have actually missed it if I had been walking back from Times Square alone to retrieve Tracey at 11:00.

    Indeed — who cares that I waited in line for 5 hours? That was the plan all along. That’s not what this is about. It’s about being misled and mistreated by people, purposely and without regard for how important this experience was for so many.

  26. TMBJon says:

    I used to be Audience Coordinator for a major TV show and yeah it sucks what happened to you, but that’s just the way it is. VIPs are called that for a reason. What else would you expect? On the bright side, that particular episode of the Daily Show was unwatchable so you ended up making out just fine.

  27. Dave Rivers says:

    Hey dummy – you’re just a seat warmer like the rest of us. If you were that important, you would have been already inside and fawning over the staff like you normally do thinking that would garner you some favors.

    Look where that got you; sweet f-all.

    ha!

  28. Joanna says:

    I was there in line that night as well. You might remember me a little actually, I was the one they brought a chair out for. I had broken my leg and am walking with a cane, and as soon as they saw me get into line they brought me out a chair. I, too, spent a ridiculous amount of money that I didn’t have, missed class, and was in a considerable amount of pain from my leg. I wasn’t going to miss that for anything.

    I’ve never been more devastated. And you’re right that nothing could make up for it. It was cruel what they did to us.

  29. @ Joanna — I do remember you! I wasn’t too far from where you were, on the other side of the rope. I couldn’t see the cane, but I could certainly tell there was a health issue. “I’ve never been more devastated” — I think only those of us who were there can really understand how real these kinds of statements are.

  30. Nate says:

    I’m sorry that it took this experience for you to realize that Superfandom is primarily a one-way relationship.

  31. Donna says:

    I went to The Daily Show on November 5th. After waiting in the rain for most of the afternoon (I will admit, TDS staff lent us umbrellas, which was a nice gesture that they did not have to do), we were denied entry. We were told that we would be given VIP tickets to ANY future show. I requested tickets for January 20th, and the response was ANY future show after January 27th. That wasn’t so nice.

    I understand it’s a popular show, but giving out over 200 VIP tickets is incomprehensible. I guess the general public was important when Jon Stewart needed a lift to his popularity. Now not so much.

  32. @Donna – Thank you for commenting. I’m really sorry that happened to you, and that they won’t do anything until 2009 after leading you to think otherwise. I hope you’re able to go again someday. Are you from out of town?

    You provide some food for thought re: the everyday ticketing practices at TDS.

    With VIP tickets, they seem to be digging a deeper and deeper hole for the audience. The more days go by, the more people get offered VIP for future tapings. At those future tapings, the VIP ticket holders displace even more regular ticket holders — who then get offered VIP tickets for future tapings. It’s a vicious cycle.

    I understand overticketing to ensure a full audience. Very common practice at things like this that are free. They release tickets very far in advance, snapped up by people who ultimately might not make it because of work or health or cancelled flights or acts of God. They have to account for that, and so does the audience by showing up well in advance (although 5 hours didn’t help people like me).

    But the typical confirmation email sent out a few days before the taping – telling people to cancel if they aren’t coming and threatening to ban them from future tapings if they don’t – should provide them with a very good idea of how full the studio is going to be.

    The strange part? Since putting the current online ticket booking method into place (early ’07, maybe?), they allow cancelled tickets to be instantly put back into the pool, which show up as “available” again on the website. (In fact, more tickets showed up as available for election night a few weeks in advance for this very reason… and obviously shouldn’t have been)

    Cancelled tickets almost always show up on the website the same day as a taping. But by day-of, they know their VIP #s, and they have a solid sense of their originally-booked general ticket #s. Why purposely give out more tickets?

    At Colbert, they use the same online ticketing system, yet they’re known for doing an incredible job of working the numbers and trying to prevent anyone from being turned away (it does happen, but it’s a fraction of what TDS does). The last time I went, it worked out that the last guy in the standby line ended up occupying the last seat available in the studio. It’s mathematically impossible to do that every day, but I was pretty impressed.

    At Conan, they have a well-advertised (and convenient) standby process, so they can often seat every single advance ticketholder and then dip into the standby pool (i don’t know how often this works out, but they clearly try).

    With TDS, it doesn’t seem to be a case of a careless mistake by a PA. When other shows are consistently able to handle things much better, and we’re dealing with an audience coordinator who has been with the show the better part of a decade and has a good handle on the math, it’s clear there’s a deep-rooted problem within that department (and a lack of motivation to fix it).

  33. Lena says:

    I’m sorry this happened to you, but I hpe you know that it wasn’t Jon or Stephen’s fault. It was Comedy Central’s ticketing people faults.

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