Published on November 5th, 2008 | by Sharilyn Johnson33
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.