Give a New York Late Show Experience Gift to Your Teen

by Samurai Dad

Give a New York Late Show Experience Gift to Your Teen!

As kids grow into teens, birthday and holiday gifts get trickier. To make a good choice, we’ve often asked for our teens’ input.  It seems more important than ever before to give presents that have long-lasting impact. And there’s this: college looms dead ahead. How much time do we actually get to spend with them before they’re out of the house and into their own lives?

What used to be a barely audible drumbeat of time passing has gotten a lot louder lately.

What our whole family needs is more time experiencing the world together, not more stuff.

In some ways, our kids are on board with this idea. Samurai Daughter is always up for an adventure and likes to plan ahead. In her usual way, she began to map out her 16 birthday experience when she was 14. We were heading to NYC to participate in something special.

What is a great experience gift for 16-year olds? Arrange a trip to New York City and experience a live taping of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or another show. With that event as the centerpiece of your visit, many other experiences of NYC become the icing on the birthday cake.

Whether you’re in NYC on vacation or you live in the region and can make it a day trip, a New York Late Show taping is well worth the effort. The energy of this city is unique. There are a million things to do after you see the show. You can walk down the street and hear 20 different languages spoken on a single block. If you’re lucky, talented musicians perform as you stroll by or pause for a bit. The lights, the sounds, the people, the action – it can be exhilarating.

And, here’s what sets a live show taping (whether Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, etc) apart from most NYC attractions: the tickets are free!

Combine it with dinner and a little sightseeing, and this is an experience gift that can be customized for every budget.

Why Stephen Colbert?

Colbert has been around for a while. Long before Samurai Daughter became a fan, Colbert worked the Dana Carvey Show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and hosted the Colbert Report. When David Letterman retired from CBS, Colbert took the helm of The Late Show at the Ed Sullivan Theater. Unlike his other shows where he portrayed characters, this show showcases Colbert as himself with all his sharp observations about the world. And wow, does he bring it! Colbert delivers honest and authentic comedic commentary along with engaging interviews. Samurai Daughter and I have both appreciated his talent for weaving a tapestry of humor and intellect through current events and politics.

We had to see him in a live show.

The Pre-show Experience – Make the Most of Your Time in Line

We arrived as a family in Manhattan in time to find a place to grab some lunch somewhere in the vicinity of the Ed Sullivan theater. So, we began our journey uptown 11 blocks from 42nd St., where our hotel was located, to 53rd. We chose a Pret a Manger restaurant directly across the street from where we would be queueing up to get into the show. Excited about this new experience, we planned to be near the front of the line to get seats closest to the stage. Our vantage point was perfect.

About 30 minutes into our meal, we saw the tops of 3 heads congregating to form a line. It was time for us to make our move. The show’s age restriction of 16 meant Samurai Mom and Son would go off on their own adventure for the day. They planned an afternoon of fun at Ripley”s Believe It Or Not and some serious game time at a Dave and Buster’s down on 42nd Street.

The “experience” had now officially started. As we crossed Broadway to claim our place in line, we mentally prepared ourselves for the long wait ahead. It was 1:15 on a hot August day.

You know that awkward moment that you sometimes have when you get into a group line? There was none of that in the Late Show queue. The camaraderie was palpable even as we started the introductions. We met a couple traveling together on a multi-stop journey through the Northern US from New Brunswick, Canada. As we approached, they were deep in conversation with another Canadian woman from Edmonton, Alberta.

We swapped travel tales about Canada and the US, marveling together at the vastness and natural beauty of both countries. They also shared with us what it was like to drive across Canada – coast-to-coast on an earlier trip. The woman from Edmonton recounted the experience of visiting Vancouver during the Olympics.

In the space of 30 minutes, those surrounding us had become more than random strangers standing together on a sidewalk. We were now partners looking out for each other’s comfort and place in the queue. Thirsty? One person got everyone water from a nearby store. Bathroom break? We’ll hold your spot. Our common purpose: to endure the long wait and get to the show.

Formerly the Late Show with David Letterman, the Ed Sullivan Theater is now home to the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

As the line began to grow, a retired couple from Texas joined our conversation and the range of topics expanded. We compared notes on trips to Rome and its history and culture. We shared impressions of a documentary about Pompei and the new discoveries new technology revealed about the ancient civilization. They shared how they ended up in Texas after raising their family in North Carolina. They recounted differences in people in a variety of states and what they appreciated most. Samurai Daughter spoke up about running cross country, which connected her to a former marathon runner waiting near us. Who knew she could get some insider tips through this bonding with fellow travelers from around North America?

It was around that moment that I was struck with the realization about how different this birthday trip was shaping up to be compared to the gift of a material object.

We were only two hours into the experience, yet my daughter and I had already:
had a reasonably-priced, healthy lunch as a family together;
become part of a supportive group with a shared purpose in anticipation of the show;
shared multiple insights of life on this planet in face-to-face interactions with at least 6 other people of all ages and backgrounds.

The Line Moves Forward

There’s a structured pre-show protocol as the line forms on the sidewalk beneath the marquee in front of the entrance. The first interaction with the LSSC staff is at 3:30 when the pages come out to put wristbands on the priority* ticket holders. The priority line moves forward down the sidewalk 20 feet for a continued wait of about an hour. The other folks, general attendees, form a new line around the corner. It does pay to plan ahead.

*How does one become a priority ticket holder? You register for an account with, pick the dates you’d like to see the show and request tickets. You’ll be notified if you’ve been selected.

In the Theater

It was 4:30, and finally time to enter the historic Ed Sullivan Theater. The pages guided us through security. The anticipation built as we all watched highlights from old Colbert shows on multiple TV screens. A page, who looked no older than my daughter, rolled out a mini platform and climbed up to be seen by all of us in her captive audience. She instructed the crowd in the do’s and dont’s of theater and audience behavior. The energy built as we left the rule conversation and participated in some organized chanting: “Stephen, Stephen, Stephen!”. We were all fired up by the time the doors to the theater opened.

Through the door, we were nearly blinded by the spotlights which lit up the historical features of the theater. Feeling vaguely like a well-behaved class of kindergartners, we entered as directed and were guided to our seats in an orderly line. As we reached our seats, Bingo!, our early arrival paid off. We landed 2nd-row seats at center stage!

Simultaneously, my daughter and I did a 360-degree scan of the surroundings. When we returned to each other with huge smiles, we both said in unison, “Wow it’s a beautiful theater” and “it looks so much bigger on TV!”. As I tried to imprint this memory, her young face and happiness, I thought,  It’s amazing to be here in this moment with my girl. Look how grown up she has become.

The set was crisply colored in blue, purple and red features. A giant sign hung over center stage, proclaiming the space as “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” From our perspective so close to the stage, we were able to look up into the dome of the ceiling. It was lit up with a multi-color pattern – difficult to describe but beautiful to experience.

One thing we had been warned about when we read reviews was that they keep the theater very cold, maybe to counteract the heat of the lights or to keep the crowd active. You notice it almost instantly. In the theater, we sat next to all of the linemates in the same order as when we were on the sidewalk – Canadians to the left and Texans to the right. Our new friend, Patty from Texas, kindly offered Samurai Daughter an extra shawl she had brought along.

There is a kind of synchronized dance to the pre-show activity that’s almost as interesting as the show itself. We love the behind the scenes stuff. The set was a TV studio with camera technicians and staff moving about with great purpose.  What fun to be able to watch the stage manager fuss over every detail of the coming show! While we waited, technicians prepped the big rolling console TV cameras. The boom camera, the JIB, was tested by the operator.  Hundreds of details are attended to systematically, right down to a stagehand polishing Jon Batiste’s piano.

Every performer is fueled by the energy of the crowd. Every good performer returns the favor back to the audience. To help us bring our best energy, we practiced a series of activities and performances with the help of the stage manager, Mark.  He started with light-hearted conversation and was followed by a warm-up comedian, whose style was direct audience interaction. He brought couples up on-stage, had a fun exchange with them and the crowd. Then he captured a memorable photo with their phones.

Finally, and as the highlight of the pre-show, Colbert himself came out to take questions from the audience and introduce Jon Batiste and Stay Human. They provided a Jazz jam the brought the crowd’s energy to a new high in-time for the cold-open of the show.

The Show Begins!

Finally, finally, finally… it was time for Colbert to take the stage! The charged-up crowd gave a roaring welcome during the introduction. Colbert began a review of current news stories in a witty monologue that kept us all on the edge of our seats.  Our immersion in his performance made us feel like a real part of the show.  As the breaks came, we would all cheer on the way out to commercial. When they came back, the JIB would pan the audience. Seated prominently at center stage, we were sure that we’d be caught on camera and streamed out to over 600,000 TV viewers.

The bonus to this type of show is that you not only get to experience Colbert’s insights, but you also get to hear him interview other popular personalities. Our program included interviews with Kirsten Dunst and Adam Devine. Adam Devine stood out for both of us with his sense of humor and comedic timing when sparring with Colbert. We found ourselves laughing out loud and enjoying every moment.

When the show was over and the crowd began to drift toward the exits, one of our Canadian friends for a day offered to take a picture of Samurai Daughter and me in front of the stage with the LSSC desk and sign in the background. We wished her and our other friends from Texas well and a great remaining visit to NYC. The Texans were off to see a couple of shows on Broadway.

On our way out, we stopped to snap a couple more fun pics with life-size Stephen Colbert cutouts on the wall.  We strolled down Broadway, setting out to find Samurai Mom and Son for an 8 PM dinner. As we walked, we had a great conversation reminiscing about the highlights of the show. We promised each other that we had to do this again.

My daughter turned suddenly and touched my arm, “Hey, maybe Seth Meyers next time?”

I thought, Here’s to hoping that you’ll always want to hang out with me like this.

I just nodded with a smile.

The final bonus to top off the evening after dinner was being able to watch the show at 11:35 that night from our hotel. We saw ourselves cheering in the audience a couple of times and watched the show while reliving a great experience.

How did we get tickets to the show?

Samurai Daughter had it all figured out well before proposing this experience to us as a birthday gift. Here’s what she found in a short amount of time:

What’s the minimum age to see the show?

While some shows taped in NYC like the Daily Show with Trevor Noah have a 18-year old minimum age, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Late Night with Seth Meyers have a minimum age of 16.

How much do tickets cost?

They’re free!

How do you order tickets?

Late Night with Stephen Colbert and Late Night with Seth Meyers tickets can be requested at The tickets are available for upcoming shows 3-4 weeks at a time. It’s a straightforward process. You need to register for an account. Then, choose your show date and request tickets. Your name will be placed on the waitlist. You’ll receive an e-mail sometime before the show date providing you with the news whether you were chosen to receive tickets or not.

What time should you arrive?

Arrive around 2 – 2:30. While we loved being so close to the stage, our view was often obstructed by the big cameras and the cameramen. The best seats (in my opinion) are the front of the balcony.


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