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A night with Stephen Colbert

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Merely hours before take-off, United Airlines sent me an inconvenient text that my flight to New York City had been cancelled. My hopes and dreams of finally meeting my comedy hero Stephen Colbert were blowing up before me.

Gluing back the pieces of my shattered heart, my friend and I scavenged the Internet for alternatives means of getting to New York: flights, hitch hiking, horseback—we were desperate and Groupon was offering. We finally settled on road tripping the excursion and left that very minute to the Big Apple, surviving the 10-hour journey on Starbucks, our undying love for Colbert and Butterfingers.

We finally made it to the city around 10:45 a.m., exhausted and sleep-deprived beyond our wildest dreams (or lack thereof). After all that I had been through that night, the sights of New York were uplifting to see after being trapped in the Duke bubble for so long. The beautiful skyscrapers that put Chapel to shame, the smell of exhaust, Chanel and urine that perfumed every other block, and of course, the Ed Sullivan theater in the heart of Broadway which houses “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

The one thing about going to see a taping of “The Late Show” is that there is a ton of waiting around in lines. In fact, most of the time spent in New York was in a line. We waited in the first one outside the theater for a solid two hours to redeem the tickets I had reserved a month and a half earlier. At 2:00 p.m., we were given tickets assigning us as audience members numbers 20 and 21 out of 400 for that night’s show. After we got our tickets, we were told to come back at exactly 3:45 (any time before that was considered loitering) to line up and enter the theater. Finally, after the VIPs were seated, my friend and I were placed in the third row, right in the middle. 

My friend and I were amazed by the beautiful theater whose relics from the set of "The Colbert Report" (like the Captain America shield) and ceiling, mosaic-like portrait of Stephen T. Colbert encapsulate what many have deemed the renovated theater "The Cathedral of Colbert."  A little before the show, they had a hype man try to get the crowd excited. He reminded us to vocalize our laughter when something funny happened or was said during the show, because when most people watch something on TV, they apparently internalize their laughter. 

The hype man improvised by poking fun of the audience and had us watch a funny video from an earlier show to help us practice “projecting our laughter.” By the end of the rigid course, I was a certified master of laughter and the overwhelming energy conjured by the hype-man carried through the show.

After watching a highly energetic and entertaining performance from the house band, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, Stephen came out and answered questions from the audience—one of which was referenced by the guest Whoopi Goldberg during her interview. The question was how a degree in philosophy helped Colbert with his career and he after a story about a philosophy class he took where the final exam question was, “Is it better to know or not to know?” Colbert replied, “It’s better to know, but it didn’t work out so well for Oedipus.”

Being the funny man that he is, he handled some of the questions from the audience perfectly. For example, Colbert brought his fourth grade teacher to the taping and got a picture with her on stage, to which an audience member asked, “Can I get a picture with you, too?” and Colbert replied, “No, unfortunately, you didn’t teach me fourth grade.”

When asked why there were no women on his stage crew, Colbert commented, “You’ll have to take it up with the union on that one.”

Something that surprised me from the actual show, once it began, was that even though the show is pretty smooth on the air, Stephen messed up a fair amount of times. Colbert did a segment about “Harry Potter and the Cauldron of Spoilers,” where Colbert speculated about some hidden secrets in the Harry Potter-saga. There were certain points where Colbert flubbed over a word or missed some camera cues—one word flub, however, was salvaged when Colbert make a joke about Rowling putting a curse on him. Regardless, when I re-watched the episode, the editing made the whole show appear to have been seamless and shot in one take. It was magical.

I have to say that after the entire experience and being 10 feet away from Stephen Colbert, my respect for his quick wit and comedic genius sky-rocketed. The man is funny and has an overwhelming capacity for joy and kindness which appears on-camera and off-camera. Every aspect of the show from the selection of his intriguing guests that aren’t always celebrities to a New Orleans styled-jazz band that warms up the theater—Colbert’s late night show is something unequivocally brilliant.  

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