Have you ever wondered what it is like to be part of the live studio audience watching SNL in person in New York City? In a word, it's amazing. I was able to attend a show in 2021 and this is what my experience was like and I'll also share how you can get tickets to SNL and attend in person yourself!
What it's like Watching SNL in Person
First, How to get SNL Tickets
I was able to attend the live SNL show through the SNL lottery. The lottery opens every August and throughout the entire month you can send an email to a specific SNL email account describing why you're a fan and would like to attend SNL to make your ticket request to be part of the live studio audience.
Can you choose which SNL show to attend?
However, you do NOT get to choose which show you'd like to attend. You also will only be notified if you've been selected by the lottery 1 to 2 weeks before the show you've won tickets for. You will not be informed at the start of the season - just in advance of the specific episode that you've won the lottery for.
So, if you're not local to New York City, you'll have to be prepared to book travel and accommodations last minute. And you'll get tickets for either the rehearsal or live show, but again, you don't get to choose.
What I wrote in my SNL Lottery Email to Win Tickets
I mentioned that I just moved to NYC and was a longtime fan of SNL. I also specifically mentioned some of my personal favorite skits and cast members. I really don't know the secret to being selected, but I was honest about how much joy the show has brought me over the years. After you send the email you will receive an email confirming that your submission has been completed. And then you will only hear back if you have won tickets.
SNL Ticket Lottery Winning Notification Process
On December 3, I was informed that I had won tickets to the December 11 dress rehearsal show. I had 24 hours to confirm my tickets. After I confirmed, I received another email with specific details and the tickets. I was informed to bring a printed copy of my tickets.
watching sNL in person: The Day of Experience
The rehearsal runs from 8 - 10 pm. Our tickets informed us to arrive at 6:20 pm. You will go through several lines inside the 30 Rockefeller building. You are not permitted to bring in any outside food or drink (other than a sealed water bottle).
When you first arrive you'll be directed to one line then another and then you'll check in at a desk. It's the same space where you'll wait if you attend any other tapings in the building. I highly suggest eating a meal beforehand since you'll be there for several hours without snacks. Make sure you bring a valid photo ID as well.
What to expect in the lounge
After your small bag is scanned for safety purposes and IDs are checked, you'll enter a spacious lounge.
Here you'll get to enjoy complimentary beverages, including some beers and hard seltzer. There will be a DJ playing music and you are permitted to use your phone at this time. Everyone is taking pictures and the energy is palpable with excitement!
As they start calling groups, be sure to TURN OFF your phone and use the restroom before being led into the studio.
watching SNL in Person: Getting Ready for the Show
At around 7:15 - 7:30 pm the SNL team will start getting folks to line up to head to their studio seats. You will have a number and/or letter combination on your ticket when you arrive that you'll wait to hear. After this first line you'll be taken through a few different short lines in different rooms and up an elevator. Then you'll proceed to the studio.
Make sure your phone is off as you join this line because they will ask you to leave if you're caught taking any photos or videos. I would not take the chance of risking it, no photo is worth getting kicked out or potentially even banned from future shows.
We got very lucky and ended up in the first row near the right side of the stage. This gave us a great view of the main stage and other small side stages.
However, it wasn't a very good view at all of the stage where the musical act performs. But, there are TV screens above the studio that you can always look at for a better view as well as to watch the pre-recorded videos.
Watching SNL in Person: The Show Begins
Once we were seated, the crowd was warmed up by no other than, Kenan Thompson, one of the longest running cast members of SNL.
Kenan got the crowd excited and gave us a little overview of the evening and what to expect. Then he wrapped up with a little song and dance during which other cast members joined the stage.
Once Kenan departed the stage, they started the countdown for the celebrity guest host. For the show we attended, Billie Eilish was the guest host and musical performance. She did an outstanding job! Billie kicked the show off and they ran it just like it was the live, televised show with the cameras running and everyone in costume.
It is really so interesting seeing both what will be happening on screen for viewers at home, as well as some of the behind-the-scenes, considering we could see all around the stages.
Surprise Guests and Weekend Update
Miley Cyrus made a surprise appearance for one of the skits and I could see her before she was actually on stage in front of the camera. It was so cute seeing her interact with the cast and pump up the crowd.
My favorite skit of the night was with Andrew Dismukes portraying an animal trainer on the Weekend Update.Weekend Update was especially fun because they test many jokes during this part. Given that it's a dress rehearsal they'll see what jokes the audience respond to with the additional time and then choose the top performing ones for the live show.
Billie did a great job with the sketches, but it was really something seeing her perform her music live. Just WOW.
What's the difference between the Saturday Night Live dress rehearsal and the live show?
The main (and IMO most exciting) difference between the dress rehearsal and the live show is what I mentioned above - you have the chance to see extra skits.
The dress rehearsal runs from around 8-10pm, while the live show is 11:35 - 1 am. They give themselves a bit more flex time during the dress rehearsal. In addition to them testing jokes on Weekend Update you might also see a skit or two that don't actually make it to the live show.
They base these decisions off of time as well as the audience reaction during the dress rehearsal. So, if you really enjoy a skit, laugh it up. The night we attended, the writers were on a roll because there was only one skit where we weren't laughing that much. Though there is definitely a difference when watching the show in person where the whole thing is so silly that you can't help but laugh.
Final Thoughts on Watching SNL In Person
This experience is one of my most cherished memories since moving to NYC. If you're a fan of the show, I highly recommend entering the SNL Lottery each year for a chance to win tickets. In an upcoming post I'll share more about the different ways you can attend the live show!
Have you ever attended SNL in person or been a part of the live studio audience for any other shows? I hope to experience it again soon!
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