New York's Hottest Club Is the 'SNL' Standby Line

A DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO GETTING 'SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE' STANDBY TICKETS

This club has everything: college students with enough remaining lumbar strength to sit on bare concrete for 19 hours; more anxiety about peeing than you've had since first grade; a line neighbor named Jorge who has to inform you of his airborne peanut allergy upon arrival; and that thing where no matter how much planning you do, and no matter how long you stand in line, you still won't know if you've made it into a Saturday Night Live taping until you hear the words “Live from New York, it’s Saturday niiiiight” because the SNL standby line is a capricious and unknowable temptress…

For the uninitiated, the only way to get into a taping of Saturday Night Live is to:

  1. Enter the ticket lottery each August which, 10 years running for me, has yielded no results (yet!)…

  2. Line up outside 30 Rock for standby tickets that are passed out at 7 a.m. on the day of the live show…

  3. Be Jon Hamm…

When my best friend and I saw that our favorite comedianthat tall, tired child John Mulaneywould be hosting SNL last April (and given that we were still not Jon Hamm despite all the witches' spells we'd cast), we decided to try lining up for standby tickets. Now, less than a year after his first time hosting, Mayor of Nothing John Mulaney is hosting again this weekend!

Last year, when searching for best practices to ensure standby tickets, we found a lot of Word Press blogs from 2013, Twitters with no profile photos, and legends of Lin Manuel Miranda bringing pizza to the standby line. But very little "this is what time you should get to the standby line" intel. So with John Mulaney's return to Studio 8H, and going off the assumption that none of you reading this are Jon Hamm (but if you arehey Jon! Check out my Bachelor recaps. Also, do you have Chris Harrison's phone number, I just wanna talk)…

I thought this might be a good time to offer some helpful hints to the internet about how to prepare for the entire SNL standby line experience. And yes, this is going to be like one of those baking blogs where you have to read in between the author's own personal relationship with lemons and how their kids are SO SICK OF WINTER :( just to get to the damn cupcake recipe. But, what can I saythat person's giving you a free cupcake recipe, and I'm a millennial who never learned how to make a list without adding 30 pop culture references and 1,000 adverbs to it.

So, read below for some highly editorialized standby line tips: you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll get into fucking Saturday Night Live.

WHAT TIME SHOULD YOU GET TO THE SNL STANDBY LINE?

You know what's fun? When you start a how-to guide with a big ol': Honestly, there's no way to know. But…

Honestly, there's no way to know! The timing of the standby line is a fickle mistress, contingent completely upon an impenetrable algorithm defined by that week's host, that week's musical guest, and that week's weather. I'd say the most determinable factor is weather. If the host is Lady Gaga but it's 20 degrees outside, you'll have a much stronger chance of getting in than if the host is Lady Gaga and it's a breezy 75. Only if the host is Lady Gaga (or Amy, or Tina, or Beyoncé), would you really need to line up more than 24 hours in advance, unless your goal is to be the very first person in line. So do you need to be the very first person in line?

THE FACTS: Standby tickets are passed out at 7 a.m. on the Saturday mornings of live shows. People line up on 48th Street outside Rockefeller Center in advance of 7 a.m. because the further up you are in the line, the more likely you are to get in. The number on your ticket determines the order in which you're admitted, but there's no way of knowing how many standby tickets will make it into the show until that night (basically until they see how many Jon Hamms and guys from Queer Eye show up). Usually somewhere between 60 and 120 standby ticket holders get in total you can choose to go to either the Live Show or the Dress Rehearsal.

On some days you can walk up to the line at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, be in the first 100 people in line, and get into one of the shows that night, no problem. On other days…

OUR EXPERIENCE: Once my best friend decided she would fly to New York from South Carolina to line up for John Mulaney, we began researching how to guarantee getting into Saturday Night Live with standby tickets. And there's really only one way to guarantee it: get there ridiculously in advance, like…Wednesday/Thursday-morning in advance.

We were excited but we were not nuts. Forty-eight hours on the street is a young man's game. Nineteen hours on the street, however…well, we took the cards we were dealt and asked for Monday off to recover, like you've learned to do by the time you're 30. But we sure did get our asses into Saturday Night Live. Ahem, barely.

Weeks in advance, we began calculating the latest possible time we felt we could arrive to the standby line while still basically guaranteeing we’d be in the first 50 or 60 people (that’s the MINIMUM number of standby ticket holders that seem to be admitted on any given Saturday). We had always wanted to do this, yes, and we have loved John Mulaney for years, yes, but we also though JM would have the added benefit of not being full-fledged star. He is a comedy A-lister, for sure; like, an SNL great, of course; like, definitely one of the more famous comedians

But my dad doesn't know who he is, y'know? And this was a year ago, before his third comedy special or Big Mouth had even debuted on Netflix. In hindsight, we think the devotion level of his fans have plus the fact that he would have many former-SNL friends and former-NYC friends who would want to come see him makes jokes about robots actually made our chances of getting in much worse.

If you’re determined to get in, pretty much the only thing you can do is be flexible about when you're able to head to 48th Street on Friday, and track all variants of "SNL standby line" on Twitter and Instagram (and, I dunno, what are the youths using these days? TikTok?) starting on Wednesday or Thursday.

There will be people who get there superearly; as you can imagine, those people are some combination of very eager, huge SNL fans, and extremely proud of themselves. They should be! Committing to a concrete urine bed for 2+ days is impressive! But also, helpfully, that means those people will be tweeting and instagramming about their line experience, and that's when you slide into a stranger's DMs to ask how many people they think are already there. They’re already in line, so they’re generally happy to help, but you do need to consider that these people will most likely be English or Theater majors, and can't estimate numbers for shit. Always assume there are more people than they say, not less.

With John Mulaney as host, we thought we could get there around 4 p.m. and still be in the first 50 or so people. While getting bagels in my Brooklyn neighborhood at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, we did a Twitter check and a response informed us that the number had suddenly spiked from around nine people on Thursday night, to an estimated 40 people in line. On Friday morning! So we packed our things and booked it to midtown.

Now that you've made your own personal assessment about what time to arrive…

WHAT SHOULD YOU BRING TO THE SNL STANDBY LINE?

  • THESE "ZERO GRAVITY" CHAIRS FOR $35 A POP The line for John Mulaney eventually stretched all the way down 48th Street and curved around 6th avenue with at least 150 people in it by 4 p.m. And I could not believe how many people were armed with only blankets to put between themselves and the cold, hard concrete of New York City. Less because of the 300 years' worth of urine soaked into those sidewalks, and more because there are just so many more comfortable options. You could buy some overpriced Kmart or Duane Reade chairs when you get there…

    OR you could order these much more comfortable chairs in advance, which also function as beds once the sun goes down (and then support local businesses to counteract your Amazon purchase after you've successfully made into SNL!!!). I don't want to be hyperbolic, but…these chairs saved our lives and remain one of the few material objects that hold any sentimental value to me. I would lock Marie Kondo in a closet in order to keep these chairs forever.

    WEATHER GEAR Think about all times of the day that you'll be in line! We really focused on what we'd need for the sleeping portion of our stint (see below), and we also thought we were getting there in the late afternoon. But given that our weather ended up unseasonably warm and we spent about six hours with overhead sun, we had to buy Stefon hats in the NBC store, which are now also among our most prized possessions.

    So, I'd recommend the NBC store for all the hottest fashions, sunscreen for the only skin you'll ever have, and if it's going to rain…well, I couldn't personally handle that because I am weak-willed, but maybe a tarp?!

  • AN ENTREPRENEURIAL BATHROOM SPIRIT You'll be camping in the middle of one of the busiest neighborhoods in the world, so there are plenty of places to go to the bathroom. I found the Chipotle bathroom to be the most pleasant one I encountered in my 19 hours on the streets, so once I had their bathroom code in my repertoire, I continued to sneak back in there for every bathroom visit.

    That is until Chipotle closed at 10, and then you have to get a little more creative. Delis 48 is right across the street from the line and open 24 hours, so just buy a Vitamin Water and make it your own personal powder room. But I would recommend tamping down your liquid (and Chipotle) intake somewhere around midnight, making one last stop at Delis 48, and preparing for your regular nighttime routine. Because it is possible to get solid sleep in the SNL standby line…

  • SLEEPING BAGS Blankets will work if it's not cold, but sleeping bags are perfect for both warmth and packing all of your things around your body like a burrito made of valuables. The standby line feels totally safe and there are security guards there all night, but it's easier to go to sleep knowing your things are tucked away, and then pull the bag all the way over your head so you're not worried about waking up to find a group of drunk YoPros staring at you. And once you're feeling secure…

  • A RELAXATION AID Listen, the bestie is P.A. so she wanted me to be sure to say that we took a low dose of Ativan, not Xanax (Mulaney's relaxing drug of choice) once we'd settled into our zero gravity chairs for the night. But hot damn, did that low dose work! I slept like a kind-of-cold, mostly-reclined baby from midnight to 6 a.m., and woke up the next day feeling refreshed and ready to get into Saturday Night Live.

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE SNL STANDBY LINE?

Some real Kumbaya shit, frankly. It is nice!

There are certain expectationsno cuts, no funny business, no adding people to your partybut the much more common occurrences are the way you help each other out. Your neighbor will watch your stuff while you go get something to eat, and in return, you will not get anything with peanuts because he's allergic; you'll watch your other neighbor talk to her other neighbor, also an NYU student, wondering if they're falling in love, and be heartbroken when they don't exchange numbers by 7 a.m. (unless, of course, they did that while we were passed out on Ativan, a hope I still cling to!)…

And finally: 7 a.m.

You've waited however long you've waited, you've taken whatever weather you were dealt, and now it's time for the NBC pages to come outside and pass out the numbered tickets.

THE FACTS: You need an I.D. to get your ticket, and you should be ready with an educated decision about whether you want to go to the Dress Rehearsal or the Live Show. Some people like to go to the Dress Rehearsal because there are more sketches, it's earlier, and more standby ticket holders are likely to get in because most Jon Hamms and Fab Fives will be going to the Live Show. But, for our first time, we wanted to do the real thing…

OUR EXPERIENCE: As a reminder, we got there at noon on Friday; we ended up being somewhere around 50th in line, and we got tickets 29 and 30 for the Live Show. It's probably pretty standard that there will be a few more people choosing the Live Show over the Dress Rehearsal, especially at the front of the line where you still stand a good chance to get into the Live Show. But what's not standard…

Is that we were numbers 29 and 30, and a maximum of 10 standby ticket holders were seated after us, which means only 40 standby tickets made it into the Live Showthat's very few! Not to scare you, but we waited in line for 19 hours, and we barely made it in. So again, you have to weigh all your options with the intel you've collected from other line members, and spend all of your own line time discussing…

DRESS REHEARSAL OR LIVE SHOW: The pages will tell you before you make your final choice what number ticket you’ll be for either the Dress Rehearsal or Live Show. So, if you're a little further back in the line, you might want to consider how many people the host and the musical guest might populate the audience with. There's really no way to knowBill Hader had just hosted before John Mulaney, and he came out and gave 25 of his real ass tickets to the first people in line. Just make your best guess, and go with it. You'll get in, I know you will.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE SNL STANDBY LINE?

Of course, once you've received your ticket, no matter how educated your guesses, you still won't know if you've made it into SNL until…you've made it into SNL.

If you choose the Live Show, your ticket will instruct you to arrive back at Rockefeller Center at 10:45. That is vague at best, and in reality, mostly incorrect! As of 10 months ago, the meetup spot for standby ticket holders is the gift shop, so I would recommend heading straight there. I would also recommend using the bathroom as many times as possible beforehand, and not inside Rockefeller Center, where the gorgeous bathrooms are very spread out.

Once you enter into the standby line, there will be no bathroom opportunities anywhere along the way. We rolled into Rockefeller around 10:35, couldn't find a bathroom quickly, started panicking around 10:40, and headed straight for the gift shop without ever going to the bathroom

And it's a good thingat 10:40, we were the very last people to enter the gift shop. Get there before 10:45! Luckily, your ticket number is law, and we were escorted to spots 29 and 30, but not a minute later, the first 50 people were pushed through those doors; if we had been two minutes later, I guess we would have lost our spots.

Once through the first set of doors out of the gift shop, you go through security, and then you're lined up two-by-two in original ticket order on a mysterious set of stairs. Even though these are just stairs with no identifying features, do not try to take photos. They are very serious about not taking photos! After an immeasurable amount of time because you're too scared to have your phone out, and this isn't 1955, so you don't wear a watch, you will actually walk up those stairs, through a door, and into the NBC atrium.

You are still standing two-by-two against a wall so as to remind you that you may have slept on a street and been held in a mysterious staircase for these tickets, but the famous people floating up the atrium steps and into the studio arrived here in Ubers. Alas, you are a simple soul, and seeing the celebrities still gets you excited. Hello, Nick Kroll. It's nice to see you again, Mr. Hamm. Not to mention, you’re all headed to the same place. Hopefully.

From the atrium, you're almost in the clear. That's where you get wristbands that will grant you admittance into the studio, but you're still not really in until they put you on the elevator. That's when you know. We were sent into the elevator with the six people who'd been standing in front of us in line the whole time. This was not their first standby rodeo, so they informed us that, for fairness' sake, we should exit the elevator and walk down the hall in our original order. We were courteous enough to not break into a sprint when we got off the elevator, and y'know what…

They sure did get the last remaining seats in the center section, while we were sent to the right balcony. But, in the SNL standby line, really the only thing you can count on is your ticket number, so you better respect it. The show was incredible, and afterward, I went against every bit of my superiority complex to stand outside the 49th Street entrance and wait for cast members to come generously take photos with us.

And after first not being able to go at 10:30 p.m… and since the bathrooms in Rockefeller were closed once the show ended… we did not officially get to use the bathroom until 2:30 a.m., when we returned to our home: Delis 48.

The entire standby line experience was, top to bottom, completely worth it. If I can leave you with one thing, it's this: GO TO THE BATHROOM EVERY CHANCE YOU GET BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN THAT OPPORTUNITY WILL BE RIPPED AWAY FROM YOU.


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