The Colbert Report in Philadelphia: Annie's adventure - VIDEOS
Back on the night that Stephen Colbert announced that he'd be hitting Philadelphia, taking the show on the road for the first time, I had decided to go to bed early and just catch the rerun in the morning. My friend called me just as I began to doze off and immediately told me that she had gotten tickets for us to see Colbert in Philadelphia. I had no idea what the hell she was talking about, so when I hung up, I just shrugged it off as a late-night half-dream. The next morning, I watched the episode and it finally made sense: We were about to go on another Colbert Report adventure.
Gallery: The Colbert Report in Philadelphia
So, Monday morning, I groggily woke up at the ungodly hour of 5:00 a.m. to get on a bus to Philadelphia. Seriously, who apart from farmers and elementary school students get up before 6:00 a.m.? On a normal day, I really have no business getting up until lunch is being served. But I drowned my drowsy complaints with lots of caffeine-heavy Mountain Dew and constant reminders that I would soon witness a first in Colbert Report history.
After spending the entire morning trying to hunt down a diner and watching Lauren Graham film some movie (The Dream of the Romans, I think?) outside the Johnny Rockets we settled for, my friend and I hit the University of Pennsylvania. At 1:00 p.m., we made our way to the Annenberg Center entrance and the interning students gave us our tickets and wristbands. They told us that we didn't need to wait around because they didn't expect a big crowd until 4:00-ish. It was strange, because the regular tapings' system makes people wait in line from as early as 1:00 until about 5:30. This unexpected freedom caught us off-guard, so we just loitered in the courtyard, completely lost. My friend's UPenn buddy spotted us outside and we chatted for a while. He said that security was everywhere and that rumor around campus was that there would be even more security swarming around within the next few days. "It's probably either Barack or Hillary," I said with a nod. Well, duh. The UPenn guy eventually left us, because I think he had to prepare for the super-exclusive rehearsal-viewing/Q&A for the UPenn Dems. Lucky so-and-sos...
We went through a good amount of time feeling sufficiently sorry for ourselves, and eventually the two of us left our spot in the courtyard (shoo'd away for loitering, actually) and wandered around campus for a little while longer. We almost went into that Cereality place, but I eventually decided that I was too weirded out to enter a cereal bar. I mean, it's... a cereal bar? Just cereal?
Around 3:00 p.m., my friend and I returned to the waiting area outside. A small crowd had formed, and by 4:00 p.m., the line to get the blue tickets and wristbands had exploded and started to wrap around the courtyard. We sat near the railing and counted the people that tripped against the protruding stands of the metal fence. It was really funny until a guy with a cast on his leg hit the railing... twice. Actually, it was still pretty funny, but I felt bad for not being able to do more than give a "Haha -- Ohh..." We also found ourselves surrounded by a surprising number of non-fans. These were mainly UPenn kids that just wanted to see someone famous and weren't particularly familiar with the show. My friend and I, like elitist douchebags, kept shooting looks at each other as we stood next to a group of UPenn students talking about TCR. "I wonder how many people his studio holds?," "Do they tape and air on the same day?," "What time is the show on?," "Is he funny?," etc. Again, we were being elitist douchebags, but at least we didn't say anything. Douchebags with self-control!
At approximately 5:00 p.m., the big crowd was split into two lines and led through security. Maximum efficiency! Sort of! The VIP entrance was separate, closer to the auditorium and they had a single file through security. We blue ticket-holders waited in the roped off area by the steps in front of the actual auditorium entrance, glaring at the seemingly never-ending line of red ticket VIPs. Judging by the chaos outside, I had resigned myself to believing that the numbers on our cards didn't matter, which is why my friend and I made a dash for the front of the line as soon as they called us in. To my surprise, Mark Malkoff, the Audience Coordinator from the "real" tapings, announced to us that even though no one would direct us to specific seats, we would be let in by number. Huzzah! My early arrival and #23 were not for naught. After an eternity of sitting around, watching the VIPs enter the auditorium before us, and trying to identify the music playing inside just by the bass (I only got White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army"), they called in #1 - 100. A few of the UPenn kids almost trampled some older folks, so my friend and I grabbed each others' elbows and made a run for the stairs to the auditorium. The front was already packed with VIPs, but we were extremely fortunate to find two seats in the center section, a few rows up from the stage. I'm sure we would have been stuck with some crappy seats if we had even one more person in our party.
The warm-up comic, Pete Dominick, came out after everyone got settled. He had followed the show to Philly and, once again, he did a great job. He spent most of his time making fun of the older, rich-looking people in the crowd. He pointed out the older gentleman sitting directly next to me, saying that the guy looked like he should have an oil portrait somewhere in the school. Pete also had a little stack of index cards, which he explained were pre-submitted questions for the Q&A. At a normal taping, Stephen usually picks out three audience members on the spot, but I guess with nine times' the audience in the theatre, a bit more order was needed. Pete called out some names and a few very excited audience members from UPenn (I think?) made their way backstage to be prepped for the Q&A. After throwing around a few more jokes to appease the UPenn crowd, Pete finally introduced Stephen. For a split second, I could feel the entire room lose its mind and then desperately try to regain it.
Stephen came out, bursting with energy, and ran around a bit. We were all on our feet, naturally, watching him over-excitedly spin around and throw the mic in the air. He welcomed us and jumped right into the Q&A. By this time, the pre-selected audience members had returned and were sitting in the aisles, lined up behind two microphone stands. I don't think I remember all of the questions, but here's what I scribbled down after the show. It's paraphrased, of course...
Had a cheesesteak yet?
Stephen hadn't, but he asked the audience for recommendations. The shouting that ensued caused my eardrums to erupt. As I tried to figure out a way to stop the blood pouring from my ears, Stephen continued to pull recommendations from the crowd. Apparently Pat's is good?
New England Patriots or the Philadelphia Eagles?
"Stephen Colbert" likes the Patriots because he loves the Patriot Act... but he wouldn't dare insult the Eagles in his current location.
Has Stephen gotten mugged yet?
Pshht. Those Philly folk playing off their crime rates like they're so big and bad. I can't even walk down the street to get milk after 6:00 in Baltimore without worrying about getting shiv'd. The Wire isn't set in Philly for a reason. Anyway, Stephen hasn't gotten mugged yet, so I guess that's good.
Italian or French dressing?
I didn't get this. Is this some wacky Philadelphia thing that just went way over my head? Or did this particular audience member just have a thing for vinaigrettes? Anyway, I don't remember exactly which Stephen said he prefers, but I distinctly recall feeling embarrassed for being the only person to clap when he said, "Well, my last name is French... bitch." I guess any vague Daily Show reference will make me giddy.
If "Stephen" could kick out one state from the Union, which would it be?
Sweet question! Stephen offered a fun fact, saying that his book I Am America (And So Can You!) was almost titled The 50 States That Are Ruining America. He then said that "Stephen" would probably kick out Massachusetts, aka "Gay-sreal."
What's his favorite Sunday school lesson to teach?
In case you didn't know, Stephen (note the lack of quotation marks, indicating we're actually talking about REAL Stephen) usually teaches Sunday school. He hasn't had the time to teach this year, but he pointed out that he taught his sons and daughter. Stephen then gestured into the crowd, somewhere to the far left. There, just across the aisle, I saw his youngest son, squirming around in the lap of his wife Evie. I then turned to my friend and, in an unintentionally creepy voice, attempted to scream and whisper at the same time, "Holy shit, it's Evie Colbert! LOOK." My friend didn't care. Really, I probably shouldn't have, either. If you haven't seen her before, Evie has had bit parts in a few of Stephen's projects, including the role of Chuck Noblet's wife at the end of the Strangers with Candy movie. Also, if you ever see pictures of them on the red carpet together, prepare to avert your eyes, because Evie and Stephen have identical grins that are so toothy they make eyes water. I think it was at this point in the evening that I remembered how creepy I am and began making an extra effort to run my reactions through a tougher mental checkpoint before executing them in public.
Anyway, back on-topic... Stephen said that his favorite lesson is the "O, Ye of little faith" one, with Jesus and Peter in the boat. He was very animated as he told the story, demonstrating how Peter "wet-footed" it across the water and providing Wile E. Coyote sound effects for the drop. He then explained that this is like the only instance of physical comedy in the New Testament.
Does Tek Jansen prefer blondes, brunettes or redheads?
Without missing a beat, Stephen said that Tek loves quadruple-breasted aliens from Jalanx 7 (Jalanx? Maybe?), but he's really not picky. Stephen proceeded to make the girl asking the question blush like crazy by saying that she'd do just fine and just needed some Spandex and a spaceship.
Stephen then wrapped up the questions and shuffled over to get a make-up touch-up. I think there were one or two people that didn't get to ask him anything, which must have hurt even worse than the audience members that raise their hands and don't get picked in the NY tapings. At least those folks aren't pre-selected and therefore allowed to get their hopes up.
The actual taping went by with little to no incident. John Legend stepped onto the shadowy stage at the top of the show. He was only a silhouette, but I'm sure most people had already read enough about the Philly shows to know that he would be there. We cheered, he waved. The opening duet was inevitable, really. I mean, Stephen couldn't possibly bring John Legend on the show again and not sing.
After that, Stephen sped through all the segments. At the top of one, he flubbed a line but quickly jumped back and covered it. The only awkward thing was how hammy the audience was. The cheers were so long and drawn out, I couldn't help wondering how wonky the editing was going to be. I don't know if it's because I was actually there in person, but when I finally saw the episode, I thought the choppiness was super obvious.
During two of the breaks, Stephen grabbed a bunch of Wriststrong bracelets and flung them into the crowd, making extra sure to send a couple in the direction of the hapless folks in the balcony seats. Despite almost slamming my elbow into the face of the elderly fellow sitting next to me, I didn't get a bracelet. It's probably for the best, because I'm still wary of adding silicone bracelets to my wardrobe.
The Mayor Nutter interview went off without a hitch. I guess Philadelphia really loves him, because the people around me damn near soiled themselves with joy when he stepped out. Chris Matthews, on the other hand, was crazy. His famous "HA!" was all right the first few times, but then I started feeling my fists clench whenever he laughed. Also, when he completely spoiled the Hillary Clinton surprise, it was terrible/fantastic. The look on Stephen's face was a hilarious mix of disappointment and pained amusement, which is really something that only he can pull off. Judging by the way the conversation progressed, I knew there was no way for them to edit out that spoilers without cutting out half the interview.
I found the "Schuylkill" good-bye at the end particularly amusing because prior to arriving on the campus, my friend and I passed Schuylkill Avenue. "ShoolKILL? Worst. Avenue. To die on. Ever," I said, as a speeding car almost slammed into us. I still don't know how to pronounce it. Anyway, after Stephen wrapped up the show and had us cheer for John Legend and the Benjamin Franklin fellow, I came to terms with the fact that we wouldn't be getting any Doritos. I reminded myself that even without delicious corn chips, it was still a great night. Monday's crowd got to hear Stephen sing, check out his double threat eyebrows and -- come on -- be the first group to witness TCR on the road. EVER!
At the end of the night, my friend and I made our way to a nearby Wawa and I pondered the evening over my first Wawa sandwich (side-note: It was good, but I'm still not sure if it was enough to warrant all the panicked screams that have been directed at me after admitting I've never gone to a Wawa). There is no doubt in my mind now that it's more fun to be an audience member at The Colbert Report than one at The Daily Show. The sheer energy that buzzes throughout the entire studio is so remarkable and this time, the effect was nine times' more intense in the packed theatre. Sometimes I truly do worry that Stephen's audience really would do whatever he says. I'm sure his wife worries too.
That said, I think I'm going to have to give this a break now. In the past two months, I've gone from attending absolutely no tapings ever to experiencing three in very different circumstances... TCR during the strike, TDS after the strike, and TCR on-the-road. I think I've got all the bases covered now. Plus, I am now 100% sure that I set the bar WAY too high with my first TCR trip. Unless I have a very specific reason to return, I don't think I'm going back for a long, long time.
Good-bye for now, Stephen, Jon and company. I'll still be watching... just not from a few yards away with a crazed expression on my face, making everyone uncomfortable. Not anymore.