I celebrated my 25th birthday by attending a live taping of The Late Show in New York. I couldn’t believe I was inside the iconic Ed Sullivan Theater and Stephen Colbert was in front of me. Watching him do the monologue and interviews was unreal. One of the guests that night included Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. A day before, I had been chatting with Trevor Noah during a break at the live taping of The Daily Show. That was unreal too. The tickets for both shows were free. Best birthday ever!
How did this happen? Why was a guy from Pune in New York attending shows focused on US politics?
I was a kid when my parents watched Indian political and news satire shows such as Gustakhi Maaf and The Week That Wasn’t . I didn’t understand much of the politics, of course, but the puppets and laugh tracks were entertaining enough for me. I also remember enjoying some episodes of Farhan Akhtar’s Oye! It’s Friday! and Shekhar Suman’s Movers & Shakers
The iconic Ed Sullivan Theater where The Beatles’ US debut performance took place. It has been the home of The Late Show since 1993.
Past and present hosts of The Tonight Show on a wall at Universal Orlando which is owned by NBCUniversal. Johnny Carson changed the face of late-night television and inspired a generation of comedians.
During five years of law school, I had a bit of free time on my hands. It was the time when YouTube and social media started taking over our lives. I was introduced to standup comedy by my friends. Watching clips of George Carlin and Russell Peters, and going to see local artists doing standup was the scene in Pune. Thanks to the internet, I spent hours watching Noah’s and Colbert’s preceding hosts, Jon Stewart and David Letterman, do their magic via television.
Their monologues were informative and entertaining. I hadn’t seen the news the same way before. Stewart and Letterman, along with Conan O’Brien of Conan and Bill Maher of Real Time with Bill Maher were showing me America in a different light. Thanks to all of them, I followed the 2012 US presidential election, including watching all three debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
At the same time, the India Against Corruption movement, led by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal, was taking place at home. Comedy groups like AIB, The Viral Fever and East India Comedy were emerging, commenting and making sketches on politics in India. I was 20 years old and highly fascinated by these real-life stories and characters. Since then, I have followed every primary election in India and the US. I continually follow political news and current affairs around the world.
In September 2017, I was travelling across the US east coast, mostly for leisure. I had done my research and learnt that one could attend these shows for free by simply applying for the lottery kind of ticketing system in place. Before I arrived in New York, I applied for tickets to four shows. I got lucky with Noah and Colbert but was unlucky getting seats for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. The last two shows are the most popular in the genre, and tickets for them are always in high demand.
On the set of The Daily Show.
On the set of The Daily Show.
On the set of The Graham Norton Show.
Getting a chance to watch both Noah and Colbert live was already too much. Watching Oliver and Fallon on the same trip would have given me a heart attack.
Earlier this year, I managed to get free tickets to BBC’s The Graham Norton Show in London with Robert Downey Jr, Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie on the couch. It was a hilarious show.
I am sometimes worried about how little some people care about news and politics today. What happens in the world (news) and what our leaders do (politics) impacts everything around us. I understand watching TV news channels or scrolling down Twitter can be stressful, but if you switch to news satire like , you can be informed and entertained. That’s a win-win situation.
The next time you’re in New York or London, make sure you check out these shows. I promise it will be as gratifying as seeing the Statue of Liberty or Buckingham Palace.
You can see all the clips of the moments I witnessed here.
All photos by Abhijeet Dangat
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