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Lessons from a taping of Larry Wilmore’s ‘Nightly Show’

It's a chance for audiences to see what happens on the other side of the screen.


Michelle Jaworski


Posted on Jan 23, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 5:09 pm CDT

If you think a TV host is unpredictable now, just wait until you see him live.

The same could be said for any kind of live event. Sporting events, concerts, and stand-up comedy shows are all unique experiences, but they also have one core factor in common: the crowd cheering or booing along. When it’s the first week of a brand new show still trying to iron out the details, anything can happen. So when my colleague Marisa Kabas offered the Daily Dot New York office tickets to a taping of The Nightly Show, I jumped at the chance.

So far, critics have largely praised Larry Wilmore for what he’s accomplished in his first few episodes. He’s the only black late-night host in a sea of middle-aged white men. He’s not afraid to make his audience or his panelists uncomfortable, but he also pays it forward with a potentially uncomfortable question from Twitter every night.

Marisa, Miles Klee, and I took off for the Jan. 21 taping of The Nightly Show. I had gone to a Colbert Report taping in September (which, coincidentally enough, is located at the same place where The Nightly Show tapes on West 54th Street) while Miles had gone to both Colbert and The Daily Show. It was Marisa’s first taping.

But what does that entail, aside from a shorter work day? With various degrees of expertise, we dove straight in, gathering these helpful hints to ensure viewers of all experience levels can have a great time.

1) Get there early

The Nightly Show suggests arriving at the studio to check in between 3 and 4pm, but you might want to play it safe and get there even earlier—for a couple reasons.

For one, the show is brand new, and people are excited and curious about it, so at least while the buzz from the early show brings them in, there’s going to be a lot of people. Unlike The Daily Show, the panelists aren’t listed on the website ahead of time. The Nightly Show’s Twitter account might not even post the guest list until after the show’s done taping.

And just because you have an email confirmation for a taping doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get in. These shows purposely give out more tickets than there are seats to make sure that the audience is full.

We got there around 3:07pm, and we barely made it into the taping.

2) Dress for the weather—and pack light

Sure, you’re ultimately going to be sitting in a studio, but first you’ll have to wait for a few hours—and you’ll be standing for a good portion of it, so wear comfortable shoes, and if possible, leave that laptop bag at the office or stop home first.

I had initially debated about leaving my scarf in the office, but almost as soon as I got in line I was glad that I didn’t. Even then, I could barely feel my feet by the time the staff let us in. When in doubt, wear that extra layer. At the risk of sounding like my parents, you can take the coat off in warmer weather, but you can’t pull something out of thin air for when you’re too cold.

3) Bring friends and/or entertainment (or make new friends!)

Because you’re probably going to be in line for an hour or two before you move anywhere, things will get dull pretty quickly. If you’re alone, you’re surrounded by people with whom you have at least one thing in common: You’re probably all fans of the show you’re about to see.

You have to turn off your phones when you enter the studio, but before then, the staff is all for you photographing and posting your pictures and selfies with Wilmore (courtesy of large photographs in the lobby). You can spread the word about the show and the taping while showing everyone at home what they’re missing.

Once you enter the studio, you’ll probably want to have a book on hand if you get separated from everyone in your party. You can always try to observe the different details of the set, too: Wilmore’s clocks tell time counter-clockwise.

4) You’ll still get to see the show if they run out of seats

There may be a chance that after all that waiting you still might not get to sit in the audience. It’s unfortunate, but the staff will try accommodating you with a seat in the lobby so you can watch the show being taped on the TVs out there. Sometimes they may even offer you a guaranteed ticket to a future taping.

5) The warm-up comedian may be terrible, but he’s important

Along with telling a few jokes to get the audience warmed up, this person’s here to explain how the show works. The audience has to bring it, which basically means that when you find something funny or clap, you have to do it a lot louder than you normally would at home. This is so that the microphones above studio will pick up the sound and broadcast it to the TV viewers back home.

Yes, that’s real laughter you’re hearing.

In between relevant information, the comedian will often pick people out of the audience and make jokes that may not always hit the mark. During Wednesday’s taping, he happened to pick out someone whose name people might not recognize despite being very familiar with his website: Craig Newmark, the “Craig” of Craigslist.

6) Come prepared with some questions

After the warm-up act, Wilmore comes out to talk to the audience and ask some questions, much like Jon Stewart does during his tapings and Stephen Colbert did on his show. It’s a chance to ask him something completely silly or even learn something—like how the panel part of his show was Stewart’s idea—and you get to see Wilmore’s personality shine through.

The show is still working out some of the kinks, but he’s ever appreciative to have the opportunity.

“It’s been a special week,” Wilmore told the audience. “I still can’t believe I’m doing this.”

7) You might have to cheer for something you don’t agree with

During Wilmore’s “Keep It 100” segment, the audience gets to judge whether a panelist was “real” when asked a direct question by Wilmore or it was “weak”; they’ll either get a sticker or a bag of weak tea from him.

Wednesday’s show was about President Obama’s State of the Union speech, and Wilmore asked the Blaze’s Amy Holmes if, as a woman, she would’ve stayed seated with her fellow Republicans when Obama called for equal pay for women. The audience didn’t like her answer, but she reminded them that she kept it real and should’ve been applauded. Wilmore agreed.

8) They probably won’t get everything right the first time

It might not be as funny the second time around, but when the crew needs to shoot something again, you have to laugh or clap just as hard and pretend you hadn’t heard the joke. Your taping might be longer because of it, but the staff likely wants to put out the best show for the audience, both at home and in-studio. Once the audience leaves, the staff has only a few hours to put out the show to air for the rest of the country.

And that’ll be something worth watching.

Screengrab via Comedy Central/YouTube

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*First Published: Jan 23, 2015, 11:00 am CST