'The Colbert Report' Live: Errors and all

By Alex Intner, Daily Arts Writer
Published August 11, 2014

When you watch the episode of “The Colbert Report” that aired July 28th, you’ll see segments with some brilliant comedic and musical performances from Beck. However, what you won’t see are the many takes that were required to form the 22 minutes that were broadcast on Comedy Central that night. How do I know this? I was at the taping of that episode. On that day, I made the trip to the “Report” ’s studios and despite the long waiting, it was a “behind the scenes” experience that was wholly worth the hours it took.

The process is simple enough: I got in line at 4 p.m. and proceeded to wait for about three hours before being brought into the studio. A warm up comedian was then brought in to make jokes at the audience’s expense and teach us how to laugh. (As it turns out, the proper way is loudly and obnoxiously so the microphones above the seats pick it up.) Then, Stephen came out to many loud cheers, did a brief Q&A, and then started the show. The show itself lasted about 45 minutes. Stephen made some jokes, Beck played some music, and afterwards we were shown out of studio and on our merry way.

All that was great fun, but what really made the experience worthwhile for me were the moments that didn’t make it to the air. Moments like Colbert being mid-word and breaking character. This was usually followed by some snarky (and hilarious) comment about staying in character. Also, a technical issue during the Beck performance meant they had to play one of the songs twice, a problem about which no one was complaining. In the pre-show Q&A, Stephen even broke out some “Jesus Christ Superstar” when asked which role on Broadway he’d like to play. Colbert forms a bond with the audience that he uses throughout the taping to mine laughs.

It was moments like those that separated this particular taping from the others I’ve attended. I've seen episodes of "The Daily Show" and "Last Week Tonight" live, but those didn't have the errors and multiple takes that this one had. Colbert’s occasional errors gave the studio audience an experience that we wouldn't have had if we had just tuned in at 11:30 and watched the show on our televisions. Even if a taping of the "Report" is a well-oiled machine in terms of scheduling, there are the flukes that make "live" entertainment so much fun watch — even if there's a three hour wait.