Here’s the thing about doing the Standby Line: when you’re gearing up to come to a show, there’s very little certainty involved – the only thing you can control is yourself. That said, we’ve done the line a combined 65+ times (this page is current as of January 2020, Season 45), so we’ve compiled some helpful tips and tricks for you to take into account as we walk you through a typical Standby Line experience.
Where’s the line?
The line is on W 48th St, between 5th & 6th Aves. The start of the line begins at the Nintendo store at the Rockefeller building entrance – right across the street from Five Guys – and then continues down the sidewalk toward 6th Avenue. As of October, 2019: The official NBC site advises that the line will move to W 49th on Friday nights.
What time should I get there?
There’s no definitive answer for this. If the host/musical guest(s) are huge, the line will start earlier, but if the weather is gross or cold, fewer people will show up. A good rule of thumb for a typical week is to arrive at the Line on Friday afternoon/evening. We see a lot of line occupants show up after work on Fridays. We’ve also known people who’ve shown up at 6am on Saturdays who had no problem getting in. Once, we arrived at 6pm on Friday when Taylor Swift was on the show. We were close to #90 in line, but we made it in just fine! It’s a toss-up!
When do we get tickets?
Rockefeller security will start waking up and mobilizing/condensing the line somewhere around between 5am – 6:30am on Saturday morning (every week is a little different on this front). Then, the NBC pages will hand out standby tickets at exactly 7am. Everyone in line at that time will get a ticket (don’t forget – you have to be 16 years old or older and have a photo ID with you), but having a ticket in your hand does NOT guarantee you admission to the show.
Should I choose the Dress Rehearsal or the Live show?
When the pages come down the line on Saturday mornings, they’ll ask you to choose which show you’d like to go to. Dress Rehearsal runs from 8pm – 10pm, and the Live show airs from 11:30pm – 1am. We like to tell people that if you’re only doing the show once, do Live. The energy is better, production has worked out kinks, and if you’re only doing it once, then you should go big!
Also, if you’re coming for the musical guest, do Live for that as well. They’re not going to cut any live sketches with the musical guest in them, and if they cut a digital video, it’ll be uploaded online. Musical guests tend to go harder when they’re performing live.
If you’re not sure what you want to do, or if you don’t care which show you attend, you can also ask the pages in the morning how many people have chosen each show to give you a better gauge of which one to choose. In our experience, about the same number of people get into each show. Make sure to have your ID out and ready when the pages get to you to speed up the process for everyone.
How many people get into each show?
This is a toss-up, too. Both the host and the musical guest get 30 seats to fill, so if those aren’t filled, the remainder go to Standby Line ticket holders, as do any of the cast’s unused spots. There’s no definitive number, but from our experience, it’s somewhere between about 40 – 80 people for each show every week. Legend has it (read: we were told by NBC security) that Lorne Michaels himself holds about 30 seats EXCLUSIVELY for the Standby Line ticket holders for each show.
Your Time in the Line
What should I bring?
First and foremost, we recommend a chair and a sleeping bag. PLEASE remember, per Twitter user @siegelka, that if you have a warm afternoon/evening in line, that does NOT mean your night will be warm, too! Bring layers so you can keep relatively comfortable. Be prepared for rain and/or snow if inclement weather is in the forecast – we always bring a tarp with us just in case (and we discuss more rainy line tips in episode 3 of our podcast). Consider bringing a portable charger for your phone, but if you forget yours, you can always charge your phone at Starbucks across the street, or downstairs in the concourse at Rockefeller.
DO NOT FORGET YOUR ID! If you don’t have an ID, you WILL NOT be given a ticket on Saturday morning!
You might also consider making and bringing a sign to hang on the back of your chair. A LOT of people are going to ask you what you’re queuing up for, but you might be able to bypass some of that by having the info written out for them. There’s a little more info about the basics of Standby Line survival in the first episode of our podcast.
What should I NOT bring?
This is another one of those things that’s always different from week-to-week (and shift-to-shift, due to rotating Rockefeller security guards). Each guard kinda has their own rules, so what’s okay for the morning may not be allowed at night, or vice versa. Some GENERAL rules of thumb are: Tents and air mattresses are not allowed. We’ve seen people get away with both, but it’s always best to prepare for them being restricted. Tarps are not allowed to be draped over the barricades, but you can cover yourself with them. We’ve seen people get away with draping, too, but make sure you have a Plan B. As of November, 2019: The official NBC rules page has made some updates. They advise you CANNOT HAVE lounge chairs, mattresses, shared sleeping bags, or tents.
Where can I pee?
Restrooms downstairs in the Rockefeller concourse are open from 6am – 11pm daily. Delis 48, directly across the street from the line, has a bathroom open until midnight (if you make a purchase). For the remaining six hours, the nearest access is a block and a half away at a 24-hour McDonald’s @ 6th Ave & W 47th St.
Can I leave the line?
Yes! For short periods of time, you’re allowed to take off to use the restroom or grab food. That said, make sure you commit to spending the vast majority of your time in the line, otherwise you may be reported to NBC pages on Saturday morning. We’ve seen people get thrown out of line as far along in the process as right outside the elevators before you go up to Studio 8H. Don’t risk it! If you can’t stay in line, just come at a later time.
Can my friends join me in line?
Sure, but not six hours later. Your friends need to arrive VERY shortly after you do in order for this to fly. Additional people CANNOT join you in line on Saturday morning and pretend they’ve been there the whole time. Your entire group will be reported!
What do I do while I’m in line?
I don’t know, man, read a book or take a nap or something, you know? Make some new, like-minded friends! Newbies and younger fans are often very excited and want to stay up all night, but please be respectful of your line neighbors – keep the noise down as it gets late, and look out for each other! We’ve never had anything stolen or anything like that. It’s a wonderful little community.
Will I meet the host/musical guest/cast while I’m waiting?
Probably not, I’m afraid. ONCE IN A WHILE they’ll come out, drop by, or send the line pizza, but it’s super, super rare, so don’t get your hopes up.
After You’ve Survived the Line
Once you get your Standby Line ticket card, you’re free to go until the evening! Go take a shower and a nap, or explore the city a little until you have to come back.
Your standby ticket card will have your name, your number in line, and a return time listed on it. When you return, make sure you’re on time, and make sure you bring your ID back with you! Standby Line ticket holders will enter Rockefeller at the 6th Ave entrance under the NBC awning and head inside the NBC Shop. You can ask any employee from there where to go once you’re inside the store.
What can I bring in?
Make sure to read the fine print on your ticket card (click the images of the tickets to enlarge them), but it essentially says that NO backpacks or large bags are allowed inside. You WILL go through a metal detector on your way up to the studio! If you have luggage, make sure to leave it where you’re staying or in a storage locker – it will NOT be allowed inside.
How do I know if I’m getting in?
The simple answer here is that you don’t know if you’ve made it until your butt is literally in a seat in the studio. In THEORY, you can go all the way down the hallway and be at the door of the studio and still be turned away. That said, in our experience, and from what we’ve learned from some of the Standby Line Legends (they’ve been doing the line for years!), if you make it into the elevator, you’re in. We’d give it a 99.5% chance that this is accurate.
Here’s the process: Standby Line ticket holders are lined up in the NBC Shop according to the numbers on their ticket cards. This is where the waiting begins. You’ll do a LOT of waiting throughout this process!
Next, security will come out to the shop and give you a spiel about security measures and strictness (take metal out of your pockets! belts off! no photos beyond this point, but ESPECIALLY not in the studio or you WILL be removed!), and then they’ll take the first 20 (or so) into the metal detector room. This does NOT mean you’re not getting in! It’s just that they can only fit 20 people in that room.
Once through, you’ll line up two-by-two at the bottom of a stairway. Then you’ll be led to the top of the steps, but you’ll wait, again, two-by-two. After that, you’ll go inside a hallway and wait some more. This area is where you’ll be able to see the famous Peacock Lounge – where people with lottery tickets wait to go into the show.
Next, the line is led a little further down the hallway past the grand staircase to, yes, you guessed it, wait some more. This room is cool – there are digital photograph walls displaying images from previous seasons of SNL. NBC Pages will then hand out wrist bands in groups of about 20, and then they’ll start sending people into the elevators twelve at a time based on the number of open seats. If you make it into the elevator, you’re most likely in! After that, you walk one more hallway, and at the end of that one, you will hand off your ticket card to a page at a podium, and then you’ll be guided into the studio and into your seat.
You Made It!
Whether you got in to the show or not, you’ve survived a Saturday Night Live Standby Line experience and we’d like to hear from you. Send your story to us using this contact form, or you can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.