Today’s tale takes an unexpected turn to New York City. A few weeks back, fresh from a recent visit to Saturday Night Live, I was full of excitement from being part of a live studio audience. That’s when I saw a tweet from the folks at the Late Show with Stephen Colbert saying they had tickets available for March. I clicked on the link, filled out all the info, and then waited. A few weeks later I got the word that we had tickets to the show. Woo hoo! I still wasn’t sure we were going to be able to go, so I kind of kept it underneath my hat and just let it play out. We still had doubts about going right up until we left this morning. But in the end, we realized that these little types of adventures usually bring us a lot of joy, so we threw caution to the wind and hopped in the car for the three and half hour journey to the greatest city in the world.
Today was National Spanish Paella Day. Had we not gone to the City, I was going to make a nice big pot of it and enjoy it for dinner. But knowing that we would be in a car for most of the day and we would be away from home, making paella was a bit of a challenge. I had some hope that we would stumble across a great Spanish restaurant in the city that offered paella, but then again we were really just heading in and out for the show. Our plans really didn’t include a nice big dinner or seeking out fancy Spanish restaurants. Still, there was always the possibility a paella restaurant would magically appear on our route – these things happen in NYC. I kept an open mind and heart full of hope. However, as a back up plan, I knew it was also International Whiskey Day, so in a pinch, that would be much easier to celebrate.
We made good time and got to the city a little after 3:00. We found a random parking garage which was actually on 53rd street and conveniently on the same block as the Ed Sullivan Theater, home of the Late Show. We got out and immediately got in line. One thing I learned about being in a studio audience is that you really have to be comfortable with standing in lines. You go from one line to the next and just wait. That’s what we did. They checked our IDs and our tickets, we got wristbands to let us in, we walked through the security check and then stood in line. We waited in this last line for a long time. It was hot inside the waiting area, cramped and not much movement, very much like cattle in a corral. If you had to go to the bathroom, you had to muscle through the other awaiting audience members just to get to the open lane that got you to the bathroom and then muscle your way back. Plus, because they kept warning you that there would be no other opportunity to use the facilities, pretty much everyone had to use the bathroom. It got pretty uncomfortable, but they played some clips from the show in the area that kept you occupied. After about an hour, they made the announcement that we were heading in, so with excitement and at a very slow pace, we entered the studio filing in row by row.
There are two levels for seats in the studio and I was very excited to be sitting on the lower level which is on the same level as the set. We actually got some pretty good seats. If you are looking at the stage, we were in the left section towards the back but two seats from the center aisle. Stephen’s desk was right in front of us. The set is beautiful and a far contrast from the SNL set. The SNL set had a temporary feel to it, like a working warehouse, because the scenery changes so fast. On the Late Show, there’s a home for Stephen Colbert with his desk area, his stage area (where he does his monologue) and the band area where Jon Batiste and Stay Human work their magic. The stage is very clean and very shiny with lots of lighting effects to give it energy. Our seats were actually surprisingly comfortable too with lots of legroom. That’s unusual in any theater, but it made for a nice relaxed atmosphere. When we were all piled in, they started to get the audience pumped up with announcements and cheers. They said that Stephen and all his guests feed off the energy of the crowd, so they wanted us to make it lively. We cheered when they wanted us to and clapped like fools. They had a comedian come out to warm up the crowd too. He was actually from Narragansett, RI – a guy by the name of Paul Mecurio. We gave a little cheer for the 401 when we learned this info. He was funny too. He was able to work the crowd asking random audience members questions that ended up getting good laughs. He got us all cheering too including the famous “Steph-en! Steph-en! Steph-en!” chants that are part of the show’s tradition. After the comedian was finished, Jon Batiste came out and rocked the house.
A few years back, Lola and I went out to dinner in Newport with my sister and her friend who happened to be in town. We went to one of the fancy restaurants down by the water and afterwards, perhaps filled with some liquid courage, we discovered that the restaurant had a dance floor and a DJ. Oddly enough, we joined in the dancing which is not something we typically do. There we were, boogeying the night away (Lola even got in a dance off with some young chump that thought he could out bust a move on Lola). At one point, the DJ stopped the music and made a special announcement that a guy named Jon Batiste was in the house and he was going to play for us on stage. Then we sat back and watched as this guy pulled out a keymonica and started jamming. We had no idea who he was. Come to find out he was in town headlining the Newport Jazz Festival. But we were clueless, so we just sat back and enjoyed our buzz and this guy that everyone seemed pretty excited about. A few years later, I saw him again when he was named as the musical host of the Late Show. Today. He entered the stage tonight to a great round of applause (he didn’t recognize us) and his band came out too. Man can those guys rock it. They started playing the show’s theme song but intertwined it with another funky song. Each band member played a solo to get everyone pumped and it was probably the best tuba solo I’ve ever heard (definitely in the top three). Then, after the band got us all excited, Stephen Colbert appeared.
I have a bit of a man crush on Stephen Colbert. He just makes me smile. Not that you didn’t know it, but he is a very funny fellow. Brilliantly funny in fact. I was a little late to the Colbert appreciation wagon, but once I boarded, I was all in. His humor is smart and it takes that kind of intelligence to weave his way through the political climate of today’s society. He finds the funny, but if you look closely, there’s a message too. His also a great performer. He’s an improv guy and respects the rules of that art form. Plus he just seems like a genuinely nice guy. He seems like a guy I would get along with – someone I would be drawn to because he would keep me laughing and get my humor too. So yeah, I kind of crush on him. When he appeared on the stage, the crowd erupted. He gave Jon Batiste a big hug, and then waved back excitedly to the crowd and proceeded to take some questions. He was kind of hurried (he did have a show to start), but he gave some quick honest answers to some genuine audience questions. He then said that they were going to start with a cold open that was prerecorded. That clip would play on the monitors and Stephen would stay on stage and watch it along with us. When it finished, the band would start to play the theme song and then the announcer would start introducing the night’s guests, etc. That’s when Stephen would disappear back stage and reappear when he was officially announced onto stage. We were told to cheer like crazy when we saw him, as if this was the first time we saw him today. That’s pretty much how it happened.
His first two guests were Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. Those are some pretty big deals. They were promoting their Netflix television show, but also mentioned that it was 37 years since they first worked together on 9 to 5. They are both still pretty sharp. Lily and Stephen seemed to have an immediate rapport together. He could feed off of her sarcasm and dry wit. Jane was interesting too and was ready to talk about anything. Honestly, these are two icons of strong women in the entertainment world who are still marching for rights and freedoms. Pretty powerful to see them. I feel they could have kept talking and giving more details, however the show had to move one. The second guest was writer/director Jay Chandrasekhar who is most famous for creating the Super Trooper movie. I’ve never seen that movie but it’s kind of a cult hit and has lots of fans. He was a good guest because he could tell some interesting stories. I’d still rather have had more time with Lily and Jane, but it was an interesting little segment. The show ended with a song by Aimee Mann which was a little dark and melancholy (as her songs tend to be), but a good performance. Jon Batiste and Stay Human accompanied her band and the music and her voice filled the room making it feel very intimate. It was pretty great actually. And then after commercial break, that was it. When Stephen ends his show, he runs up the aisle and out the front door. When he ran up the aisle, he ran right past us and you can actually see our heads for a second as he sprints by. That as the last we saw of him.
After that, the party was over. The band plays one final song but as they finish, the lights go up and everyone is asked to leave. It’s kind of anti-climactic. We were craving one final curtain call from Stephen. It never came, so we marched back through the foyer and were deposited out on Broadway where the sun was still out. That was a bit confusing because we had been in a dark theater for a few hours watching a show that we would usually watch at midnight. Now it was still light out. It was still a great show however and we both knew that we had made another adventure happen by just answering the universe.
One thing we never got the chance to do before heading into the theater was eat and by the time the show was over, we were famished. I mean starving. We didn’t have a ‘sitting down to a fancy meal’ in us but we definitely needed something. We walked up 53rd Street to see if we could find a pizza place or something fast and casual and when we got to 8th Avenue we saw a sign for a shop that specialized in grilled cheeses and tater tots. Perfect. We ordered up and within minutes we were woofing down our dinners. I got a burger melt with tots while Lola opted for a bacon grilled cheese with some tomato soup. We sat at the counter which faced the street and munched away while recapping our Late Show adventure. It was kind of perfect. Except however, it wasn’t paella, or international whiskey. I still had to celebrate.
After we left the restaurant, we headed back down 53rd Street where our car was parked. That’s when I asked Lola if we could stop somewhere quick and get some whiskey so I could get my celebration in. She said, “No!” and I completely understood. We were tired, full and had a three and a half hour journey ahead of us. She just wanted to get on the road. I was ok with this and then realized I could have some whiskey when I got home. But then Lola thought about it and she thought that it would be more of a celebration if it was in New York. In case you ever wondered, Lola really supports this whole celebration thing. I couldn’t do it without her. She agreed to stop someplace for a quick drink, but she just didn’t want to go to some touristy spot in Times Square. I didn’t either. Then I looked across the street and right next to the garage where our car was parked was a big door with a blue neon sign above it. It looked kind of inviting, yet mysterious. The sign said Duets. We went to check it out. We opened the door and there were stairs that led down. It was a clean and bright little stairwell, but somewhat nondescript. Lola was being the brave one now and she was pushing ahead. I was having my misgivings. The door at the bottom opened up and suddenly we were in a lobby which had a counter on one side and a giant bar on the other. It was a karaoke bar. It wasn’t just a karaoke bar, it was one where they put you in your own room and you get to run the machine just for your party. I was ready to turn around and forget about it, but Lola was all in. She had found her happy place.
We needed the woman at the counter to explain it to us in pretty simple terms. It was exactly what we thought, and it was actually pretty cheap. I think it was like $12 for an hour. So we went on another adventure, but this one starred us. The host took us in to a room at the end of a hallway. It had couches along the walls and two tables in the middle. The room could probably hold a dozen people, but it was just the two of us, and the room was all ours. Remind you, it’s about 7:30 on a Monday – not your peak karaoke hours. The host gave us a tablet which we could search for songs and then enter them into the karaoke machine to play. She gave us two microphones and then told us if we need anything, just pick up the phone and order it. She then closed the door behind us. It was bright in the room but we could control the lights with a dimmer switch which we did to give it some more ambiance. We could hear other people singing in the other rooms. They actually sounded pretty good. We’d change that. I looked at the drink menu and then picked up the phone. I ordered a Jameson Irish Whiskey on the rocks. Lola went with a margarita. Before I had the phone hung up, Lola had Salt N’Peppa’s “Shoop” cued up on the machine and was ready to go.
Lola will bust out “Shoop” whenever she hears it. It’s kind of her theme song. But this time, she had full accompaniment and a microphone. She was going full-out including dance moves. She only stopped when the waitress knocked on the door and brought in our drinks. Then she kept going. She was like the lost member of the group – she was Cayenne Peppa – and she was in heaven. So that’s how I celebrated International Whiskey Day. In a Japanese karaoke bar in the city of dreams with a glass of Irish Whiskey and the best musical entertainment I could ever ask for.
For some reason, this whiskey tasted really good. I’m not one that usually goes for whiskey, especially on the rocks, but for whatever reason, this one was delicious. It went down as smooth as a lullaby and if we were not driving home, I probably would have kept going. I think my future has more Irish Whiskey in it. And naturally I needed the whiskey to sing too. I answered Lola’s song with my rendition of “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and then hit Lola with a special version of “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”. She came back with a heartwarming rendition of “All Out of Love” followed naturally by some Michael Jackson “Black or White.” This whole scene was ridiculous. We sang loud and strong, so there was no hiding our badness. But we were having fun. It was such a strange little twist to this day but almost the perfect twist.
This was a night of laughs. Lola busted out her Cher song (you knew that was coming), and right at the end, the phone in the room rang and it was the host to tell us our hour was up. After a spilt second thought about re-upping for another hour, we decided to quit while we were ahead. We put our last song in the queue and then for our finale, we duetted on “Don’t go Breaking My Heart.” The party was over. But a fun party it was. All we had to do now was drive home. But to be honest, the energy of the whole night was still surging through our body and that kept us pretty awake all the way home. We were in bed safe and sound by midnight.
And that my friends was a day of celebration. We both started the day with doubts about leaving home and not wanting to go, but we finished the night with big smiles from a night of memories. We got to see a hero of mine, got to see two living legends of Hollywood, heard some great music, ate some grilled cheeses and washed it down with some International Whiskey as Lola serenaded me with some “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” That’s a damn good night and I’m so glad I celebrated.
Next Up: National Something on a Stick Day