Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Best Damn Christmas Album Period

Admittedly, I'm a girl of quirky tastes. Not out of any deliberate effort on my part (that would just make me annoying), but it's just the way I'm wired up. Maybe it has something to do with the four-year-old neighbor dropping me on my head as an infant, I dunno. Nonetheless, I've usually been able to find someone out there who will back me up on most things. I basically formed my clique of friends in junior high based soley on whether they thought Mystery Science Theater was the best TV show ever made. True, people of this mindset were not numerous, nor were they really in the highest stratosphere of the middle school pecking order, but we were a merry band of geeks, and it seemed to work out okay.

But I have never been able to get one person to back me up on what is, to me, the best damn Christmas album ever recorded. The Sheps being a multi-culti family, we get our Jew on each year for Chanukah and then goy it up like nobody's business on Christmas. Nine crazy nights, thank you, and we like it that way. So we're extremely emotionally invested in our choice of Christmas music. Elvis gets a lot of play, as does the Ramsey Lewis Trio. But bar none, the album with the most heavy rotation is John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together.

Now, I know that mine is a generation that delights in irony, and resurrecting the icons of our youth for kicks (Transformers: The Movie? Already done, and done better, in 1986). But this is no hipster, winking devotion of mine to the Muppets album. True, as a kid I liked hearing the funny voices sing the standards. But I swear on all that is holy, there are some original songs on there that will break your heart. Beautiful stuff -- that just happens to be sung by Muppets. Sadly, folks just can't seem to get past this.

And that's too bad, because "The Christmas Wish" as sung by Kermit the Frog, is a sweet song that's inclusive without being pandering and would solve all kinds of problems if more people listened to it. And "It's in Every One of Us" is so lovely that my mom actually wants it played at her funeral. Which is a little weird, but that's the kind of emotion this stuff provokes. You just have to, you know, forget that it's being sung by cartoon characters, which can be a bit difficult on the first listen (especially since Fozzie Bear has a surprisingly booming baritone), but trust me, you will get past it.

You know what, don't listen to me. Buy the damn thing. I think I found it on CD for like, 9 bucks, in the bargain bin. Of course, you really want the vinyl, as it has at least 2 extra songs on it, and has that lovely popping sound that only records can make that sounds so bloody good when you're curled up on a winter's night, sitting by the newly decorated tree with the jacked-up ornaments, getting sloshed with Mom and Dad on SoCo and cranberry, talking about how Terrell Owens eats his own shit....::sniff:: I love the holidays...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Memo to the Philadelphia Eagles

Dear Philadelphia Eagles:

I know it's been a turbulent season so far, but I learned two mindblowing things today that could help turn things around.

The first thing I learned is that a standard professional football field is really 100 yards long, not 80! So when you get to your opponents 20 yard line, you actually have to keep going for it to really make a difference! I know, right?!? That's how you get those awesome 6 point things called touchdowns. Now we know! Don't worry if you forget. The next time you wander aimlessly into the red zone (that's those last 20 yards. Crazy!), I'll remind you by yelling really really loud at the TV for you to keep going.

The other thing I learned is that a regulation length football game is a whopping 60 minutes of play time. Not, as previously thought, 55 minutes of dicking around before you actually have to start doing something. I know that makes things a little tougher, but now that we have that cleared up, I imagine you'll score a lot more points!

I hope that helps a little. And remember, the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2006 on a 10-6 record, so it's all good! And I don't want to get rid of Donovan. Like millions of other deluded women, I love my abuser.

Gotta go, guys! Love and kisses,

Robyn

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Support Your Local Rockstar Classmate (and Bring Galoshes)

I think it's fair to say that I've settled in nice and cozylike to the new PR gig at RESULTS. At the very least, I'm assuming they have confidence in my abilities based on the fact that my workload shot up like a mother after Congress got into session. The professional highlight of the past six weeks was the coordination of a press conference call with Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. True, it was just a conference call, and Mr. Yunus was about 200 miles away in NYC at the time, but I still think I'm moving up in the world.

Not content to keep my public relations activities confined to business hours, I've devoted a fair amount of free time this past week to drumming up support for Council Rock homeboy turned indie-rock-superstar-to-be Shwa Losben, who played Iota in Arlington last night. Shwa's a nice boy from Holland, Pa. who did an impressive turn at American University and then made the rather ballsy decision to become a full-time singer-songwriter. And durned if he isn't brilliant at it. He's toured fairly constantly for about three years now, built a nice following in DC, and moved himself up to NYC last year. Last night, I assembled a modest crew and had a proper night out at the Shwa show, staying out until the outrageous hour of 1:45 a.m.

The only lowlight of the evening was the fact that I seemed to be one of the only clubgoers who got caught in a torrential downpour walking from the car to the venue -- so my bedraggled, soaked, mascara-smeared entrance among the nicely coiffed and attired hip young things of Northern Virginia was somewhat less than dignified. Happily, everybody's friends at a Shwa show, so nobody seemed to mind the soggy midget in their midst. I'll get the poised and elegant thing down one of these days. Just not anytime soon.

Robyn

Saturday, September 8, 2007

New York Day Trip

I really ought to have written about this last week, when it was all fresh and new, but I still think a few items from our First Anniversary/Labor Day Sunday trip to NYC bear mentioning.

Despite the fact that I lived at the junction of Little Italy and Chinatown for my last semester at NYU, I never explored Chinatown as thoroughly as I did last week. Chinatown wasn't necessarily on our itinerary, but we found ourselves heading there after an ill-fated trip to the shiny Nintendo store in Rock Center did not yield the kind of quality import games that Mark was looking for. A knowledgable staffer clued us in to J&L on Elizabeth Street. While the name of the store itself is a knock-off of the eminent J&R electronic store near City Hall, the wares on store there are most definitely the real, crazy-Asian article. If one is so inclined to score strange, Japanese games not found in Best Buy, it's the place to go. I picked up Sing Star 80s for myself. Rockin'.

We next went on a quest for soup-filled steamed dumplings, like what we saw on No Reservations on the Travel Channel. We figured the best thing to do would be to ask the dudes at J&L, who helpfully steered us to Joe's Shanghai on Pell Street. It's a bit hectic (we had to sit with some very nice strangers), but the soup dumplings are indeed, as the J&L guy said, "retarded good." Plus, Mark got a shrimp and rice cake entree and I got a ginormous, magically delicious plateful of fried oysters, and we walked out of there for under $40. Chinatown is good.

Then it was on to the previously uncharted world of Red Hook, Brooklyn on another quest to find a legendary bar that serves moonshine, lets you play with the in-house bulldogs, and (if you choose) grill your own meat on some open grills in the backyard. For this adventure, we were joined by a friend of ours known as the Koz. Koz was born and bred in Brooklyn, and yet he didn't know this area either. I felt like Marco freakin' Polo. We discovered that Red Hook is quite lovely, and we weren't even fazed by the sudden appearance of the BQE, which slightly altered our route. We found our destination, and found a slight, but friendly crowd, who offered moral encouragement as I schooled my two gentleman companions on how to down a double shot of moonshine. Granted, I had never had moonshine, so didn't really know first-hand how to down it myself, but I managed to gulp it down and maintain my dignity, and even received a salute from a local at the end of the bar. The bulldogs, sadly, were not in attendence, but it was quickly clear that neighborhood dogs were more than welcome. Suitably buzzed, we trundled off back to Manhattan for Afghan food before clambering back on to good old NJ Transit back to home base in Richboro.

So it's not the freshest news, but I think there were some PSAs that sorely needed to be delivered to the general population. If you're jonesing for some dumplings and moonshine in NYC, don't say you don't know where to go.

Robyn

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Medical Update

And they said it couldn't be done.

In my last post, I insinuated that it would be unlikely that I could beat the vertigo-strep-mono combo of last year. But that was before the pinkeye-kidney stone double whammy of 2007.

I spent a fine Thursday afternoon doubled over in the ER puking my guts out and having significant difficulty with my internal plumbing. A CATscan discovered that, hooray!, I had a kidney stone of not insifgnificant size making the grand journey south, and causing all kinds of trouble along the way. By the time I got taken care of, I was told that there wasn't much to be done except to see Mr. Kidney Stone off, and to take some Percocet to feel better.

Fast forward to two days later when I was feeling much better and dancing about at an 80s tribute band party, and all was well. But I have become something of a preferred customer at CVS. The other day I went to pick up a regular prescription, and the pharmacist at this downtown DC establishment (which probably sees thousands of customers a day), knew my freakin' name. It was all "Hi Robyn! We'll be right with you!" before I even got up to the counter.

I don't know about you, but I'm thinking that just ain't right.

Robyn

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pestilence of the Eyeball

True to fashion, I've been suffering from a bizarre medical malady this week. Following the vertigo-mono-strep combo of December 2006, this week I was struck with a sudden, and gnarly, case of conjunctivitis, commonly known as pinkeye.

Yes, pinkeye. That scourge of the nursery school crowd. I think I'm regressing. This winter I got mono, the teenager's disease. Now I'm back in pre-K. Mark better beware -- I may start getting colicky.

After some shenanigans sorting out my new insurance, I have been well taken care of, and the magic eye drops have made me feel close to better. So why mention any of this? Because I have some bitchin' visual aids, that's why!

Check it -- Compare / Contrast




Good eye




Bad eye




Beauty, eh? I'm thinking of sending it to webmd.com

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

You've Been...Bunderstruck!

I promise I didn't want to do it.

I just got a freakin' iguana for cryin' out loud. I already have two cats. And for God's sake I live with one other person in a one-bedroom apartment in downtown DC.

But my brand new officemate at my brand new job (more on that later -- this is important, dammit) found a tiny, defenseless, very tame baby rabbit -- nay, baby bunny -- on the doorstep of his building on Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park and needed someone to take him home or else he'd go to a shelter.

I held out for one whole day, but then he e-mailed me the pictures, and it was game over.

Meet the new addition. His/her working name is Bun Scott, after the late lead singer of AC/DC. We'll see if it sticks.





Robyn

Friday, July 13, 2007

This. Is. Shepardy.

Yesterday finally saw the airing of the long-ago taped Jeopardy episode. Contractually, I was not allowed to blog about the experience. Telling all of my friends and sending numerous e-mails was somehow fine, but blogging (even on a craptastic blog such as this) was a no-no. So now it can be told. I finally fulfilled my dream of losing on Jeopardy.

The first round went swimmingly for me, and then everyone got comfy with the buzzers and I didn't ring in nearly as much in the second round. In order to have a prayer of winning, I had to bet it all, which is what I did. Sadly, I could not figure out the Final Jeopardy clue, so I lost everything and wound up in third place. Jeopardy is a cruel mistress.

For the record, the reason people bet everything on Jeopardy is that you don't get to keep your winnings unless you win first place. Second place gets $2000, and third place gets $1000 -- or about enough to cover the trip out to California. Thus, I could either settle for $2000 or play for $18,000, knowing I'd at least walk away breaking even. You do what you gotta do. It didn't help that the Final Jeopardy clue was crazy hard. Nobody got it, and I didn't have to kick myself for not getting it right.

If you're at all curious about the content of the clues, and OCD-infused analysis of wagering and game dynamics, check out the job the wingnuts at J-Archive have done. The Internet is good.

Here's the interesting stuff: Taping a show involves coming in at about 8 am to the studio lot, and eating yummy pastries while filling out all kinds of paperwork and making friends with the 20 or so people who will playing in the five shows that will be filmed that day. The green room is very well-appointed and very, very cold. You get to play a bunch of practice rounds on the set with the buzzers, and a producer stands in for Alex Trebek. The set is very blue and very shiny.

When the audience comes in at about 10 am, you are instructed not to even look at your loved ones on pain of death, because they might have seen the clues getting readied on the board before you're trotted out there. Naturally, everyone finds some lint on their shoulder or something so we can all steal furtive glances at our families to see where they're sitting. Players for each of the five shows are picked "randomly," though I think performance at practice might have something to do with the lineups, and between each show all the contestants are herded back and forth to the green room. Makeup is extensive and thorough -- they literally airbrush you with foundation. Short folks are given steps to stand on behind the podiums. Some special short people get two boxes. After your show tapes, you can leave, or watch from the audience (where you are now allowed to acknowledge your family). You get a tote bag and a glass picture frame in which to insert your souvenir photo of you and Trebek on the set that they take during a commercial break.

You don't get to talk to Trebek much, because he's seen all the clues, and they don't want you talking to anyone who's seen the clues ahead of time. He's nice and chatty at the end of the show, though. After my show he came right up to me and said "I thought you were gonna catch him." I was all, "I thought so too, Alex." Then you go to the front of the stage for the "rapping with Alex" part that you see when the credits roll and everyone's talking together but you can't hear what they're saying.

The staff and the other contestants were all really nice. By the time I was called up to play in the fourth show, I was more than ready to go, and was so comfortable that I forgot I was being taped for a show that would be seen by a whole, whole lot of people. Honestly, the saddest thing about losing was that I still felt like I wanted to play some more. I couldn't even be mad at the dude that beat me, because we had been hanging out all day, and you kind of support everyone. It's a bit twisted like that.

I watched the show this Thursday with about 20 friends camped out on my apartment floor eating pizza and drinking beer and champagne. Good times were had, and I think massive humiliation was avoided. Besides $18,000 in winnings, I couldn't ask for much more.

Now to start training for the World Series of Pop Culture.

Robyn

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Enter the Dragon

The annual trip to Aruba is over and done with, and it was lovely. I did exactly jackshit except read on the beach, swim with the pelicans, eat fresh fish, drink rum, make $20 at roulette, and save a sick lizard (again). Awesome.

I've mentioned the iguanas in Aruba before, and they really are quite charming. Mark adopted a small colony outside the cafe at the resort, whom he met for breakfast every morning. On the way home, we both decided that iguanas were indeed bitchin', and we should totally get one. We also decided that if we did not do this soon, we never would do it. So two days after we got back from Aruba we drove out to Annandale and got us a goddam iguana.

Now, one cannot just waltz into the Super Petz and declare their desire for an iguana expecting to take it home immediately. We had to prep by procuring the most ginormous leezard cage known to man. It looks like a phone booth made out of mesh. The leezard also requires more lighting than a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, so we had to get that as well, so leezard will think he's in the tropics, and not a climate-controlled, overpriced one-bedroom in downtown DC. Leezard also requires climbing things, and many, many greens. Leezard eats better than we do. So these had to be acquired before the Super Petz people let us take an iguana home, to ensure that we were properly equipped. They then plopped leezard in a paper bag which they stapled shut and sent us on our way.

It turns out that iguanas are skittish creatures, and they can be a little freaked out when they first come home. They demonstrate their displeasure by not pooping. It may seem intuitive that a lack of lizard poop is not necessarily a bad thing, but after a week we were a bit worried. Not to be indelicate, but in the people world it seems that such a movement is required at least once a day to keep one agreeable -- preferably just after breakfast and maybe around 11:30 as well. After a week, well, I know I'd be pretty unbearable. I can only imagine that leezard was in a great deal of discomfort.

We were then faced with the prospect of forcing our lizard to shit. Reptile vets proscribe soaking the lizard in warm water to get them to do this. This is not easy, especially when the animal in question is still freaked out at you and won't let you near it without scratching your hands and whipping you with its tail. Ouch. So I donned a pair of gardening gloves, wrassled the lizard into submission (no, that is not a euphemism -- don't be cheeky), and confined our scaly friend in a tupperware container filled with half an inch of warm water and a few holes provided so he could breathe. We stared down at the box for a few minutes, awaiting the appearance of lizard scat, but the poor little guy was having some kind of performance anxiety, so we went away.

We returned a few minutes later to a lovely tupperware box filled with skanky, befouled lizard water, and a very animated lizard who wanted out immediately. Never have two people been so overjoyed to see reptile crap. It will be the last time, I assure you.

So Leezard is happily munching and pooping away, but he/she still lacks a name. Trogdor, Krang, Larry, and Neil Diamond have promise, but none seems to stick. We're not sure at this point if it's a boy lizard or a girl, which complicates things. We are accepting suggestions, however, if you feel you have some insight on the matter.

Robyn

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Last week I finally got around to getting properly bat mitzvahed. I had been taking an adult class every Tuesday for the past few years, and last Saturday I and 12 of my classmates were called to the Torah. For those who are fuzzy on the rules, once a Jewish kid turns 13 they are old enough to be considered an adult by the community and are permitted to chant from the Torah. Most folks get this done right when they turn 13, but the rule is that you can do it any time after that point. I thought I waited a good long time by holding out for another 13 years, but I was by far the youngest in the class. A lot of the women (and they were mostly women) belonged to conservative synagogues growing up, where girls were generally not bat mitzvahed. The oldest one in the class was a widow in her 70s.

It was a lovely, if lengthy, service and I was pleased that some of my nearest and dearest stuck it out to come down to DC on a Saturday morning to watch us all read. I daresay if was a moving occasion, and I'm very glad that I went through with it.

I'm not altogether glad I celebrated that night by getting hammered into oblivion on whiskey, Jaeger and car bombs at a bar called the Big Hunt (Get it? No? It's probably better that way), but I suppose that's the benfit/consequence of becoming a woman after passing the legal drinking age.

Another, comparatively less profound, milestone was reached last week -- at least it's a milestone as a DC citizen. I finally saw the Prez and First Lady in person at a speech about foreign assistance. The speech was unremarkable, save for some climate change stuff that really got the environmental folks all worked up. I learned that these events are entertaining primariliy for seeing who's there, and what faces they make at certain points of the speech. Otherwise they're pretty underwhelming. Except when it's Bono. That was fly.

I did get a picture or two of Homedude. Check it:



Scintillating, ain't it? The last time I saw W was when he was campaigning at Letterman and he wiped his glasses on the producers shawl. Hail to the dude.
Robyn

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Queenspotting

For various and sundry reasons I haven't been able to blog in a bit, but I thought I'd share my stellar paparazzi photos of Queen Elizabeth II.

I did my best to play it like I didn't really care that QE2 was in town last week, but last Tuesday I had worked through lunch, it was a beautiful day, and I discovered Liz was going to be at the WWII Memorial at 3 pm. So I took a late, long lunch, and got there just in time to see the Queenly entourage get dropped off about 100 yards away. The Queen was easy to spot, as she was wearing bright purple and was rather tiny. Also easy to spot was Barbara Bush, dressed in pale blue with a glorious poofy crown of white hair. I probably saw George H. W. Bush and Prince Philip too, but honestly, all the dudes looked alike from that distance.

I did get a close up glimpse of the smiling, waving Queen as the entourage passed on the way out, but, well, just check the pics.



Purple Queen alights from Queenly SUV.



Bye Queen!
Robyn

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Bees' Knees!

So today we got to work only to learn that there was a major bee swarm at the fire hydrant outside.



The bees weren't hurting anybody, in fact it's all perfectly natural.

But the good people of DC were scared! They didn't know what to do! So they called the heroic Lazlo, the Beekeeper.




Lazlo says, "Step 1 -- Cut a hole in a box! Step 2 -- Put your bees in the box!"



Once the Queen bee was secured inthe box, all of her bee friends joined her and the land was safe. The media broadcast the news far and wide, with the help of a rather comely roving reporter...

Robyn

Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Geek's Dilemma

So I am currently confronted with a conundrum.

This Sunday sees the second installation of the hi-def, zoological masterpiece that is Planet Earth on Discovery.

But that night also sees the premiere of The Tudors miniseries on Showtime.
Perhaps we should break this down mathematically.

Slo-mo shark attacks + panoramic cinematography + high definition TV at parents' house + critters = Awesome

Irish cute meat Jonathan Rhys-Myers + leggings + British royal intrigue + beheadings-a-plenty = Awesome

Damn. I'll have to ponder this further.

Robyn

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Jeopardy: Ya Betta Recolize

Some little girls dream of becoming a princess. Some dream of becoming a model. I wanted to be on Jeopardy.

On April 13 in Los Angeles, that dream will be realized.

Trebek. Shepherd. Coming to a TV near you. Late May. Ish. Maybe June. I dunno. I'll get back to you on that.

Tell Ken Jennings to watch his back. Holla.

Robyn

Friday, February 23, 2007

March of the Pages

I still keep my gig as a page at the Letterman show on my resume, because it looks kinda jazzy. Was it actually jazzy to work at a TV show? Sure, as long as you were being paid to be there. If you were there for free and of your own accord, well, don't say I (or the Times) didn't warn you:

From the New York Times:
Live From New York, It’s Cold People Waiting in Line By BEN SISARIO

I THOUGHT I deserved it.
But the hour and a half I spent on wind-whipped 49th Street in Manhattan two weekends ago, hunched in the predawn freeze with 100 other people, turned out to be a weak, amateur effort.
That kind of commitment may be enough — barely — to get into a taping of one of the daily comedy shows on cable. For those of us in the shadow of 30 Rockefeller Plaza that morning, however, it would take a much more punishing, more frigid, more sleepless dedication to get what we wanted: a low-numbered standby ticket to sit in the studio audience of “Saturday Night Live.”

Steve Martin once said that comedy is not pretty. It’s not cheap, either, as anyone who has run up a bar tab waiting through five stand-up comics knows. But almost every night of the week New York offers one of the world’s great comedy bargains, the chance to be part of the audience for the late-night shows watched by millions, free. In less than one square mile in Midtown, four weekday shows are taped in the afternoon: “Late Show With David Letterman,” “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report.” And “Saturday Night Live” broadcasts 20 new episodes each season.

“Free” almost always comes with qualifiers of course. As I learned while standing my way into every studio I could, the price for those free seats is time. And in deep winter there is another cost: the price of long johns. And something to protect tender ears from bitterly unfunny gusts.

Each year thousands of organized, forward-planning people — many of them tourists but plenty of New Yorkers too — arrange for tickets to these shows months in advance. The NBC information line states that for “Saturday Night Live” all requests must be made in August for the season that follows, and if you are lucky enough to be sent a pair, they will be for a random Saturday and cannot be exchanged. The rest of us have standby lines. Since most shows overbook to guarantee a full audience, standby is often a long shot. Subfreezing temperatures, however, can be the skinflint’s best friend, since the cold generally increases ticketholder absenteeism and decreases the number of people willing to risk frostbite to take those people’s place.

That, at least, was what I was counting on with “Saturday Night Live.” Its procedure is somewhat cruel. Numbered tickets are handed out on Saturday at 7 a.m., and suppliants return that night to wait for a chance to get in. Standby, no matter how many hours of chilly hardship you have endured, does not guarantee anything.

Huddled Masses, Yearning
I set my alarm for 5 a.m. and, with the skies still dark, slumped in a cab and headed for Rockefeller Center. My confidence sank when arrived and I saw the masses huddled beneath the “NBC Studios” marquee on 49th Street. They were bundled in thick jackets, wrapped in blankets and hidden in sleeping bags, and it was clear that many had been there all night.

Taking my place behind a group of 20-somethings from Florida — a birthday crew, one of three I encountered in various lines — I rubbed the arms of my inadequate wool coat for warmth as dairy and bakery trucks barreled by. At 6:57 a perky woman from NBC came out and explained the deal: We had a choice of standby tickets to either the dress rehearsal or the live broadcast.
One ticket per frozen nose.

I chose the live show, got a nicely printed blue card bearing No. 41 and headed home to thaw.
That night we queued up according to number — inside, thankfully — and waited for orders from the young women who mind this line, dressed in identical gray suits, like stewardesses. Around 11:15 one of our keepers explained with a smile that we could still be let in until just before the broadcast begins. It was 11:26 before I learned that I would not be so lucky.

Not every show is as hard to get into as “Saturday Night Live,” but none are truly easy. For “The Daily Show,” on Comedy Central, I filled out a request form for a regular ticket a few days in advance on the Web and to my surprise got a confirmation within hours. But even with this assurance I still had to wait in line. The audience is overbooked, so attendees are advised to come early.

On a blustery Tuesday I stood for almost two hours outside the 11th Avenue studio, where a banner above the door reads, in faux Old English script, “Abandon News, All Ye Who Enter Here.” Once inside I was led to a room with about 200 seats arranged on three sides around a fairly spacious stage, with Jon Stewart’s desk on a riser in the middle.

There I met my first warm-up man. Every show has one to get the audience members excited and to explain that even if they are not excited, they must fake it with lots of laughing, clapping and hollering. So accustomed the semi-vegetative state of late-night channel surfing, we were now asked to become actors.

Each warm-up man I saw relied on those hoariest of stand-up clich├ęs, ridiculing audience members’ home states and questioning their sexual orientation. But these uncomfortable moments offer important practice for the crowd’s prime directive: Even when it’s not funny, you must laugh.

It becomes Pavlovian. I chuckled and applauded heartily when Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, told Mr. Stewart, “We’re in the universe, but not only that: because the chemical ingredients of life are the same as that of the universe, and traceable to stars, the universe is also in us.”

But is that comedy? The funniest and most exciting moments were when something unscripted or unexpected happened. I could see on a monitor the lines that Mr. Stewart was supposed to be reading when he did his end-of-show check-in with Mr. Colbert, and the madcap jokes the two men improvised over a video link — acting out Daniel Day-Lewis’s running sequence in “The Last of the Mohicans” and bellowing, “I will find you!” — drew the most honest laughter of all.

The March of the Pages
I was still cold when I left “The Daily Show” studio about 7:10, and I was dreading even worse chills for “Late Show With David Letterman,” on CBS. About 4.1 million people watch Mr. Letterman on an average night, more than six times as many as watch “The Daily Show.” For a standby hopeful, that means serious competition for those scant extra seats.

To get standby tickets for “Letterman,” you must call at 11 a.m. and correctly answer a trivia question about the show. I haven’t been a regular watcher of it since high school, and the question I was asked — Who is Rupert Jee? — I couldn’t answer. (He’s the proprietor of the Hello Deli, around the corner from the studio.) But the man on the other end said: “Not a problem. Your number is 24. Come to the Ed Sullivan Theater at 53rd and Broadway at 3:30.”
I never had to give my number. When I arrived I was handed a ticket — a real ticket — and told to wait around the corner in the Roseland Ballroom. At 11 degrees, it was just too cold for an outside line, they said. Holding ticket No. 317, I waited in comfort on Roseland’s dance floor, where word got around that the guests on the show would be Dr. Phil and Fall Out Boy. At 4:15 we were led to the theater by the show’s pages, this time all young men in Worldwide Pants varsity jackets, after Mr. Letterman’s production company, and crossed 53rd Street like a family of ducks.

The intricate Gothic Revival interior of the Ed Sullivan Theater, built in 1927, is worth the trip alone. Inside, “Late Show” has the greatest audience capacity of all, with about 460 seats on two levels. But Mr. Letterman’s off-camera manner was brusque, and being there was not much different from watching it on television.

If my page-guided trip across 53rd Street for “Letterman” did not seem like the most sophisticated New York experience, I felt even less like a city slicker the next day at NBC’s “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” The policy there is for those without advance tickets to wait outside on 49th Street — the same spot as for “Saturday Night Live” — at 9 a.m. I was there at 8:30 and got No. 8; the temperature was 20 degrees. But returning to the studio at 3:45 I waited in line after line that shuffled through drab office corridors, all the while being directed by the “Late Night” crew. Go down this stairway, up that one; form a line four bodies wide; make sure your ticket is in the same hand as your wristband. It was like being a kindergartner again.
The reward was Conan O’Brien. I groaned when I heard that one of his guests would be Dr. Phil — whom I was not excited about seeing once, let alone twice — but the show was the only one that made me genuinely laugh out loud. It featured “Vomiting Kermit,” as in the frog, and a slide show of presidential candidates and their pop-culture look-alikes that paired Rudolph W. Giuliani with Skeletor from “He-Man” and Hillary Rodham Clinton with Chucky, the horror movie doll. Nobody said late-night TV had to be subtle.

Mr. O’Brien was a treat to see in person. Even paler and more boyish than he appears on screen, he was also doubly zany and energetic in his own crowd warm-up. Spending much more time with the audience than any other host, he directed two men in the front row to hug each other (they complied without hesitation) and then sent another young man to embrace the bandleader, Max Weinberg. (That one was a little less enthusiastic.)

As a live, improvising comedian, only Stephen Colbert compared. Dressed and coiffed as perfectly as a Brooks Brothers model, Mr. Colbert took questions from his crowd, which at about 100 was the smallest of all. When one man suggested that Mr. Colbert do Tek Jansen, his animated space-traveler character, “on ice,” he responded instantly with a fairly lengthy song and dance number about “super awesomely spectacular heroes.”

One of the Chosen
“Saturday Night Live” remained unconquered. As the weekend approached I waffled between staying overnight and just rolling the dice again at 5:30. Remembering the previous week’s line, I estimated that only the first 10 or 12 people had been equipped to spend the night; everyone else must have gotten there sometime between, say, midnight and 6. I split the difference and decided to go at 3.

I was 17th in line. At the front were, as I expected, about 10 people packed like sleepers at Pompeii, followed by recently arrived standees. Line etiquette allows brief absences for food and relief. I held out as long as I could and about 5:45 stepped into a nearby building and ran to the heating vents.

The skies began to lighten about 6:30, and at 7 a familiar face came out holding two stacks of tickets. I took No. 8 for the live show: a big improvement over 41, but still no sure thing.
Fast forward to 10:55 p.m. The first 12 of us were screened by security and then lined up, tantalizingly, in front of the elevator bank. There my party giggled nervously and asked the guards about eight versions of the same question: What are our chances? They gave about eight versions on the same answer: Totally unpredictable.

I was starting to lose hope when, at 11:15, a woman with a clipboard leaned around the corner and told the guard matter-of-factly, “Let ’em up.” We all hooted joyously and began our trip to Studio 8H, the home of “Saturday Night Live” for 32 years.

Taking my seat in the second-to-last row of extreme stage left, I was struck by the vastness and complexity of the operation. The area in front of the stage, and every exit I could see, teemed with activity as stagehands, producers with headsets and dozens of others took up whatever space was not occupied by a camera.

More than any other show I saw, “SNL” seemed most like an elaborately orchestrated television taping and less like theater, though the clockwork production activity became theater in itself. With sets constantly going up and being broken down all over the soundstage, the actors were often not visible, but the busy crew always was. The instant a skit cut to commercial, a woman grabbed the guest host, Forest Whitaker, by the hand and dragged him backstage. All the while Lorne Michaels, the show’s creator and executive producer, coolly paced the set in a charcoal suit and smart red tie.

After the show ended — it wasn’t the funniest episode I had ever seen, but I contributed my quota of laughter and applause — I walked through the doors of 30 Rock. The barriers were up on the sidewalk again and new lines were forming, this time to spot celebrities on their way out.
I was tempted to join them. But I decided instead that it was time to head for what was clearly the best seat in the house: my couch.