September 2017: The 2017-2018 Saturday Night Live ticket lottery is now closed. For full ticket details, visit the NBC ticket page, it tells you everything you need to know about how the lottery works.


In short: it is very difficult to get tickets to Saturday Night Live. I’ve won the ticket lottery twice now, read on to learn more about what to expect if you are lucky enough to win tickets.

Prospective audience members must enter a ticket lottery. Tickets are free, but there’s a catch. You may only enter the lottery during the month of August for the upcoming season. If your name is drawn, they’ll email you. You take what you get, there is no opportunity to request tickets for a specific date or host.

If you’re going to be in New York and want to rise with the roosters to sit outside of 30 Rock, there’s a separate procedure for standby tickets, which are available for the dress rehearsal at 8:00 pm or whatever’s left for the live show at 11:30 pm.

I entered the ticket lottery in August 2009. Much like the real lottery, I didn’t expect much, and completely forgot about it. Until mid-September, when the following email arrived, confirming my reservation for the second SNL of the 2009-2010 season:

I thought it might be a prank, so I called.
I thought it might be some kind of Internet Nigerian prince prank or scam, so I called and verified its legit-ness.

Two weeks wasn’t much notice to arrange a trip to New York. However, the universe conspired in my favour when the next email was an Air Canada seat sale to New York City. My boss approved the leave, I booked my flight, scrounged around for some budget accommodations, and set about finding a +1.

I messaged the only person I knew in the general vicinity of New York: my friend Vijay, who may be better known to readers as the beneficiary of the best hotel service I’ve seen in ages. He came on board with little convincing.

May 2013: After my initial post, I won the ticket lottery again in May 2013, but the time between receiving notice and going to the show was a lot shorter, 10 days.

SNL May 2013 Reservation Ticket confirmation

Two weeks later, I was in New York. On the evening on the broadcast, we grabbed some drinks and Cuban food and headed down to 30 Rock to find “Alyssa’s Line.”

We arrived at the appointed time, got our wristbands, and then got in line to get in line. While we were waiting, we made friends with two women from Toronto, a couple from Minnesota, and a recent Russian immigrant from Queens. New York, amiright?

While we were waiting in line, NBC pages would wander by, selecting people “at random” to sit in the floor seats. We had no such luck. After a second line, we were herded into an elevator and sent up to the ninth floor, the upper deck of seating at the legendary Studio 8H. On the way in to the studio, we waived our rights:

I waived my rights!
Being photographed while being told I was being photographed. Meta.

NBC has a pretty clear “no photography” policy, but I grabbed some screencaps that illustrate the SNL fun.

First, Ryan Reynolds was the host. He was filming Green Lantern around that time, so he was super-fit. We caught a brief glimpse of our seats during the monologue wide shot:

My proximity to Ryan Reynolds
My proximity to Ryan Reynolds

Lady Gaga was the musical guest. She was just starting to blow up around this time, so Madonna popped in to steal some of her life force:

The sketch featuring Madonna’s cameo was staged right under our seats, so I was about 10 feet away from her Madgesty. In person, her body is terrifying.

But not as terrifying as the pace of the show. A frenzy of activity during commercial breaks. Pieces of scenery flying in and out. Teams of people descending on a stage set-up to add furniture and decoration. Cast members joking around with the crew, each other, and shouting things up to the audience. It is beyond a well-oiled machine, it’s an organism.

Since this isn’t a tv review blog, I’ll avoid comment on the content. Everyone was lively and Ryan Reynolds was a game host. Scarlett Johansson also showed up for a cameo (they were still married at the time, though starting to circle the drain) and Andy Samberg tried to make out with Gaga in a bubble suit. Just another day at the office.

Don’t tell NBC, but as Ryan was descending the stage, I shot a photo of the stage and our seats. If anyone asks, BE COOL:

After the show, crowds wait for the cast and guests to leave for autographs and photos. I took a walk around 30 Rock plaza, where the trees were lit up with twinkly lights.

Needless to say, this was the experience of a lifetime. While I may have just ruined my chances of ever getting tickets again with my secret photo admission, I’ll keep entering the lottery. Fingers crossed for 2013-2014 2014-2015 2015-2016 2016-2017!

I get a lot of questions about the SNL ticket lottery, which I’ve addressed in a separate post.

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