The end of every summer marks the return of a new season of Saturday Night Live, and with it the annual tradition of the SNL ticket lottery, a system in which fans are instructed to send an email to the show for the chance to win tickets to an episode. The ticket lottery typically runs for the entire month of August, but if you don’t want to wait around until the season finale only to learn that you weren’t one of the lucky winners, all hope is not lost! There is another way — but, be warned, it takes a lot of patience and stamina. For your convenience, below is a rundown of the two official options the show offers for fans to get tickets to both the live shows and dress rehearsals, plus some tips from us, as well as sources with knowledge of the SNL audience process.
A huge and obvious caveat for SNL’s 46th season: The pandemic is still in full force, and late-night shows continue to tape remote episodes from quarantine or social-distance-friendly venues without live audiences. SNL is reportedly working on a way to return to Studio 8H next season, which will likely not include a live audience. The SNL ticket lottery for the 2020–2021 season, however, is open, so while it’s probably safe to assume that audiences won’t be allowed in the beginning of the season, maybe production will return to normal in 2021. If that happens — and if any of us feel safe in a crowd by then — the ways to obtain tickets are, as of now, the same as usual.
The SNL Ticket Lottery
The season-46 SNL ticket lottery runs from 12 a.m. on Saturday, August 1, through 11:59 p.m. on Monday, August 31. NBC appears to be playing things by ear this season due to the pandemic and has included this disclaimer on the SNL ticket-lottery page: “The safety of our guests and employees is our top priority. We will continue to monitor the situation on a week-by-week basis in partnership with government and health experts and appreciate your understanding during this time. Please stay safe and be sure to follow us on social media for any updates!”
Per the instructions on the NBC website, to enter you send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org while the lottery is open (submissions sent before or after will not be accepted) and explain why you want to attend an SNL taping. If you win, you’ll receive two tickets to a randomly selected episode; you can’t choose which episode or time frame you’d like to attend, and you can’t choose whether it will be a ticket to the dress rehearsal or the live show. Winners are chosen throughout the season, so you won’t know whether you’ve won or lost until the show begins its summer hiatus after the season finale. So if you’re only in New York for a specific weekend, or there’s a particularly exciting host you’d like to see live, you’ll need to try to get some …
Standby tickets are a gamble, but they’re also your only option if you didn’t win tickets through the lottery or know someone who works at the show. Unlike last year, the SNL ticket-lottery page currently does not include instructions about the standby line, presumably because if SNL returns to the studio for season 46, live audiences won’t initially be part of the equation. So until news breaks about if and when audiences will be allowed back in Studio 8H, don’t plan on doing any camping outside of 30 Rock for the season-46 premiere.
But if you want to begin preparing for when you can camp out, here’s how the process worked during season 45: Standby tickets are distributed at 7 a.m. on the day of the show at the 48th Street side of Rockefeller Center, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. You can choose to receive a standby ticket for the dress rehearsal at 8 p.m. or live show, then arrive no later than 7 p.m. for the former and 10:30 p.m. for the latter. Remember: Just because you receive a standby ticket in the morning does not guarantee you’ll get into the show at night. You’re waiting in one line to get a ticket to wait in another line in the hopes that Studio 8H has enough unoccupied seats to fit you in — and that’s after lottery winners and all the people who have tickets thanks to knowing people at SNL have been accommodated. See why we said it’s a gamble?
For both the SNL ticket lottery and standby tickets, audience members must be over 16 years old and have a valid photo ID.
Tips for the Standby Approach
What you’re getting yourself into: Quite a few articles and recaps have been written about the SNL standby experience, which is essentially camping on a New York City street for a chance to see the show. The problem with the standby approach is that, while the tickets are handed out on Saturdays at 7 a.m., that doesn’t mean you should arrive there at that time — far from it. Depending on the SNL host and weather, it’s not uncommon for aspiring SNL audience members to set up camp outside 30 Rock for over 24 hours, bringing along chairs, sleeping bags, and other survival supplies for the wait. (If waiting over 24 hours sounds like a challenge, here’s a fun fact: During season 44, fans of K-pop supergroup BTS started getting in line for tickets on Monday.) The reason why some people camp out for so long is because the order you receive a standby ticket on Saturday morning determines the order you stand in the real line on Saturday night, so to up your chances of getting in, you want your ticket to be as close to ticket No. 1 as possible.
What to bring: Depending on how long you plan to wait in line, as mentioned above, things like snacks, drinks, folding chairs, headphones, and anything to make sitting and sleeping on a New York City street a little more comfortable is good to bring along with you. If it’s cold — and since the majority of the season happens during winter, this is very likely — make sure you’re bundled up enough to withstand whatever the temperature is overnight. One former standby ticket-holder recommends bringing a sign that says you’re waiting for SNL tickets (if you don’t, prepare for a lot of passersby asking you the same question over and over) as well as some games to pass the time.
Life in the line: Prior to the start of season 45, the NBC website cautioned that aside from “minimal, necessary breaks” like grabbing some food or finding a nearby restroom, everyone waiting for standby tickets must remain in line at all times, and you can’t use what NBC calls a “line sitter” to do your waiting for you. (Security guards check on the line pretty frequently, both to keep those waiting safe and make sure no one’s cutting or abusing the “necessary breaks” rule.) One former standby ticket-holder offered up this tip: “Befriend the people next to you in line. You’re gonna be around them for hours and you might need help holding your spot while you get food or take pee breaks. (I’m still friends with the people I was in line next to. One even came to my wedding!).”
SNL typically sends people out to deliver some kind of edible relief at some point — in the case of this BuzzFeed writer’s recap it was butternut-squash soup and crackers on Friday night, while another former ticket-holder said they handed out bagels and coffee shortly before tickets were handed out on Saturday morning. Google ahead of time for all the food, bathroom, and 24-hour options near 30 Rock, including the nearby indoor options in the Concourse at Rockefeller Center (There’s a Starbucks down there in case you want to turn a quick coffee break into a quick coffee-and-charge-your-phone break), the 24-hour McDonald’s on Sixth Avenue, the Five Guys across the street from the line, and the 24-hour Duane Reade next to Five Guys for snacks, drinks, and any non-food items you might need. And you never know who might show up to give you free food — back in 2016, SNL host Lin-Manuel Miranda paid the standby line a visit on Friday afternoon and ordered pizza for everyone.
Dress rehearsal versus the live show: When you make it to the front of the line, you’ll be able to choose whether you want a standby ticket to the dress rehearsal or live show. While it seems reasonable to assume that opting for dress rehearsal rather than the live show increases the chance of actually attending, as with anything standby-related, nothing is guaranteed. Both options have their advantages: The live show means you’ll be able to say you saw a live episode of Saturday Night Live, and you’ll become a tiny, tiny part of television history. But the dress rehearsal is earlier, looser, and has more sketches than the live episode, so if you attend dress rehearsal, you’ll be treated to plenty of bonus content — maybe even some that will never make the jump to SNL’s YouTube channel as a “Cut for Time” sketch. It’s really up to personal preference: Do you want to attend the “official” episode where whatever happens is on television, or the one with sketches and Weekend Update jokes that don’t make the final cut?
After getting a ticket: Whether you get a ticket for dress rehearsal or the live show, it’s a good idea to spend the afternoon resting up — you’re going to need that energy when you wait in the next line at the NBC store later that evening and, if you’re lucky, stay up late to watch the actual show. This will also give you some time to find a place to store all the sleeping bags, blankets, extra clothing, games, and any other camping gear from your big adventure in the initial standby line, because NBC won’t allow you to bring big bags into the 8H studio. Thankfully, it doesn’t really matter what time you arrive at the next line, because the numbers on everyone’s standby tickets determine their place in it. Just don’t be late, or you won’t be allowed in. Different recaps from standby ticket-holders claim that if you’re under Nos. 50–60, your chances of getting into the show are pretty good. But so many factors play into your odds — the host, musical guest, time of year, weather, etc. — so remember: Nothing is guaranteed until you’re sitting down in Studio 8H.
Attending a show (or not): Whether you won the ticket lottery or got incredibly lucky thanks to the standby line, congratulations — you can brag to your friends about how you saw Saturday Night Live. And if you didn’t make it to the finish line, congratulations — you can brag to your friends about how you’re such a big fan of Saturday Night Live, you camped on a New York City street and (hopefully) made a bunch of new fellow SNL-fanatic friends. Here’s hoping you’re in the first group, though.