Con Intel: Conan O’Brien Tapings at SDCC

by Transmute Jun

Three years ago, Conan O’Brien decided to come to San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) with his late night talk show to set up shop at the Spreckles Theatre in the Gaslamp District. The show tapings instantly became a hot ticket and have only increased in popularity every year since.

On the Tuesday night before SDCC this year, I mentioned to a SDCC veteran attendee (who has attended every year for decades) that I was going to Conan, and he commented that he wasn’t interested because he didn’t watch the show. To me, this completely misses the point of the event. When you attend a Conan show taping during SDCC, you’re in an insanely hyped crowd full of your people. The energy just can’t help but take you over and make you feel like you could float away on a cloud of excitement. It’s like being in Hall H Saturday when the entire cast of Justice League is revealed, or when a secret Star Wars concert is announced, except that it’s much smaller and more intimate, and that excitement lasts for nearly two hours as everyone warms up for and participates in the show taping. Add to that seeing some of the biggest celebrities at the con up close, while sitting in comfortable seats that all have a great view. And then just as it finishes and you think you’re done, you’re given a Conan O’Brien Funko Pop on the way out to commemorate the experience.

Email Ticket Confirmation

Sounds incredible, right? And it is. And just like everything else at SDCC, it takes some knowledge, time and effort to attend. The first step is to make a ticket request at 1iota (the company that distributes tickets for all Conan shows, not just the ones at SDCC). For the past two years, this process has not been first-come-first-served. Instead, requestors have simply filled out a form. There is a place to enter a code and your member ID, which will give you priority. Comic Con International (CCI) sends out the priority code to all registered badgeholders for the con via email, and anecdotal evidence suggests that you are far more likely to get your request approved if you add it in. If you receive the code after you have made your request, there is time to edit your request to include it.

Then the waiting starts. Days go by, and suddenly you hear that confirmations are being sent. You check your email and… success! You have a spot for a Conan O’Brien taping! Or perhaps you have that sinking feeling, as I did this year, when nothing arrives. And then you hear from the online community that they’re finished sending out confirmations and you know that you have gotten nothing. Yet all is not lost. People request multiple tickets. And you may be as lucky as I was to have an incredible friend who will offer you one of theirs. So even if you are denied, check with your friends and see if anyone has a spot for you. In general, if you want to increase your chances, you should request tickets for every taping you can possibly attend.

Conan Ticket Line

On the day of your taping, you will have to go to the Spreckles Theatre to pick up your actual tickets. The box office opens at 9 am, but of course people line up long before that (this is Comic Con, after all). When you arrive, the line will appear to be insanely long. This is because there are actually two lines combined: the standby line (for people who did not receive confirmations) and the ticket line (for those who did receive confirmations). The vast majority of the front of the line is standby people.

Standby Wristband

At approximately 8 am, the standby line will be split from the confirmation line. The standby people will be given numbered wristbands, and told to come back later in the afternoon, before the show taping, when any extra available seats will be distributed in numeric order. On the day I attended this year, 200 wristbands were given out for standby attendees. However, later during the con, there were no standby wristbands given out (more on this later in the article).

Ticket Wristband

At approximately 9 am, the people with confirmations are let into a side door of the theatre and are distributed tickets. Everyone in your party must be present, as you are also wristbanded (with a different wristband from the standby people). The purpose of this is to prevent people from scalping their Conan tickets, as they will need both the ticket and the wristband to return for the show.

While theoretically the tickets are handed out in order, with the earlier arrivals getting closer seats, the reality is that there are two or three different tables where tickets are distributed, and they each have different batches of tickets. So it is entirely possible for a group that is further back in line to get seats that are closer than those who lined up earlier. This actually happened with our group: we had 2 confirmation holders, and the ones who arrived second were seated 4 rows ahead of the ones who arrived first. So there is a bit of randomization in the ticket distribution.

The ticket distribution process actually moves pretty quickly, so by about 10-11 am everyone has been cleared out. However the office stays open until tickets have all been distributed, or until an hour before showtime, whichever occurs first. For the past 2 years, and for the first 3 shows this year, everyone who had confirmations received tickets as long as they showed up to the box office to collect them at least an hour before showtime. However, at the Friday taping this year (the last taping of the con) they ran out of tickets before 11 am. People who had not yet been to the theatre to pick up their tickets were shut out, even though they had confirmations. While there has been no official word on why this happened, when I attended the Wednesday show it was my personal observation that there were a lot of ‘prize’ tickets being handed out. The Conan team would post on Snapchat that they were giving away special ‘MonoConan’ Funko Pops and the people who showed up also got free tickets to the taping. Another friend of mine was simply walking by the theatre half an hour before the taping and was simply asked if he wanted to go in, and handed a ticket. I do not recall these kinds of ticket giveaways in prior years, and theorized that perhaps there had been fewer confirmations sent out this year to allow for them. Or maybe these extras were not properly budgeted into the limited ticket supply.

The ticket scarcity issues escalated during the con. There is word that for at least one of the two Thursday tapings, standby tickets were not given out at all. And then on Friday, there weren’t enough tickets for people with email confirmations. It is clear that there was some issue with ticket distribution this year. Hopefully, if Conan returns to San Diego in 2018 (and I am sincerely hoping that he will) these issues will have been resolved. They were not present in 2015 or 2016.

Once you have tickets, you must return to Spreckles Theatre at least an hour before showtime. At that time, any remaining tickets are distributed to the wristbanded standby line, and your seat is forfeited.

Inside the theatre lobby there is a small stand selling Conan t-shirts. Tip: you can actually access this stand without having a ticket to the show by simply entering the lobby. It is placed before the security check and ticket check.

Yes, there is a security check. Ticketholders have their bags searched (any food or drinks are confiscated, along with other standard contraband) and are then wanded by security. After this, an usher will examine your ticket and help you find your seat.

The Spreckles Theatre has 3 levels of seating: floor, a lower balcony, and a higher balcony. All three areas are used for the Conan O’Brien tapings. While obviously floor seating is the closest to the stage, the seats are tiered and everyone should have a good view. However, the theatre is in an old building, and the air conditioning system is taxed to its limits (even though the Conan people bring in extra air conditioners for the tapings). You will be quite warm during the show, and even more so the higher up your seat is located.

About a half hour before the show, the audience is warmed up (and I’m not talking about temperature). Conan’s band is introduced, and a greeter will pump up the crowd by encouraging them and throwing out free t-shirts to the audience. Honestly, it’s a pretty easy job for the greeter, because everyone is already so hyped that there isn’t much to do to get the audience any more excited. If anything, I am always at risk of losing my voice cheering and screaming before the show begins!

Conan interviews the cast of the Netflix movie, Bright.

One of the last parts of the warmup is that audience members are invited up onstage to have a dance party. The people onstage can let loose as music is played, and this year were rewarded with a free t-shirt for their efforts. And then the show begins!

The Conan O’Brien show is taped as if it were running live, meaning that the taping lasts for a full hour and the audience will sit through ‘commercial breaks’, even though they don’t actually see commercials. During these breaks, Conan will have his makeup and wardrobe touched up, chairs and other props will be installed or removed from the stage, and sometimes the celebrity guests will come out to greet the audience. During the Wednesday show this year, Will Smith came down to the audience and took selfies with a number of thrilled attendees. Conan will often come out and make eye contact with various members of the audience as well. He really does seem to enjoy the energy of the crowd.

After the show, as attendees leave, they are given a Conan Funko Pop. These are terrific souvenirs of your Conan experience. However, they are also exclusives, and you will see people in the theatre lobby and outside on the street offering to buy them from you for cash on the spot. Some attendees have reported being chased by scalpers all of the way back to the convention center. If this kind of thing bothers you, make sure to stay with a group as you exit the theatre and hide your Funko Pop by placing it in a bag.

Attending a Conan O’Brien taping at SDCC is a memorable experience. I hope he returns to San Diego in 2018 and that even more people get a chance to enjoy this special event.

Did you attend a Conan taping at SDCC 2017? Join the conversation on FoCC!

Transmute Jun

Transmute Jun has an addiction to pop culture conventions, and attends as many as she can each year. When she's not traveling, she likes to stay at home reading a good book, playing a video game, or binge-watching a TV show. She can be bribed with pizza, Coke Zero and Belgian milk chocolate.