America’s Got No Goddamn Idea: Surviving a Live Taping of America’s Got Talent


Gaze Into the Abyss

There I was, in the audience. A long story. Which I will begin now.

My wife, the formidable Duchess, is a huge fan of America’s Got Talent. Me, not so much. It’s a perfectly inoffensive variety show by and large, though every single episode could be edited down to a tight ten minutes without any loss of entertainment value, unless you find entertainment value in endless repetitions of three or four core memes: That America does, indeed, have talent, that the contestants by and large are so desperate for success and recognition they will likely kill themselves shortly after being voted off the show, that the whole world loves Howard Stern with a blind passion, and that Snapple and Orville Redenbacher’s  popcorn are the greatest foodstuffs in history.

Again: Me, not so much.

Anyways, I do watch the show with The Duchess, because it’s fun to gently mock her taste in TV, and heck, once in a blue moon there is actually an interesting act. Variety Shows are pot luck, after all. Yes, every season will have 500 nearly identical dance troupes, magicians, singers, and stand up comedians, but there will once in a while be a very cool thing. That Very Cool Thing is what keeps me sane during the long seasons.

The Duchess and I made some new friends recently, and one of them turned out to be a Gaffer working on AGT, and he got us tickets to a recent taping. The Duchess was beyond excited. I was … less so. But we went! And I survived!


Radio City Music Hall is pretty amazing. Showing up for the taping was pretty much like showing up for anything else: You have a ticket with an assigned seat. You get there, go through a sloppy security screening, and have the opportunity to purchase cocktails and soft drinks and snacks assuming your credit scores come back high enough to qualify for the loans required to actually make these purchases. Then you find your way to your seat and wait for the show. The doors opened at 6PM and we were seated by 6:30PM and my god what a mistake because the show doesn’t even begin until like 8:30PM. If you’re lucky.

The place never got full. There were tons of empty seats around us. But Radio City is awesome, so for a moment just hanging out there was pretty cool. And then Joey assumed the stage.

Joey, who has a real name and career I am sure but neither of which I recall, will be referred to here as Joey Bagadonuts. He is the swarthy “warm up” man who went about the business of keeping the crowd at a peak of frenzy with all the energy and concentration of a drunk trying to ward off the imaginary rats in smoking jackets that descend on him with horrifying regularity (not that I would know anything about that). Joey Bagadonuts began a Cult Training Program, reminding us over and over again that we were making television and not watching television, and that this meant we had to leap to our feet to applaud lustily whenever instructed, and follow the other rules (no phones, no shouting – strangely, those were the only rules, meaning this was more cult-like than could have been imagined).

Joey Bagadonuts reminded us of this, our sacred covenant as studio audience, until I want him to burst into flames right there on stage.

Joey occasionally seemed to forget what he was doing and just trail off, possibly to contemplate suicide. Then he would roar back with a nonsensical demand that we get loud even when nothing was happening. Do I need to say I hate Joey Bagadonuts? I hate him.


We were seated behind a ginormous balloon, because they had a segment to pre-tape. Presumably due to the possibility that one of the acrobats floating over us via balloon would fall and kill someone. I can certainly see the wisdom of this; by pre-taping the segment they can always release deadly gas into the theater and murder the whole audience in order to keep us silent after witnessing a murder, then remove the bodies and get a whole new audience in off the street.

They moved seat-fillers from the balcony for the pre-taping to provide the illusion that the place was packed. The judges arrived and were cheered, and the act was nice, with acrobats doing moves while floating around hanging from a balloon. Not something I would have paid to see, but entertaining enough. The judges did their feedback schtick and then the seat-fillers were ignominiously forced to go back to their original seats, despite the fact that there were plenty of empty ones. Except for the single aisle seat on my right, occupied by an older gentleman who was extremely keen on the proceedings and kept trying to engage me in serious discussions about the acts. I could only stare at him in horror and calculate silently how many whiskies it would take to be able to sleep that night.


When the show finally began, Joey Bagadonuts was back to alternately tell us how awesome we were and demand that we be more enthusiastic, more loud, more more. We were told that whenever they returned from commercial we must be on our feet screaming for about five seconds and then sit down as one as if we’d all just been deactivated. We practiced this at random moments before the show began it’s live phase. It was exhausting. It was like being in that Apple 1984 commercial.

People kept shouting at the judges. Every now and then one of the judges would turn and wave, and this encouraged everyone else to shout at them even more. On the one hand treating these celebrities like zoo animals warmed the frozen cockles of my heart. On the other, nothing is more alarming than someone sitting directly behind you screaming MMmmmmmmmmmmmeeeeeeeeeeeellllllllllllll BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!! every thirty seconds for three hours.

The acts? Who can remember. They were all angled towards the cameras, anyway, so I saw everything from the side.


We fled right after the last act in order to avoid being crushed to death by the stampede of people hoping to get Heidi Klum to look at them. Was it entertaining? Define the word. Sure, under certain sets of expectations, it was entertaining. It was kind of interesting for being a glimpse into the sausage factory. Live TV is exhausting. All I had to do was stand up every three minutes and scream and I was exhausted.

What they ought to do is offer free cocktails, right in the aisles, the way Rock of Ages does but, you know, free. If I’d had five or six drinks in me, I would have turned up on stage, shirtless with the word BAZINGA scrawled in shoe polish on my belly, and performed a short dance routine before being tackled to the floor. And I think we can all agree this would have been well worth watching.


  1. JoJoTheModern

    Ok, now I’m just terrified to be present at the live taping of anything.

    I’ve already had the misfortune of stumbling into a live taping, as I showed up at a public yoga gathering and later found myself briefly appearing in an online local-news clip. I was the only one in the scene not wearing yoga clothes and the only one clearly trying not to collapse, dead, halfway through the session. At least I’d been filmed from the back. And at least I didn’t have to stand up every thirty seconds and scream MMmmmmmmmmmmmeeeeeeeeeeeellllllllllllll BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

    Terrified to be *deliberately* present at the live taping of anything.

  2. Janet Reid

    “If I’d had five or six drinks in me, I would have turned up … shirtless with the word BAZINGA scrawled in shoe polish on my belly, and performed a short dance routine before being tackled to the floor. And I think we can all agree this would have been well worth watching.”

    It’s certainly been worth watching every time you’ve done it at my office.

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  4. Eli

    The audience is so horribly loud, it’s ridiculous! They have these people up there singing their hearts out and you can barely hear them over the screeching of the audience! And god forbid the singer wants to be stylistic and change up the tempo once the runaway train of idiotic clapping begins! Oh, it’s a ballad? Quick, stop clapping and wave your hands in the air like you really slowly don’t care! I get it because I recently was in the audience for Kelly and Michael. It was exhausting, and the forced,over the top cheering is way over the top. Gellman actually gave us a lesson on clapping to make the most noise. Then he spent the whole clap fluffing the audience. It was interesting to see the whole process, but also a bit disappointing to see how fake it is. We were all happy to be there. I’m sure if left to our own devices we would have shown an appropriate level of enthusiasm.

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