Last night Maggie and I (and friend-of-the-faux Katie) had tickets to one of the hottest shows in town: the live reading of an episode of 30 Rock at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. We got there 80 minutes early and still barely got seats. I think the majority of the audience was standing or sitting in the aisles. The place was completely packed. I didn’t catch a lot of familiar faces in the audience. Brian Stack of Conan fame sat in front of us, and I saw Amy Poehler talking to him after the show. Other than that, the big names were all on stage.
I expected an old show (we were hoping for “Tracy Does Conan” with a cameo from Conan) but they actually did a staged reading of a show that airs in 3 weeks. Tina specifically requested that we avoid posting plot details on our blogs because the show is “kind of like Heroes and [they] like to keep it a secret.” But I will tell you a few things.
The entire main cast was there, with the exception of Special Guest Stars Edie Falco and James Carville. Falco’s part was played by Paul Pell, who recently played Pete’s wife on 30 Rock, but is perhaps best known as a frequent fake audience member on SNL. James Carville was played by a guy who looked a little like James Carville and wore a shirt that said “James Carville” on the front and the back. Signed copies of that shirt, and the Shinehardt Wig Company “NOT polluting rivers since 1997” shirt were raffled off during commercial breaks. Some of the supporting cast also couldn’t make it, including Maulik Pancholy (Jack’s assistant Jonathan). His one line was read by one of the writers. Grizz and Dot Com didn’t have any lines in the episode.
Commercials were somewhat successfully improvised by Jack McBrayer (Kenneth) and John Lutz (Lutz). The best involved the two of them pretending to play basketball, with Jack McBrayer on defense waving his hands around hilariously. When Tina saw Jack McBrayer in his NBC Page costume she couldn’t help laughing. She said her one wish is that the show lasts just long enough that he has to wear the costume for the rest of his life like Bob Denver (fun fact, Gilligan’s Island was only on for 3 seasons).
The episode itself was typical 30 Rock, full of shenanigans and great cutaways, which was a little tricky to pull off on stage, but the thrill of seeing everyone in person made up for any performance problems. There was a lot of time spent waiting for the audience to stop laughing. Alec Baldwin and Paula Pell had a great time pretending to have sex in various positions. Tina warned us before the show started that he might try to rape her. I laughed as soon as Tracy Morgan started talking. He has such a naturally funny and forceful voice it was just hilarious to hear him say anything at all. Liz Lemon calling Kenneth a “fucking hillbilly” during a game of Celebrity (Maggie’s favorite game) is something you won’t be hearing on NBC.
The whole thing lasted about 45 minutes, which is about half as long as we waited in line, but it was totally worth it. Much better than my experience playing “Audience Member #224” in the pilot episode.