It’s 55 °F at the Ed Sullivan theatre. Why?

Really, why? And trust me, I’ve been thinking about that for a while now without reaching any satisfying explanation. For those of you who haven’t been to the Late Show when it was hosted by David Letterman or lately as of 2015, Stephen Colbert – it’s freezing in there, like nipples through your The North Face jacket cold. But I somehow didn’t feel bothered by it. Some people have called it the ‘refrigerator’, but that’s exactly what Letterman wanted, apparently.

When I first got tickets to the Late Show, which also happened to be my first time at the Late Show under Colbert’s tenure, I noticed something on the ticket about temperature. It said it was on the cooler end and we had to dress appropriately. The dress code then stated Broadway casual. I was more fixated on what ‘Broadway casuals’ meant, leaving little thought to the theatre’s environment. It was early into March and I had my trusty jacket on, so never bothered with carrying or putting on anything extra.

After a little research on the internet, I understood it was Letterman’s call to have the theatre cooled to 55. And as one article in the New York Times stated, Colbert just inherited this temperature scheme without challenging it.

As one comedian, Matt Ruby from Brooklyn points out on his blog

Apparently back in the 80s, Dave experimented with different temperatures on different shows. He tried 75 one day. 65 another day. The day he went with 55, jokes really hit and from then on that was the temperature.

We understand that the theatre was intentionally cooled to an uncomfortable temperature (for the audience and crew members alike) in the interest of getting jokes across effectively. Did it work? Apparently, yes. The host himself had tried different temperature settings, starting at 75 and going down by decrements of 10. It seemed to work on the day of 55, and without further sampling, that was to stay – to this very day! While there could’ve been a more optimal temperature, or a better way to go about this experiment – neither CBS nor Letterman went further.

The post also says Letterman would have the temperature as low as 50 before the audience came. This was probably to account for the additional heat they bought in. The cold temperature is said to have kept the crew and audience sharp, and the comedy fresh.

Temperature aside, the Ed Sullivan theatre is one of the oldest landmark buildings in the area. When CBS acquired it, the place was apparently a mess – there were rats, the NYC kind of rats in the building. The theatre had been refurbished before Letterman could call it his home on Broadway and again before Colbert took over the show. Shortly before Colbert’s tenure at the Late Show, the great dome had been exposed and the original stained glass had been removed by CBS and moved to storage. The dome now has digital projection pointed at it. It was lit in recognization of Women’s day on March 8th, also the same day I witnessed the taping of the show and the nipple-raising cold of the historic Ed Sullivan theatre.

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