"MTV Program Host Playing The Improv"
The Seattle Times
March 5, 1993
by Tom Phalen


COMEDIAN JON STEWART, who headlines The Improv this week, was having lunch in a Seattle restaurant Wednesday with the other comics on the bill Doug Benson and John Posain.

"We were ordering and trying to work the word 'Improv' into the conversation, you know, to let the waitress know we were there. And she finally says, 'Oh! You guys are working at the Improv!' And we all went, 'Yeah!' And she says, 'Oh. So what do you guys do?' It was the strangest question. We told her we were doctors. We heal people."

Dr. Stewart is part of the latest wave of comedians breaking through nationally, comics like the acerbic Denis Leary - the one who smokes - or the smooth, almost smarmy Alan Havey. They are all, in fact, loosely connected - via cable television.

Havey had his own show on the Comedy Channel and is now developing something for the networks. Leary also did The Comedy Channel before breaking out on MTV with his one-minute ravings on Cyndi Crawford. Now he has movie deals, more TV and an album.

Stewart got his first big break after five years in the New York club circuit by hosting the Comedy Channel's "Short Attention Span Theatre" a year ago. Now he too has moved over to MTV to host the audience generated "You Wrote It, You Watch It."

"I don't have much to do with the main show, I only write my segments," Stewart says. "The rest comes from ideas the audience sends in and we re-enact. MTV is insane, everything moves so fast. . . . It really has been innovative, but it's hard to keep up with it. . . . My parts are shot fairly straight, until they start doing things with the fish-eye lense and moving all over the place. Then you get this great big shot of like, my nostril. So that's what the show is: your ideas, shown in my nostril.

"But I am getting recognized more on the street. People watch MTV, they actually remember some of what they've seen. At least I'm not getting confused with (folksinger) John Stewart as much anymore. When I was in Vegas some guy left a song in my mail box thinking I was him. Another guy left this long rambling message on my machine going, 'Hey John, remember me from Woodstock?' I'm getting less of that."

On stage, Stewart is totally disarming. He has genuine charm, almost boyish in his appeal, while still being sharp and sarcastic. He says it's because he's a little Jewish guy from New York.

But much of his ability to win over the audience is in the delivery of his material, which he describes as knee-jerk liberalism and basic bitching about his life. He has a deft, self-effacing sense of timing. He can milk the smallest of asides. And he takes chances. He steps out on a metaphysical ledge and just starts walking. When he discovers he's run out of ledge, his recourse is a return to this goofy, doe-eyed, lopsided smile. It works. Whether the jokes are about New York ("Since the World Trade thing they're warning New Yorkers to watch out for random acts of violence. That's news") or government censorship ("I think there should be total separation of crotch and state").

Stewart plays The Improv tonight through Sunday at 8:30 p.m. There's an additional 10:30 p.m. show tonight and tomorrow. Go see him. He's more than a giant nostril.


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Copyright © 1993 The Seattle Times Company. All rights reserved.
Thanks to Melly for the article.

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