"Jon Stewart"
Steppin' Out
December 23, 1993
by ChauncÚ Hayden

 

This past year has been very good to one quick-witted stand-up comic named Jon Stewart. By developing his stabbing social and political rants which have been compared to the likes of Lenny Bruce, Stewart, whom the New York Post named one of the “hot new artists of the 90s,” has earned himself a place next to Dave, Jay and Arsenio with his own nighttime television talk show on MTV called, “The Jon Stewart Show.”

Described as “smart, stylish and appealingly irreverent,” the 28 year old’s amusing knee jerk liberalism and knack for taking politically incorrect risks is earning this newest member of the late night talk-show wars a reputation as an alternative choice to boring network chatter. Learning his craft on the tough city streets of Greenwich Village, the former kid from New Jersey (who boasts of being the shortest talk show host on TV) relies solely on his character rather than double-breasted suits, “too cool for the room” bands or large flashy desks to create a uniquely relaxed atmosphere on the youth oriented MTV set.

Coming off his first season, Stewart’s list of guests has been surprisingly impressive (eat your heart out, Chevy). So far they’ve included Howard Stern, William Shatner, George Foreman, Dennis Leary and Tia Carrere, just to name a few. Again, taking a rather different approach to television talk, guests sit, not on what has become the customary couch, but rather on an old discarded car seat. Unorthodox, maybe, but who can argue with success. Against some steep odds, “The Jon Stewart Show” has been renewed for its second season.

Some of Stewart’s other credits have included an appearance on HBO’s “Young Comedians Special” and 1992’s “Just For Laughs” Festival in Montreal. He also has hosted Comedy Central’s “Short Attention Span Theater” and MTV’s “You Wrote It, You Watch It.”

Do you consider yourself a player in the late night comedy wars?

Completely… I’m huge right now.

Even though your show airs to hours before the others even come to bat?

I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think we do compete with the others. Not only that, but we’re on cable. So, more or less, we’re just competing against the shopping networks and the infomercials. I don’t think we’re going to put Letterman and Leno out of business.

Not Yet.

You never know.

The N.Y. Post describes you as “smart, stylish and appealingly irreverent.” Would you describe yourself the same way?

No.

How would you describe yourself?

Little and hairy. But if they want to go with smart and stylish then hey, more power to them. Good luck.

On October 25th “The Jon Stewart Show” premiered on MTV. Since then have your expectations of having your own talk show changed?

I guess I’m not as intimidated by it as I was when I first started. Now I’m a lot more comfortable within the confines of it.   It’s like any new job. When I used to bus tables, the first day I worked at the restaurant I was like, “Uh, where’s the ketchup?” But after a while it becomes second nature.

So has having your own talk show become second nature?

Yeah, I’m feeling a lot more comfortable. I feel like I’ve really gotten my rhythm down.

Unlike other talk shows you’ve abandoned the desk, the suit and the band.

Yes. We couldn’t afford all that stuff.

Doesn’t missing those three ingredients make you feel naked out there?

Well the good thing about MTV is that we’re allowed to use all the stuff that they have in their video library so we don’t need a band.  So, we have access to all the great bands, plus I like it better not having any of those other things.  It gives us a really raw feeling.  I think the look of our show is low rent yet at the same time very playful. The atmosphere is not intimidating at all.  It’s a very comfortable place to hang out.

When you decided on the look and attitude of the show, was the game plan to do the opposite of whatever Chevy Chase did?

 (Laughing)  We didn’t know what Chevy Chase was doing at the time!  It just turned out that’s what we did.  But that would have been a really good game plan!  Unfortunately we’re not that smart.  Basically, the game plan was to do something that I would have felt comfortable with because I figure that if I’m comfortable then the show, hopefully, will be a little more comfortable. 

Have you experienced any difficulty getting guests because the show airs on MTV?

Probably, but that’s something that I’m not aware of.  I think it’s more difficult because it’s a new show.  Any time you start a new show, people want to see how it’s received; sort of like Chevy Chase.  His first guests were Goldie Hawn, Whoopie Goldberg and all these huge people.  Then towards the end of it, all he could get was Billy, The Wonder Dog.  Also guests for us would not necessarily be great guests for other shows.

 Who would you consider to be a great guest for an audience?

We go for guests that the MTV audience could relate to.  Our audience is somewhere between 18 and 30.

So you wouldn’t try to get Charlton Heston? 

Believe it or not, Charlton Heston would be a good guest.  In fact, we just had Tony Bennett on.  There are certain people who are not in that age range but who are still good for the audience.

Who’s been your best guest so far?

One of the best shows we had was Bobcat Goldthwait and White Zombie. Now that same show on another network might not have the same appeal, but for us it was perfect.

Who are some of the other guests that you thought were great?

Cindy Crawford was wonderful, Dennis Leary was great, Toni Contain was great…

Would you be willing to name some of the worst guests that you’ve had on?

Ummm…Some of the musical acts that we’ve had on have been difficult because they’re not that used to talking.

In other words, just buy the album, man.

Exactly. But the other guests sort of know what the deal is. However, some of the musical guests, you just want to whisper to them, “Do you know people are listening to this?  Does the word entertain mean anything to you?”

Larry King says he never prepares for an interview. He just wings it. How about you?

Larry King said that?

Yeah.

That’s why his show sucks. That’s why it’s boring.

How much preparation do you do before an interview?

I try to give as much preparation as I can.  But there’s a lot of other things that I have to worry about.  There’s the comedy on the show to take care of; there’s also the fact that we tape two shows in the course of one day, which sometimes puts us behind the eight ball.  Then there’s the catering.  I cook all the food.

 You started out as a struggling comic living in Greenwich Village.  What were those days like for you?

PAIN!…No they were great in their own way.  It was a very anxious time.  I mean I have anxiety now but it’s on a different level.  Back then, it was really who am I and what am I doing?  OH MY GOD I HAVE NO FOOD AND I’M GOING TO STARVE TO DEATH!!

How many times did you say to yourself, “Forget this, I quit.”

Every night. The first two years it was a constant battle. I almost quit half way through sets sometimes. It’s really frustrating.I mean until you get your legs, you don’t even know what you’re doing. Don’t forget, it’s not like you’re playing the Taj Mahal.It’s more like Uncle F—kers Chuckle Hutch and everybody’s hammered.

What was the worst experience you can remember having on stage?

Once, before I was ready, I opened up for Dave Mason down at the Sea Port. There must have been a thousand people there and half way through the set I realized that none of them were facing me. They were all looking at this naked guy who was dancing around. At a concert that’s far more interesting than a guy talking about his grandmother.

Is it safe to say that those days are gone forever?

What’s weird about stand-up is that they’re never gone. You’re constantly being judged.

Do you consider yourself a liberal?

Politically?

Yes.

I guess so. I have a tendency to lean toward the underdog which I assume is the liberal prospective. But as I’ve gotten older, I find I’ve developed my own ideology. I don’t really fit into anything.

Entertainment Weekly compared you to Lenny Bruce. That’s a tough rep to live up to.

That’s only because I do heroin and have sex with hookers. It has nothing to do with comedy.

Would you have wanted the opportunity to take over for Letterman at NBC or do you consider that suicide?

Very difficult job, but lets see, would I want a million dollars?  Let me think… OF COURSE!

Don’t you agree that Conan O’Brien is in a no-win situation?

It’s hard to feel sorry for anybody who has their own talk show and is making a million dollars a year.

And be labeled a failure.

I think I face that as well.  We all do.  It’s a tough gig.

Unless, of course, you’re Joe Franklin.

Whose tapes do you think I watched before I put this thing together. What do you think about that guy?

Joe Franklin?

No, Conan O’Brien.

I think that while the money might be great, he’ll go down in history as the guy who stuck after Letterman.

You’re right, I think it would be a very difficult position to be in.

If it was your last show and you were allowed on final guest who would it be?

I don’t know. Are you busy?

 

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Copyright © 1993 Steppin' Out. All rights reserved.
Thanks to Dani for the article.

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