"Endearing Jon Stewart Has Hit the Mainsteam After MTV"
The Seattle Times
March 23, 1995
by Tom Phalen

 

He's the "lovely" TV man - lovely being his favorite adjective - who can say anything, and get away with almost anything, no matter how risque, badly timed or politically incorrect.

Jon Stewart - doe-eyed, smallish and fuzzy - isn't salacious, he's sweetly silly. And it makes him, well, endearing.

After serving what amounted to a learn-in-front-of-millions internship on MTV, he went mainstream with syndication of The Jon Stewart Show (on KIRO-TV at 12:05 a.m. weekdays). Tonight's guests: Seattle band Sky Cries Mary.

Stewart was one of the first TV comics to take on the O.J. Simpson case and work it into a full sketch, playing it as a reworked version of the board game Clue.

Bobby Slayton, the pit bull of comedy who used Stewart as his opening act a few years back, has his own take on the cute comic. "Stewart is hip, cool and funny, but he's a dork," said Slayton recently. "I also hear he's going out with a lot of models."

"That part's not true," Stewart said about the models.

"You want dirt, don't you? I have a lot of models on the show, but after their six minutes they leave with professional hockey players. I have to stay.

"And did you see that actress I talked to the other night? I wished her good luck on her Emmy nomination and she had to tell me the Emmys took place two months earlier and she lost..."

Two years ago, in Seattle to play the Improv, Stewart, now 30, was already talking about a possible talk show deal. After his stint as host on Comedy Central's Short Attention Span Theater, MTV picked him up for the particularly inane You Wrote It, You Watch It. Stewart's bits were the only parts worth watching.

"MTV offered me that job and my agent said 'Take it. It's stupid but it'll be good for your career.' I didn't understand then, but she was right."

Stewart did only 24 television hours for MTV. But his new show recently celebrated its 100th hour-long episode.

"I didn't think we'd even make that," said Stewart, "so it's really gratifying, but tiring."

Stewart kept the shabby, do-it-yourself industrial set of the MTV show, his sidekick Howard, a too-small staff and ace MTV Unplugged director Beth McCarthy.

"They keep telling me, `You'll get what you want in your second year.'" He wants more writers.

"We do a show five nights a week. That really soaks up the time and ideas. I really don't have time for models."

Stewart can be more acerbic than his television image suggests, especially in his live act. He can easily throw the pointed barb. And he has a far-reaching appreciation and knowledge of comedy history, from ancient film stars to the early '60s stand-up revolutionaries. What he doesn't care for is syndication. "We're on at 12:30 a.m. in New York, but in other places we can be on at 3 a.m."

Two months ago, when he was told he might be rescheduled to David Letterman's 11:30 p.m. time slot in Seattle when CBS switched to KSTW, he was even less thrilled.

His show is seen at 12:05 a.m. here, and he isn't happy about going up against Letterman (for Letterman's last half-hour). "I'd rather watch Dave than me anytime," he said sadly.

"But what are you going to do? We've been picking up steam, so I hope it continues. Get back to me in June when I get the new numbers. I'll know then how we're really doing."

And while Letterman is his hero (Stewart was excited about being a guest on the show last week), Stewart is more slacker than slick. Surely that's part of his appeal to a younger audience. He often seems genuinely starstruck and he makes the most of a meager budget. His little sketches and film bits are consistently funny and his guests' visibility quotient is on the rise. Authors, actors and others see Stewart as the conduit to that attractive 18-and-up demographic.

And Stewart, a major alternative and rap music fan, is constantly breaking new bands (Sky Cries Mary is on tonight, and Seattle's Sunny Day Real Estate is a favorite).

He may not yet have the big-time numbers, but Stewart's digs have improved considerably. Three years ago, he was in a New York studio apartment so small he could reach anything in it while sitting on the toilet. Now he's moved up in the world, but one of his two cats is blind and didn't understand the revised floor plan.

"He kept walking into the walls, poor guy."

 

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