"Jon Stewart Has Landed the Ultimate Gig"
The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer
September 2, 1995
by Tom Feran


Jon Stewart considered hosting his own late-night talk show "the ultimate gig." But even the ultimate never offered anything like the guest list facing Stewart today as HBO's pre-show and backstage host on its telecast of The Concert for the Hall of Fame.

"The list is a little insane," he said in an interview this week. "I can't even imagine all these people in one room. Aretha Franklin walking by, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry. ... I'm looking forward to it. Hey, I've ushered crappier shows than this. It's got to be pretty incredible."

Stewart's job will be to make HBO viewers part of the excitement all day and through the evening. He will host four live cut-ins during the day (after Silverado, The Making of `Last Action Hero,' Chasers and Lassie), a concert "pre-show" at 7:15 p.m. and exclusive backstage segments during lulls in the six-hour concert starting at 7:30 p.m.

"I'll be sneaking stuff off the buffet table," he joked. "At a show like this, I figure they've got to go all out - I'm thinking red snapper." Stewart flew into Cleveland from Los Angeles for a day earlier in the week to prepare. Currently shooting the movie Wishful Thinking, a Miramax release with Drew Barrymore, he planned to return this morning for the show.

"It should be pretty spontaneous," he said. "On a live shoot, it's difficult to do anything too scripted. We'll have pre-produced roll-ins that bolster it, but I have a feeling if something cool happens, we'll deal with it, and I'm sure all the musicians will be up for it." They'll discuss the show, the hall and whatever else the quick-witted Stewart can pull from them.

"If it lags, I've got a fact sheet about Cleveland and can jump in with the chief exports," he said. "Actually, who would have thought? Here's this incredible concert, with all the world's eyes on it, and by the way, the Indians are way in first place. What is this, Major League III? It's some sort of Age of Aquarius thing."

Stewart rapped skillfully with musicians on his talk show, first on MTV and then in national syndication. Its cancellation last spring reflected the brutally fragile economics of syndication more than artistic failure, as HBO's selection of Stewart for the Hall of Fame show testifies.

"Trying to make a talk show compelling is the most difficult thing in the world," he said, though he's glad he did it and "wouldn't mind" trying another. He admitted to one personal goal for the concert show. "It's a Jersey Boy thing," he said. "Obviously I want to grab Bruce Springsteen - just because growing up in his shadow in New Jersey, there are some things I want to get off my chest. Like, 'I went to the Stone Pony a lot and you were never there, man. I wasted a lot of gas money on you.' And, of course, he's like the idol of the age."

As for the long day's night ahead of him, Stewart is unconcerned. "I think if I'm not out at the hotel pool with Jerry Lee Lewis at 5 a.m., I'm not worth my salt," he said.


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