Jon Stewart is your new host for "The Daily
Show." One of the sharpest, fastest and funniest ad-libbers around,
Stewart arrives at a program whose growth has been stunted by
the inability of its host to riff, improvise, ad-lib, or do much
of anything you can't mock up on a TelePrompTer. Stewart will
give the show all the spontaneity it can handle, and this likely
will mean less script and more banter (and not that scripted banter
they feed the current host, either).
In short, get ready for Talk Stew Two.
"You know, I've always wanted to be a young
Charles Kuralt. I started in this business with just a Winnebago
and a dream," Stewart told LATE SHOW NEWS via telephone just moments
after being introduced at a press conference last Tuesday by Comedy
Central CEO Doug Herzog. Stewart, who takes over in January, confirmed
the show would become "more unpredictable" but was quick to point
out that he's been writing jokes for 12 years, so it's not like
that's going to stop.
"Hopefully we can integrate all that stuff,
but it's going to take a while and that's why we were real clear
on doing this for the long term," said Stewart.
Long term indeed: Comedy Central inked him for
four years and is paying top dollar, upwards of $1.5 million a
year, for his services on "The Daily Show." He gets to keep his
Miramax movie deal and will get flex time so he can continue doing
a couple films a year. But this is big-time commitment and his
former producer on the "Jon Stewart Show," soon to be his new
producer on "The Daily Show," Madeleine Smithberg, is a big reason
why Stewart was ready to commit. Although the old talk show expired
after just one season in syndication -- sandbagged by station
managers who were expecting the next Arsenio or something -- Smithberg
and Stewart remained on excellent terms, and a few lunches ago
started discussing the possibility of his returning to cable,
where he toiled all those years ago on "Short Attention Span Theater"
and other winners.
I didn't bother to ask Stewart how it felt to
see the current "Daily Show" host he's replacing go over to CBS
to replace Tom Snyder after Stewart spent one year as Tom's guest
replacement host. I figured Jon saw that the climate there wasn't
right for the kind of show he wanted to do, even if David Letterman's
Worldwide Pants was producing. And let's face it, whose demographic
would *you* want to be writing comedy for -- CBS's or Comedy Central's?
Despite all the press being written about Chris
Rock's flavor, the past three years haven't been unkind to Stewart,
either. He's just kept a lower profile, confining his work to
other people's talk shows as well as some non-TV projects.
"There was a bit of seduction about being on
network," Stewart now says about his year in syndication. "But
it gets to the point where that's not important, what's important
is doing something worthwhile which is why I avoided doing a sitcom.
Yeah, it's high profile and you're on network, but you know what?
You could be on 'Suddenly Stewart.'"
Although it was a challenge working in the Snyder
format -- no studio audience and the need to interview the occasional
serial-killer expert -- Stewart said he found "Late Late Show"
a learning experience and that he's got piles of respect for Snyder.
Or for any old guy who's doing exactly what he wants to be doing.
Which is how we got talking about one of our mutual faves, Don
Rickles, whom he recently got to meet in person.
"First of all, the guy smells better than any
man I've ever met. Like pastry. And his skin is soft. Weird. I
saw him at Carnegie Hall and he was doing jokes that, you know,
broke people up after World War II. You know, 'Here's the Japanese
surrendering at Okinawa!' ... But then I watched him go into the
audience and just tear it up. This was the funniest shit I'd seen
in my life. Oh my god. He's the most politically incorrect guy
I know." Stewart admires people who just keep doing their act
and find themselves, as Rickles does today, suddenly in fashion
Stewart has two movies coming out this fall
and a book, "Naked Pictures of Famous People." Suddenly Stewart
is back in fashion again himself.