"Straight Talk: Advice from Jon Stewart"
USA Weekend
November 15, 1998
by Jeffrey Zaslow


Consider the comic possibilities at the millennium with one of America's hottest cutting-edge comedians.

Looking for a way to survive in the millennium? "Get a sense of humor," says Jon Stewart. "If you don't, it'll be incredibly frustrating."

The 35-year-old comedian will begin 1999 as the new host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, a smirking social review that has become the place for cutting-edge, often over-the-edge, humor.

His idea of funny? "Taking things in our culture to the absolute extreme." Stewart amuses himself by picturing Bill Gates meeting the devil, or vicious Christmas cards sent by those perky singing Hanson brothers.

That sort of absurdist riff defines Stewart's work. In the past year, while making HBO's Larry Sanders Show and two movies, The Faculty and Dancing About Architecture, he honed his topical irreverence by writing a book of comic essays, Naked Pictures of Famous People.

Stewart, the son of a physicist dad and special ed teacher mom, grew up Jon Stuart Liebowitz in New Jersey - that's "outside the Beltway" to the Washington politicos he now targets with his humor. He mocks politicians' "condescension toward the rest of us. Washington is considered 'inside the Beltway.' You know what the place outside the Beltway is called? The United States!"

For comic fuel, the one-time bartender and research lab assistant often turns to the media, especially the Internet. He's aghast at chat rooms. "Imagine the loneliest singles bar in the world, a singles bar for 15- to 18-year-olds with the occasional 44-year-old accountant from Des Moines. Chatting online reduces communication to grunts and giggles. They say chat rooms are bringing back literacy because people communicate with the written word. It's bull."

Stewart recently entered a chat room and pretended to be an eloquent Vincent Van Gogh, befuddling fellow cyber-chatters. As we turn the century, he says, the best comic possibilities often will be found by way of just such "exercises in 'what if?' "

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On the media's obsession with lists:

"You read Hollywood's 30 most powerful people under age 30, or People's 50 Most Beautiful People. What drivel! The extreme would be: 'Five People to Watch Under 5.' "

On hypocrisy in Washington:

"How can Washington criticize Hollywood when they use Hollywood principles to design campaigns? There are no leaders anymore, only studio executives. Our country's chief executive runs focus groups every four years and tries to make sure his movie opens bigger than the other guy's."

On society's fascination with tall supermodels:

"I think of them as something of a genetic anomaly. Who knows? Next year the trend might be models with gigantic chins. They don't really have an impact on people's lives."


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