When confronted about his chain-smoking habit,
newly employed talk-show host Jon Stewart takes a defiant puff
on a Merit. "At least I don't have any major problems,"
he says, blowing out a cloud of smoke. "Like whenever something
bad happens, I take off my pants."
This blend of sardonic wit and mock abrasiveness
-- not to mention outstanding trouser restraint -- is just part
of the reason Stewart is replacing CBS-bound Craig Kilborn as
host of The Daily Show next month. Sure, it's Stewart's
first regular gig since the demise of MTV's The Jon Stewart
Show three years ago, but the 36-year-old comedian hasn't
exactly been slacking. He's parodied his permanent replacement-host
status on The Larry Sanders Show and writer Naked
Pictures of Famous People, a collection of satirical stories
about subjects such as Leonardo da Vinci's early notebooks (worst
idea? "the ass comb"). Stewart has also dabbled in
acting: Later this month, he'll appear as a biology teacher
in the Robert Rodriguez-Kevin Williamson collaboration, The
Faculty, and smooch Gillian Anderson in Playing by
Over a couple of cheeseburgers and a pack
of cigarettes at the Cedar Tavern, Time Out New York
turned the tables and played host to Stewart.
Time Out New York: Ever
since your talk show went off the air in 1995, you seem to have
been known as "the replacement guy." Does that bother
Jon Stewart: I was just one
of the more notable people who had done it, who weren't doing
it anymore, who still wanted to do it or were still available.
That list is very short -- once Pat Sajak went back to Wheel
of Fortune, it really left only me. Rick Dees had his morning
will hosting The Daily Show
change things for you?
JS: I can put more into it.
When I was doing The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder
. . . it's like you're house-sitting. So while it's nice, because
it's a nice place to house-sit, you're still a little worried
-- like, "Oh my God, I just got ashes on the couch. Now
what am I going to do?" You don't want to be the guy to
fuck it up for when the other guy comes back and goes, "Who
drank all my whiskey!?!"
1995, you signed lucrative deals with both Miramax and Letterman's
company, Worldwide Pants. Nothing really big has come from either
of those contracts.
JS: [Laughs] At
that time, I thought that was the greatest way to go through
your career: Sign these crazy development deals and just kick
back. I thought I was on to something like a Ponzi scheme --
like the first guy who figured out how to steal cellular-phone
TONY: The Faculty
fulfills the Miramax deal. Do you feel old playing a teacher
JS: Yeah. Kevin Williamson
wrote it, so there's a lot of teenage dialogue that makes us,
as adults, go, "Huh?" and the kids go, "Oh, right!
He called her a tit bag!" That kind of thing.
Playing by Heart,
you're Gillian Anderson's boyfriend. Do you get to make out
JS: I believe I do. I blacked
out. When the paramedics came, I had a lipstick smear on my
nose -- so I'm not sure what happened.
was it acting alongside her and Sean Connery in the same film?
JS: You know, it's nerve-racking
to be with people who know how to act. I learned that when I
was on The Larry Sanders Show. Like, there's acting,
and then there's Rip Torn, who's just in a different world.
Most comedians are doing themselves, ten percent angrier or
happier. So you're a little nervous, and you're hoping that
the little bullshit trick you picked up at the Comedy Cellar
eight years ago is going to work. That the director's not going
to go, "Uh, cut! Could you, uh -- what's the word? -- act
you like to act?
JS: I'd have a tough time
doing it all the time. When you do it without -- what's it called?
-- a craft to fall back on, you do feel like you're flying without
a net. But they never go, "We need a guy who really can
bring this emotional point home. Let's bring Stewart in."
I like being able to do a little stand-up and do something else
and also try acting. It's that neurotic vision -- the more things
that I can do, the more employable I'll be in the future.
did you first attempt stand-up?
JS: The first time I got
onstage was in April of 1987. I had, like, four minutes of material,
and I think I got through two. Some guy called me an asshole,
and I retorted quickly, "Nuh-uh!"
there anything you regret from the early stand-up days?
JS: I tried out at the Comic
Strip early on and was told that it wasn't going to happen.
And I was so gun-shy about it that I never went back there,
even after it was working for me. It was sort of like being
a kid and being scared by a mop because you thought it was a
monster; and now you have this weird thing about mopping.
have that with opening canned goods.
JS: [Long pause]
Is that true?
I cut my finger on a serrated lid of a cat-food can as a kid,
and now I feel strange when I open cans.
JS: You know what? That story
either gets you laid or the date's over. You know how guys have
that go-to story? That's either your go-to story where the girl
goes, "that's the sweetest thing I've ever heard,"
or that's when the girl goes, "We will no longer be seeing
each other." Her friend says, "How was your date?"
and she goes, "Well, it was going good until I opened up
a can of beans. He screamed and ran out of the room!"
you hate being referred to as a "funnyman"?
JS: [Laughs] It
only happens in print. My mom never calls and says, "So,
will funnyman Jon Stewart be joining us for Thanksgiving?"
Most of the adjectives you don't pay a lot of attention to --
other than when you're feeling low.
so you know, the Post
recently referred to you as "former MTV funnyman Jon Stewart."
JS: [Laughs] Yeah.
That is unfortunately my epitaph. That's going to be on the
gravestone. We're going to be buried together -- me, Pauly Shore,
Denis Leary. There's a section at the MTV graveyard, in the
Logan's Run area.
do you think of The Real World?
JS: I love it! [Pause]
I think the next one could be seven people who have at one time
claimed to be suicidal, and you just see how long it will take
before everyone dies. They'll put the house right on a cliff,
and then just wait and see.
think they should do a Real World
where everyone goes to an Iowa farm and raises chickens and
JS: What about a Real
World where they get to vote every four weeks that one
of them is killed? You just do a 20-week show where you're planning
that all five of them will die.
there could be a cage match between two of the people every
JS: Yeah. And people would
do it. That's got to be the hardest show to be on, because there's
no visible correlation between your fame and talent. So there's
no way to recapture that glory. Years from now, in many cities,
there will be drunk people at the end of a bar. You'll see them.
They'll be about 60 or 70 years old, and they'll be really angry.
You'll sidle up to them, and after a while they'll go, "I
was in a house, and we had to stop being polite and start being
real, and it was magical!"
you explain to me how the whole comedy scene breaks down, please?
JS: It's a satanic organization
based on human sacrifice and a love of anarchy.
that's where Marc
JS: Exactly. Skippy's our
leader, our dark lord.
heard that you're a big drinker.
JS: What do you mean by big?
I don't drink as much as I used to. I don't do anything as much
as I used to. Some people need to be on the edge to really do
something creative. I don't think I'd have the balls or stamina
to do that. If I were a guy who was hanging out with Jim Morrison,
by the third day of our two-week binge, I'd probably get tonsillitis.