"Gimme Stewart"
Time Out New York
December 10, 1998
by John Sellers

 

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 Heart.

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 you?

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 show.

TONY: How 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!?!"

TONY: In 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 numbers.

TONY: The Faculty fulfills the Miramax deal. Do you feel old playing a teacher in that?

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.

TONY: In Playing by Heart, you're Gillian Anderson's boyfriend. Do you get to make out with her?

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.

TONY: How 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 better?"

TONY: Do 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.

TONY: When 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!"

TONY: Is 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.

TONY: I have that with opening canned goods.

JS: [Long pause] Is that true?

TONY: Yeah, 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!"

TONY: Do 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.

TONY: Just 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.

TONY: What 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.

TONY: I think they should do a Real World where everyone goes to an Iowa farm and raises chickens and grows corn.

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.

TONY: Or there could be a cage match between two of the people every week.

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!"

TONY: Could 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.

TONY: So that's where Marc Price is.

JS: Exactly. Skippy's our leader, our dark lord.

TONY: I heard that you're a big drinker.

JS: What do you mean by big?

TONY: Not small?

JS: [Laughs] 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.

 

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Thanks to Dani for the article.

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