"Stewart no longer second fiddle in role as The Daily Show host"
The (Illinois) State-Journal Register
December 25, 1998
by Mark McGuire


ALBANY, N.Y. -- He is not an author, but he wrote a book. He is not an actor, but he is in movies. He is a stand-up comic, but he doesn't do that anymore. And Jon Stewart is not a talk show host. Well, actually, he is. Again. "I like not to be good at anything, so I keep hopping around," he deadpanned.

On January 11, Stewart will take over The Daily Show, Comedy Central's 11 p.m. weekday satirical alternative to the nightly news. It's something of an odd choice in light of the man he is replacing: Craig Kilborn left the show December 18 for CBS, where early next year he will take over for Tom Snyder on The Late Late Show. The two are different: Kilborn is 6-feet-5-inches, blond, cocky and sardonic. The strength of his humor is that he and the viewers are in on the joke. Stewart, 36, is short, dark and self-deprecating. The strength of his humor is that he and the viewers are the butt of the joke.

"I am probably more neurotic," Stewart said of the comparison, during a recent telephone interview. "I will probably be drunk for the first month." Even if he hadn't gotten the Daily chair, Stewart would still be on a roll. He appears in two upcoming movies (The Faculty and Dancing About Architecture) and wrote the recently published Naked Pictures of Famous People, a collection of stories.

Still, he won't give himself his due props. "If you are in a movie you are an actor but you are not an actor," Stewart said. "I could be in 20 movies and I would not be Rip Torn. Whatever I'm in I want to be competent." If he had an inflated opinion of himself, it would have been punctured by the last several years as an also-ran.

Runner-up to Conan O'Brien for the NBC Late Night. Runner-up to Kilborn for the Snyder slot. Like real life, he was a runner-up to no one to replace Garry Shandling on The Larry Sanders Show. The HBO comedy was cancelled. "I had moved in with Garry," Stewart said of possibly continuing the show, in which he played a young guest host looking to unseat Sanders. "It was a lot of two-in-the-morning giggling."

But Stewart agrees it was right not to continue the show: "Everyone had the foresight not to put themselves into an After MASH situation. Everybody sort of understood this was a gold-standard show." Meanwhile, The Daily Show is as topical as any mainstream daily news show. Writers begin poring over Newspapers and working on material by 9 a.m. By early afternoon, the show begins forming, a process that evolves right up until taping at 6 p.m.

Stewart, who hosted an MTV talk show in 1994 and 1995 but failed in a later syndicated gabfest, said television talk shows had changed from the days of Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett. "The real difference is the speed in which entertainment has to occur," he said. "They have to fill it with a shiny light... or someone from Baywatch. The atmosphere of the shows have changed," he continued. There is a real casual comfort to the old Carsons which don't exist today, and maybe couldn't."

The Daily Show is fast. It's topicality was evident December 16: U.S. and British forces attacked Iraq at around 5 p.m. Eastern, but Kilborn was able to put a "Perversion Diversion '98" package together for that night. So it's sort of useless for Stewart to script out a show now. He is not even sure what format changes will be made. "On paper it is the exact same show," Stewart said. "It's the natural evolution of the show. It will end up being different."

One change is the name -- to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.


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