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
"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
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
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
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.