Jon Stewart is a much shorter and more nervous
version of Craig Kilborn, which is to say he's hardly Craig Kilborn
Whether this will matter once Stewart takes
over for Kilborn as host of Comedy Central's satirical The
Daily Show on January 11 is uncertain. For now, Stewart jokes,
all he knows is that "a team of expatriate Russian engineers
from the breakdown of Chechnya," have installed a booster
seat on Kilborn's chair, and a tailor is busy hemming Kilborn's
suits to fit a much smaller man.
Since it debuted in the summer of 1996, The
Daily Show, which airs weeknights, has become a welcome antidote
to the rise in self-important TV newsmagazines, blustering pundits
and celebrity-worship programming. Regular Daily Show segments
include parodies of the day's headlines, parodies of newsmagazine
exposes, parodies of soft-focus Barbara Walters specials.
Kilborn -- with his frat-boy good looks and
self-parodying smirk -- was an appropriately arrogant comedy pitchman
for the show, in which digs at news-makers can at times feel punitive.
Stewart doesn't have the same mean bones in
his body. He's a stand-up comedian from New Jersey whose act has
always been marked by literate, self-deprecating swipes at his
own Jewishness, for one. He dresses in black, and his comic hero
is Woody Allen.
"It won't be the same show. Some people
will like it less," he says of taking over Kilborn's post.
But a change in host won't entail a change in content, says Stewart,
35. True, correspondents A. Whitney Brown and Brian Unger are
leaving, but Beth Littleford and Stephen Colbert are staying and,
more important, so are the writers -- the ones who truly drive
the show's point of view.
"That show existed before [Kilborn] did.
He came on to host it, now I'm coming on to host it. If I wasn't
doing it, someone else would be doing it. I'm a cog in a machine,
and hopefully, because of the writing, I'll be able to help evolve
the creative part of it."
It's fitting that Stewart should be taking over
an existing entity, because he's practically made a career out
of almost hosting other people's talk shows. After two efforts
of his own, first for MTV and then a syndicated show from Paramount,
Stewart was in the running for the Late Night spot on NBC
that went to Conan O'Brien, balked at NBC's Later slot
at 1:30 a.m., and then signed a deal with David Letterman's production
company, Worldwide Pants, to host a 1:30 a.m. show following Tom
That deal expired with no show, and then Kilborn
announced in August that he was leaving The Daily Show
to take Snyder's CBS slot at 12:30 a.m., which he'll turn into
a comedy-variety hour (Kilborn's last Daily Show was Dec.
18; Comedy Central is airing reruns until Stewart's debut in January).
Stewart insists becoming the host of The
Daily Show, for which he will be paid $1.5 million a year,
is no booby prize. True, it's cable. True, the audience is relatively
minuscule, and he wasn't happy to learn that network chief Doug
Herzog, with whom Stewart worked at MTV, was stepping down to
take over as president of Fox Entertainment.
"Having Doug leave was a blow," he
said. "That's a guy I've known for years. He was one of the
reasons that I felt comfortable going [to Comedy Central]."
But Stewart says The Daily Show will
leave him freer to pursue other facets of his career. This year
he published a book, Naked Pictures of Famous People, that's
more than just punch lines with chapter titles. They're closer
to humorous essays.
There's also Stewart's burgeoning film career,
which includes a co-starring role with Gillian Anderson and Gena
Rowlands in Playing by Heart, to be released Jan. 22. Stewart
also just finished shooting Big Daddy, Adam Sandler's next