"Jon Stewart puts his slant on Daily Show news"
The Charleston Gazette
January 9, 1999
by Terry Jackson


Comedian and actor Jon Stewart isn't too worried about finding something funny and satirical for his debut this month as host of The Daily Show, Comedy Central's offbeat news commentary/comedy program.

When you've got a president who's facing an impeachment trial over sex with a White House intern, what more do you need?

"It's kind of like a starter kit," Stewart said this week. "But the key to the impeachment process is finding the right joke. You can make the joke that Monica Lewinsky isn't very attractive. But the real joke is Rush Limbaugh calling Monica Lewinsky unattractive."

If you miss the point of that wry observation, then you may find yourself wondering about the cult popularity of The Daily Show, which debuted on Comedy Central in 1996 with former ESPN sportscaster Craig Kilborn as host. Kilborn has left to take over Tom Snyder's spot on CBS' The Late, Late Show starting March 30.

The Daily Show is biting commentary on news that airs Monday- Thursday at 11 p.m., with repeats sprinkled throughout Comedy Central's schedule. It looks for ironic and absurd aspects and exploits them unmercifully without regard to who may be offended.

The show recently parodied the bombing of Baghdad by having one of the show's "correspondents," Brian Unger, do a pseudo remote broadcast from the roof of The Daily Show building and comment on the attack, complete with green screen effects to simulate the night- vision cameras used by real news crews.

Stewart, who takes on an additional role as executive producer, says he doesn't plan to change much on the show - other than its name. Starting Monday it will be The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Asked to explain the show to the uninitiated, Stewart offers this: "If you watch the news and don't like it, then this is your counter program to the news."

Enough people have found that philosophy appealing to make The Daily Show one of the most popular late-night programs on cable. It has become so important to Comedy Central that they're reportedly paying Stewart $1 million a year to take over.

For that money the cable channel is getting a savvy, telegenic 36- year-old comic who knows the territory.

In 1991 he started Short Attention Span Theater on Comedy Central, which featured news and celebrity guest interviews - a format not unlike The Daily Show. Stewart also hosted a short-lived MTV program called You Wrote It, You Watch It in 1992.

With dreams of challenging late-night talk kings Jay Leno and David Letterman, Stewart started The Jon Stewart Show on MTV in 1993 and moved it to syndication in 1994, where it died after nine months.

Stewart soberly said of the tough lesson he learned in syndication: "It's a case of be careful what you wish for - you might get it."

Now Stewart, a native of New Jersey who has a psychology degree from William and Mary, is a lot more settled in his career and a lot less dependent on being an instant hit on The Daily Show.

He's added author (Naked Pictures of Famous People, Rob Weisbach Books, $24), movie screenwriter (The Night People) and actor (The Faculty) to his resume.

Still, he finds that he's most comfortable working with news-related satire and comedy. "I'm a little bit too obsessed with the news," he said. "I find the news easier to follow than narrative entertainment programs.

"I'll watch NYPD Blue, whatever. But I find the news, for me, I watch it like a program. I can't wait to find out what's happening with my favorite characters. Like, 'Oh, I'm so sorry they dropped Saddam Hussein from the show. Oh, they're bringing him back!'"

Stewart said that when he starts work this week at Comedy Central preparing for his debut Monday, he plans to be really loose, with no preconceived ideas. "The best-laid plans of mice and comedians usually wind up on the cutting-room floor," he said, adding that at first he'll be happy if he doesn't come off to regular Daily Show viewers as Kilborn's jerky replacement.

Longer term, Stewart is excited about the possibilities the countdown to 2000 may provide. "As we approach the millennium with sort of the idea that society is going to start spiraling into chaos, I'd love to be making jokes about that," he said. "Who wants to miss out on that? If the world is going to end, I want to be there the night before, goofing off."


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