height-challenged comedian replaces Craig Kilborn on the irreverent
half-hour on Monday.
The Daily Show on Comedy Central has Jon Stewart feeling
small. Yes, that's a height joke - Stewart has a minor fixation
on the fact that he's almost a foot shorter than lanky Craig
Kilborn, whom he replaces Monday as host of the ultra-hip half-hour
that skewers events of the day. In Kilborn's chair, "You
wouldn't be able to see my head above the desk," Stewart
says. But not to worry: NASA engineers have installed a booster
seat. And tailors are working round the clock to alter Kilborn's
suits to fit him. ("What'd you think, they'd just throw
them out? Come on, this is basic cable.")
the original host of The Daily Show, quit after 2 1/2
years to take over for Tom Snyder late nights on CBS. (His run
starts March 30.) How'd Stewart get the replacement gig? "I
was the eighth caller." (Alternatively, he's suggested
that he flew bombing sorties over the network until he was hired.)
The truth is that Stewart, 36, was a real catch for Comedy Central.
in demand as an actor, he'd had offers for a sitcom pilot and
had talked to David Letterman's Worldwide Pants about doing
a talk show. Industry rumors at various times had him taking
over for Snyder and, bizarrely, replacing Garry Shandling in
a revamped version of HBO's Larry Sanders Show.
was drawn to Comedy Central by old friends. He knew Madeleine
Smithberg, executive producer of The Daily Show and Eileen
Katz, now a top-level programmer at Comedy Central, from MTV,
which recruited him from stand-up comedy to launch The Jon
Stewart Show in 1993.
talker generated so much buzz that Paramount plucked it for
syndication, expanding it to an hour and relaunching it nationwide
in the fall of 1994 to replace The Arsenio Hall Show.
Ratings were lousy, and just 10 months later, The Jon Stewart
Show was canceled.
whose style is wryly low-key, was philosophical about the failure.
"Yeah, I miss the TV show, but... it's not like I eat a
cheeseburger and say, hey, this cheeseburger is good, but not
as good as my talk show," he told a Post-Dispatch interviewer
in the fall of '95, after he'd returned to the comedy circuit.
he's even more philosophical, crediting the demise of the talk
show with giving him the freedom he needed at that point in
his career. "I had so many ideas floating around that I
had to get out of my system, to put at ease," he says.
"Movies, a book...."
was trimmed from The First Wives Club, in which he played
Goldie Hawn's boyfriend, but went on to do The Faculty,
the teen horror flick now in theaters, and Playing by Heart,
opening Jan. 22, in which he got to kiss Gillian Anderson of
X-Files fame. He's also in the forthcoming Adam Sandler
flick Big Daddy.
Sanders, which ended its run last spring, he played a parallel-universe
version of himself. "At first, I was playing me, but not
well. Then, in the last season, I got a full-blown story line
and a chance to go outside myself. To make it work, I really
had to stretch." The results were both hilarious and eerie.
That final season, while the fictional Larry (Shandling) worried
that the semi-fictional Stewart would take over his show, rumors
grew that HBO might actually recruit Stewart to take over for
Shandling so the show could go on. But the rumors were completely
unfounded, Stewart says.
was a gold-standard show. There was no reason to stretch it
out, and I'm glad it was allowed to go in a dignified way."
Resurrecting it in the future might be a possibility, though,
"when they're all in the old actors' home, especially if
I need work."
was wrapping up at the same time Stewart was finishing his book,
a collection of humorous essays that he titled Naked Pictures
of Famous People in the hope that "Naked" would
boost sales. (For whatever reason, they've been good.)
frantically busy few months, Stewart found himself with time
on his hands, some of which he spent surfing TV and yelling
back at the set. "I have no real interests or hobbies,"
he notes. "I'm the least active person you can imagine."
His only real avocation, Stewart claims, is chain-smoking, but
he is obsessed with -- and appalled at -- the news. "How
can you go wrong doing a show of topical humor with what's going
on in the world? Just look at the White House. Satirizing that
is just irresistible."
will serve as co-executive producer of the newly titled Daily
Show With Jon Stewart and do much more writing than Kilborn.
"That's really my favorite thing," he says, "sitting
in a room with funny people till somebody hits on just the right
to tape promos, he didn't even start work at Comedy Central
until last Monday ("That Daily in the title means
there's not a lot you can do way in advance"), and remained
unsure in the interim of how the new show would differ from
the old one, which featured a mix of edgy commentary and "field
reports" on bizarre topics, with a nightly celebrity guest.
is known: Stewart's Daily Show will retain correspondents
Beth Littleford and Stephen Colbert; A. Whitney Brown and Brian
Unger have departed, along with Kilborn's signature "5
Questions" segment, which he created. The bottom line,
however, is that "the fuel for this show remains the news,
and I love that. It's so much better than a talk show, where
the fuel some nights can be the fourth lead from Melrose
In the beginning,
Stewart says, he just wants to avoid screwing things up for
an established and popular show. "My first priority is
going to be to fit in. I mean, they've got the rhythm section
going, and I don't want to be the guy clapping out of time.
Before I even think of putting my so-called stamp on anything,
we need to get the show running as smoothly as it was before
Craig left. You have to drive the thing before you can fly it."
All those involved agree on "the basic integrity of the
show," Stewart says. Pause. "It is the one with the
cartoon kids, isn't it?"