Stewart takes over Comedy Central's mainstay
Stewart takes over a Comedy Central institution, he'll have
a few things Daily Show host Craig Kilborn did not. Besides
the ceremonial phone book that the 6-foot-4 Kilborn presented
the 5-foot-7 Stewart as a booster seat for his chair on the
air last month, Stewart is getting a reported $1.5 million annual
salary, a co-executive producer credit, and his name in the
Show With Jon Stewart bows at 11 tonight. Yet, as of just
a few weeks ago, the new host, a 36-year-old, New Jersey-born
comic known for his wry, absurdist, self-deprecating humor,
and great conversational talents, didn't have much of a handle
on how his version would resemble, or differ from, that of Kilborn,
who succeeds Tom Snyder on CBS' The Late Late Show on
tone will obviously be a lot more Yiddish," quips Stewart,
who'll have a big hand in the show's writing. "I think
at some point, I'd love to have a little bit of diversity. Not
just celebrities, but newsmakers. "But as I keep saying,
there is a certain mindset that won't develop until I get there."
looks-and-hair-obsessed Kilborn was known for checking himself
out during the commercial breaks. Stewart surely won't be doing
that. "You are correct," he says. "There are
do we know? Stewart's first guest will be Michael J. Fox. Sandra
Bernhard follows on Tuesday. And publicity-shy X-Files
star Gillian Anderson, Stewart's co-star in the movie Playing
by Heart, will drop by Wednesday or Thursday.
too, that Daily Show correspondents Stephen Colbert and
Beth Littleford are remaining with the show. (Brian Unger and
A. Whitney Brown have departed.) And Daily Show executive
producer Madeleine Smithberg -- who was a producer of his syndicated
The Jon Stewart Show -- has developed a long roster of
contributors, too. Most recurring segments, including "Headlines,"
"Back in Black," "Out at the Movies," "God
Stuff," and "Moment of Zen" will remain.
about "Five Questions," the feature that Kilborn developed
as a sort of bar pick-up-line joke and would like to take with
him to CBS? "It's hard to say," Stewart says. "That's
probably a decision Comedy Central will have to make."
(As of press time, the network had no answer on that.)
acknowledges that the cancellation of his critically acclaimed
syndicated talk show in June 1995 made him leery of doing another
talk show. "You go down to the Jersey shore, you lick your
wounds for two weeks, and you come back kicking," he says
of that period. "You can't just fold up the tents. You've
got to refocus yourself and get back in it.
even now, when people say, `Are you nervous?' I say, `Sure.'"
Stewart, born Jon Stewart Leibowitz, grew up far away from the
entertainment world -- in Lawrenceville, between Princeton and
Trenton. One of his first jobs was working for the New Jersey
Department of Human Services, developing contingency plans.
would compile databases, just in case a hurricane struck. I
could say, `We've got five beds in Marlboro,'" Stewart
recalls. "It was a very exciting gig, as you could imagine."
"got tired of helping people," he moved out of New
Jersey -- "lock, stock, and barrel" -- and took up
residence in New York City and its comedy club scene.
on HBO specials (at 10 tonight, Comedy Central will air his
HBO Comedy Hour from a few years back) and David Letterman's
shows eventually led to his own talk show on MTV. Soon, he was
being touted as "The Voice of Generation X." ("It's
not like when I said something, I heard a chorus of millions
of young people saying back, `We agree. My God, man, lead me.'")
picked up Stewart's show and expanded it to an hour-long format
for national syndication. That show's failure was a big disappointment
was the lapsing of his deal to develop a talk show with David
Letterman's Worldwide Pants. After all, Stewart, not Kilborn,
was long considered the heir apparent to Snyder.) That's a topic
he doesn't seem to like talking about, although, during his
very funny Dec. 16 appearance on Kilborn's Daily Show (featuring
the phone book exchange), Stewart self-deprecatingly said he
was too short to do network TV.
On the phone,
he prefers to reminisce about HBO's late, great The Larry
Sanders Show, on which he played himself. In that series'
final season, Stewart was being groomed to take over the throne
of Garry Shandling's fictional late-night king, and there were
strong rumors that Stewart might continue the series after Shandling
sort of spun off, obviously, the story line," Stewart says.
"There was a lot of 2 o'clock-in-the-morning ranting and
raving about that possibility. But to play that character, you
really couldn't play yourself. You need the protection of the
character to do the awful things the character would need to
making Playing by Heart, with Gillian Anderson, Stewart
did the movies The Faculty, and Big Daddy, and
this past fall his first book, Naked Pictures of Famous People,
Comedy Central contract prohibits him from doing outside projects
for a year. "I think ultimately I'd be able to do a little
of both," Stewart says. "I'll be able to keep up my
pace of two movies every 35 years."