"A 'Daily' dose of laughs"
The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer
January 11, 1999
by Tom Feran


Jon Stewart takes on Comedy Central's signature program.

Jon Stewart laughed with a tone more sorrowful than mirthful the other day, when he was asked if he is rooting for a full-scale Senate trial of President Clinton. "Like, `Are you hoping for the dissolution of our government?' he answered. "To be honest, yes - and I hope O.J. [Simpson] presides over it. I'm in the uncomfortable position of cheering for chaos now, because that's where I can make the most muck. And Y2K is right around the corner."

For Stewart, an impeachment trial couldn't come at a better time. At 11 tonight, he takes over as host of The Daily Show, the wry and irreverent take on events of the day that has become a signature program of cable's Comedy Central. It could be a tailor-made job for the stand-up comic, actor and best-selling humor essayist (Naked Pictures of Famous People), who joked he likes "to not be good at anything, so I keep hopping around" because "I don't have what most people would call hobbies or interests."

It might help that he had the experience of his own late-night talk show, on MTV and in syndication, five years ago - even though the glut of competition left him among the casualties. "Once you've seen your picture on a dartbord with Rick Dees and Pat Sajak, it's all uphill," he said. "But I worked 14 hours a day on the old show. The Daily Show is easier in the sense of knowing the parameters of the gig. The fuel is not pure celebrities and whether they come on with a great story -- the fuel is the news.'

Failing in the ratings five years ago did little harm to Stewart's career. Switching his focus to acting, he appeared on HBO's Larry Sanders Show as Garry Shandling's suspicious understudy. He also co-stars in the current big-screen feature The Faculty and joins Sean Connery and Gillian Anderson in the coming film, Playing by Heart.

For a time, Stewart said, there was a "very serious" possibility of continuing The Larry Sanders Show, with him replacing Shandling as the star. "Luckily," he said, "everyone had the foresight not to put themselves in an After MASH kind of situation, following Klinger and Radar to Toledo."

He also was under consideration to host a Late, Late, Late Show on CBS after Tom Snyder - until Snyder announced that he would retire in March. Snyder's replacement, starting March 30, will be former Daily Show host Craig Kilborn - whose departure opened the job for Stewart. "I'm probably more neurotic than Craig," he said. "On paper, it's going to be pretty much the exact same show. But it's the natural evolution of a show that, with a different person on, it's going to be different."

Kilborn's trademark bit was "Five Questions" -- the series of offbeat, impertinent or whimsical questions he posed to celebrity guests. Uncertain if he will continue it, Stewart is not worried about finding his own signature because, "Nobody knows what it is until it happens."

The show's other contributors will remain, as will its filmed features and name guests. Impeachment or not, Stewart said, "If you're going to give people 20 minutes of news satire, you've also got to give them Tiffany-Amber Thiessen or you're going to have rioting in the streets."


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