"Stand-up veteran is no longer a stand-in"
USA Today
January 11, 1999
by Kurt Jensen


Hey, Jon Stewart! As the new host of Comedy Central's TV news parody, The Daily Show, your career gets a fresh start. So you get to choose your own adjective in front of the "late-night funnyman" tag. Already out there are acerbic, quirky, cranky, angry and anvil-chinned. Pick a new one. "Oh. How about slanderous late-night funnyman? Litigious? Pensive? The only one with an active case of the mumps?" he says. "I'm just happy to be included in the category of late-night funnyman. Now I can go to their brunches."

Tonight, Stewart, 36, replaces Craig Kilborn -- who's off to CBS to replace Tom Snyder on The Late Late Show in March -- with a four-year contract that pays him about $1.5 million a year. And befitting his status as an established talent, he gets his name added to the title of the show that defined Comedy Central before the South Park era.

The deal also gives Stewart, who has a development deal at Miramax, time to make movies. He's currently seen in The Faculty and has roles in Playing by Heart (out Jan. 22) and Adam Sandler's next picture, Big Daddy. Plus, he deadpans, "every fifth show I get a free sundae. So there are perks."

But the self-deprecating Stewart insists his main career goal remains the same: "Just to get really good at stand-up. I try not to think too much about it." The New Jersey native, a comic for 12 years, may be the most famous floating guest host since Joey Bishop.

Since 1995, when Paramount canceled his 1-year-old syndicated talk show, an offshoot of the one he started for MTV in 1993, Stewart has been mentioned as a replacement for Conan O'Brien in the early years, for Snyder (for whom he was a fill-in host), and most memorably, for Garry Shandling's Larry Sanders on The Larry Sanders Show on HBO.

Last year, Stewart went in yet another direction with the publication of Naked Pictures of Famous People (Rob Weisbach Books). The collection of comic essays touched on such "what if" topics as Adolf Hitler interviewed by Larry King. That was a departure from the route taken by comics such as Jerry Seinfeld and Tim Allen, who both wrote best-selling books based on their stand-up material. But don't start referring to him as a humorist, Stewart insists. "It's still just jokes," he demurs. "I don't consider myself [John] Updike now."

Kilborn's "Five Questions" and "Moment for Us" segments are going with him. But Stewart and executive producer Madeleine Smithberg both say The Daily Show's news spoof format, originally built around Kilborn's hair-obsessed anchor and interviews with eccentric real people and stars who take themselves too seriously, will remain the same. "You're going to see us redevelop the show on the air," Smithberg says.

Contributors A. Whitney Brown and Brian Unger also have left, but new talent includes Vance DeGeneres (Ellen's brother) and comic Laura Kightlinger. Smithberg still calls the show "a platform to serve up the irony of our country."

And regarding another Kilborn signature, "I've been working on the smirk," Stewart says. "But it just keeps coming out so I look like Emmett Kelly. Maybe I'll just end the show each night by sweeping up the spotlight."


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