"W&M alumnus steps into the limelight"
The Virginian-Pilot
January 11, 1999
by Larry Bonko


Here is Jon Stewart, new host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, on attending college in Virginia:

"At William and Mary, I earned a degree in making bricks out of straw and water in Colonial Williamsburg. Not many people know it, but cheap student labor was used in the Williamsburg restoration."

The man who succeeds Craig Kilborn as host of The Daily Show, tonight at 11, has reduced four years at W&M to one-liners.

The record shows he graduated in 1984 with a degree in psychology. "And immediately proved how unemployable a person can be who comes out of William and Mary with a degree in psychology," said Stewart, as he prepared to replace Kilborn, who will soon follow Tom Snyder on CBS' The Late Late Show.

After leaving W&M, he didn't develop into Jon Stewart, clinical psychologist. He became Jon Stewart, standup comic. Was his time at W&M a total waste?

"Not completely. I drank beer, met some nice people, made some good friends, stared at the desk where James Madison once sat, played soccer. If I had known myself better at that age, I could have saved time and tuition money. After college, I knew there was no way I would be doing anything in the field of psychology."

After W&M, his career has been standup comic, actor, author, host of a talk show on MTV and in syndication, and now the gig on Comedy Central.

Early in 1998, there was talk of Stewart continuing on HBO, where he was the guest host on a TV show within a TV show - The Larry Sanders Show. It was just that - talk.

"We had an early-morning giggle session where we sat around and said, `What if we keep this Larry Sanders thing going?' But the show's creators had the wisdom to not do an AfterMASH kind of a show. We decided you couldn't top the gold standard of Larry Sanders."

Was Stewart, who substituted for both Garry Shandling on Sanders and Snyder on CBS, considered to host The Late Late Show? Not really.

"There was some talk about me doing a show at 1:30 after Tom signed off, but I decided I wanted to do other things such as write a book. I had a late-night talk show and saw it canceled. I'm on that list of late night losers with Pat Sajak."

At Comedy Central, he inherits a show that is truly twisted. The Daily Show is 30 minutes of political satire, parodies and laughs that spring from the headlines. Hello, Jesse Ventura, hello Viagra.

It's four-minute celebrity interviews, pictures of the week, moments of Zen, features such as "Same World, Different Take" and offbeat reporting by Beth Littleford and Stephen Colbert.

Will Stewart continue with the show's most popular feature, "Five questions?" "Name three things that Californians put on pizza which doesn't belong there."

"Five Questions" is likely to depart with Kilborn. Look for Stewart to bring on his own signature piece.

"I prepared well. I went to TV talk-show camp with Dick Cavett in upstate New York." He's already been seen and heard on Comedy Central as a patient on Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist.

In his new job, Stewart hopes for a world in chaos. "I'm cheering for chaos - something like O.J. Simpson presiding over the disillusionment of the world as we know it. I could make something of that. When Monica decides to get that dress laundered, I'd like to bring on her dry cleaner. I could do something with that, too."

Stewart said he's been approached about starring in a sitcom. But passed. Stewart's made movies, including The Faculty; Playing by Heart, with Sean Connery; and Big Daddy, starring Adam Sandler. But he sees no big future for himself in Hollywood. "I can be in 20 movies. But I'll never be an actor."

Last fall, he wrote Naked Pictures of Famous People, but it's unlikely there'll be another book. "Do you know what writing a book is? It's sitting alone in a room for weeks without making contact with another human. I felt like Howard Hughes."

What Stewart, 36, likes to do best is what Comedy Central will pay him more than $1 million a year to do. And that is? "Sitting around with funny people, banging out jokes and creating a television show. I have no hobbies, no outside interests. I'm fine with spending 14 hours a day putting a show together with tape and string."

If all else fails, he has that degree in psychology to fall back on. Why did Stewart choose W&M?

"When I decided to leave New Jersey to go to school in Virginia, I tried the University of Virginia first, but got lost on campus. Then I visited William and Mary, where I found brick walls that I liked. I stayed four years but never learned anything I would use later in life."

You won't see that quote in the W&M alumni newsletter.


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