"He's In. The Jon."
Link Magazine
February / March, 1999
by Torey Marcus

 

Jon Stewart mocks others in his writing. He stars in movies about alien teachers. He hosts The Daily Show even though he's only 5'8". But you know what? We like him anyway.

It's three and a half years ago, during the summer of 1995 -- just before everybody and Jenny Jones's mother gets a talk show. Gap-toothed David Letterman appears on the syndicated, lowly rated The Jon Stewart Show. With the axe about to fall on Stewart's wonderfully freaky nighttime talk show, Letterman can't help but make light of Stewart's predicament. "If I screw this up, this is your last show," he says, feigning concern, before plunging the knife even deeper: "And this is all you'll think about until you work again." To which Stewart, master of self-deprecating wit, replies, "See ya in '98, I would guess."

Well, Letterman was right; the show was canceled soon after. And unless you have HBO and watched the dearly departed Larry Sanders religiously, you're forgiven for assuming that following the demise of his show, Stewart passed on to the great comic gig in the sky. Or at least faded to an obscurity level with which only Andrew Dice Clay was previously familiar.

But as it turns out, Stewart's the comedian with prescience, as 1998 signified his return to the world outside of paid cable. And with Stewart seemingly everywhere these days, the Chinese might want to mark 1999 "The Year of the Stewart."

"It's unfortunately been -- or I should say, fortunately been -- a pretty hectic year," says the 36-year-old, New Jersey native, sounding just a tad ambivalent about all his hard work. But that diligence has made possible his newfound ubiquity, which all started with the September 1998 release of his collection of essays, Naked Pictures of Famous People. Naked Pictures, which did some time on The New York Times bestseller list, is not your typical comedian's book -- think Jerry Seinfeld or Ellen DeGeneres ruminating on life's minutiae to the point of irrelevance ("You ever wonder why...?"). Instead, Stewart has crafted a surreal mix of cult of celebrity satires that ask: What if Adolf Hitler never died, and instead sought therapy, followed up Mein Kampf with Mein Comfortable Shoes and hawked the book on Larry King Live?. And what if Martha Stewart took as much time decorating her vagina as she did constructing a buffet steam table from lemon rinds and old LPs?

"I wanted to go back to writing the kind of book that I liked when I was younger," Stewart explains, "which was the Woody Allen-Steve Martin-type book."

No doubt , Stewart was inspired by Allen's flair for Jewish paranoia, not to mention Mr. Neurotic's ability to pass his insecurities off as funny instead of pathetic. And while Stewart hasn't reached the Allen-Martin pantheon just yet -- he does have Half-Baked to answer for -- he is certainly displaying the versatility that all comedians need if they are to graduate from the grinding stand-up circuit. His burgeoning film career boasts two current movies (and a few in development) -- the just-released drama Playing by Heart, in which Stewart romances Gillian Anderson, and (ho-hum) yet another Kevin Williamson-penned horror-comedy, The Faculty.

"He's got the in-line to all the kids, " Stewart jokes, referring to the creator of such hey-look-kids-are-self-aware-and-appreciate-irony-too hits as the Scream series and TV's Dawson's Creek.

Stewart isn't anti-irony, per se, but it's not likely to get worked into his act like some hack onstage winking about his love for the '70s.

"You can't just hold up a Brady Bunch lunchbox," he says, imagining himself as said hack: "'You see? Funny! Huh? Come on people. Remember this?' You've got to provide a joke that goes along with the irony, but I've never considered myself a master of irony."

Even as he branches out to the big screen, Stewart is first and foremost a funny guy. He recently took over the host duties on Comedy Central's The Daily Show. With his ultra-busy schedule, Stewart had less than a week to meet with writers to prepare for his debut as the show's host on January 11.

"Five days, Jesus Christ! I won't even have my pants hemmed by that point," he says, referring to the pants -- and shoes -- he's filling, those of the tall, big-footed and smarmy Craig Kilborn. His 1999 calendar already full, Stewart insists he doesn't worry about overexposure.

"On Comedy Central?" he asks, mostly bewildered, with a touch of that trademark self-deprecation. "Are we talking about the same gig?

"I guess you worry about it to a certain extent," he continues, "but I ain't Madonna. Next year, I'm not going to have to reinvent myself as a sex kitten. Although, no -- " Stewart catches himself. Maybe he's biting his tongue because he wants the Spiritual Girl to appear on a future Daily Show. Either that or Stewart's keeping mum about his big move for 2000 -- his very own Sex book. You know, Naked Pictures of Famous Comics.

 

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