"Jon Stewart's Daily Grind"
The Vancouver Sun
October 2, 1999
by Alex Strachan


The comedian’s anger and cynicism towards the world is a virtue when he gets in front of the camera to host the mock newscast The Daily Show.

Jon Stewart is easily outraged, but he hides his rage well – he laughs.  He has four or five writers who help him fuel his anger, and through it his comedy.  He has found a therapeutic – and profitable – way of venting his spleen on The Daily Show (Comedy Network, Monday through Thursday at 9 p.m. and again at midnight).

Stewart is different from other Angry Men, like his predecessor Craig Kilborn and the late Same Kinison, in that self-deprecation comes easily to him.  At least that’s what people keep telling him.   “I picked it up in 1972,” he says, chatting by phone from New York on a brilliantly sunny day – the kind of weather, he is quick to point out, that Manhattan often gets after the remnants of the last October hurricane have blown through.  “Before that, I was a cocky pr---.”  Needless to say, Stewart is a firm believer that New York should get more of them (hurricanes, that is).  “No, seriously,” he says, and he has you wondering there for a minute.

“I hadn’t realized I was self-deprecating until it was pointed out to me.  I guess in a world of meaningless schtick or a need for a hook, there’s not much else I can do.  I don’t smash watermelons.  I think it’s more a function of the typical hubris of show business that somebody with normal insecurities would stand out.  I just have the typical gnawing insecurities of day-to-day living.”

The Daily Show is a mock newscast, like This Hour Has 22 Minutes, only different.  Some Canadian critics have found it difficult to find amusement among all the American references.  But the show’s faithful viewers know there is a lot to laugh about in the United States.  Senator Strom Thurmond, for example, or finding gentle irony in the blatantly obvious (Stewart’s first stab at televised comedy was a sketch-comedy program for Comedy Central called Short Attention Span Theater).

Stewart counts Vance DeGeneres among his writers.  Asked if DeGeneres is any relation to Ellen of Ellen fame, Stewart pauses.  “I think it is Ellen,” he says.  “I think she tried to recreate herself.  No, it’s actually her brother.”

For a time Stewart was rumoured to be Garry Shandling’s replacement on The Larry Sanders Show, mirroring the career-climbing substitute talk-show host he played on a recurring basis in that show.  Yes, Stewart heard the rumours.  “Um, that was a character,” he says.  “It wasn’t real.  It was a guy I played on TV.”

Like Sanders, Stewart pays attention to what he’s doing, but not to the point that he lies in bed late at night watching himself on TV, in mortal fear of what he might see.  “I lead a pretty normal life.  Sure, every now and again you bring work home with you.  You don’t bring TV home with you.  You bring problems at work, or ideas you want to give a little more time to.  But no, I don’t go to commercial if my wife is talking, and I feel it’s time to move on.  I have on occasion, in the middle of an argument, turned to one side and said, ‘No flipping!’ but it rarely works.  And after sex I do yell ‘Check the gate!’”

Stewart’s best friend is Shamsky, a timid pit bull he rescued from the local pound.  Shamsky is agoraphobic, which means he has to be dragged outside for walks.  Since this is New York, a man dragging a reluctant pit bull through Central Park rarely attracts much attention.  Hardly a day goes by when the New York Post doesn’t run at least one man-bites-dog story.

“They’re very misunderstood animals,” Stewart says.  “At the pound in New York, they’re pretty much the most common animal, I’m sorry to say.  People think of they as vicious soldiers, but they’re actually quite sweet and playful.  People get them for certain purposes that they don’t work out for and then they discard them.  Shamsky unfortunately was not treated particularly well early in life, so I think she has some residual emotional damage.  Although you could say that probably about most people you meet.”

Just three months into his tenure on The Daily Show, Stewart has visions of bigger and better things ahead – in an ironic way, of course.  “I’d like to see it get further and further down the cable dial, to the point where you actually have to pass naked people in a talk show before you get to it.  No, our goal actually is to not stick out in the crowd.  Our goal is to do the smartest, funniest show we can.  We try to do that every day.  Sometimes we nail it.  Sometimes not.  But that’s how we judge ourselves.

But what does Stewart really believe, deep down, on a personal level?  “My own personal feeling?  I believe television is a vast wasteland, and all I want to do is be part of it.”


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Copyright © 1999 The Vancouver Sun. All rights reserved.
Thanks to Sharilyn for the article.

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