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.
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).
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.
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.”
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).
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
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!’”
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.
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.”
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.”