"Carnegie Howl"
Time Out New York
June 1-8, 2000
by Karen Iris Tucker


The Daily Show host Jon Stewart brings his self-deprecating wit to one of NYC's most esteemed venues

Jon Stewart used to pepper his routine with jokes about the countless jobs he's been fired from, in and out of comedy. He doesn't do it as often anymore, which is probably due to the success of his satirical new program, The Daily Show. (The Comedy Central laffer has nabbed higher ratings with Stewart as host than when big-haired frat monkey Craig Kilborn was behind the desk.) It's also hard for a person to feel bitter when he knows that he'll be performing to a full house at Carnegie Hall as the centerpiece of the massively successful Toyota Comedy Festival.

Of course, Stewart hasn't entirely left his charming-loser persona behind. An hour before a recent taping of The Daily Show, the chain-smoking Stewart looks awfully similar to a collegiate underachiever as we sit in his vaguely must and obviously messy office at Comedy Central studios in midtown. Barefoot and wearing a rumpled gray sweater, the Lawrenceville, New Jersey, native flashes a self-effacing grin as he begins kvetching about life at the advanced age of 37. "If I wanted to be the ingenue, it would be very hard for me," he says in mock anguish. "I'm going to end up having to go out with Sean Connery in a movie. I think that's how they'll work it."

But the host of "the most important television show ever" appears much more youthful than he is -- especially in self-deprecation mode. On a recent The Daily Show, white-haired guest Betty White chattered on about feeling grateful for her lengthy career. "I am deeply, deeply grateful," replied Stewart. "I've been here nine months." Stewart, whose big-screen disappointments include having all of his scenes in The First Wives Club left on the cutting-room floor, has earned the right to riff on his current run of success. His first hour-long talk show bit the dust after 48 episodes on MTV, and his self-titled syndicated program lasted less than a year in the rough waters of late-night television.

The truth is that Stewart's popularity is bigger than he acknowledges. (Asked about the crowds at his shows, Stewart pats his desk and says, "I have their names here somewhere. There's like five of them.") For proof of the comedian's staying power, just check out the busy Jon Stewart Webring. The comedian, however, hasn't visited any of the sites dedicated to him -- where you can learn many useful tidbits, such as Stewart's birth name (Jonathan Leibowitz) -- because he doesn't seem to care much for surfing. "I don't think there's much to it," he theorizes. "They've got this whole Internet thing like, 'Imagine a world where you can communicate with someone instantly halfway across the globe.' It's called the phone," he jokes. "It's all marketing people sitting in a room saying, 'Let's come up with a phrase that makes this sound interesting: Surf the Web?' How about: Sit on your ass and type?"

Stewart is more of a face-to-face kind of guy, preferring the stakes of stand-up and live-audience tapings to the perils of web surfing and moviemaking. (Notwithstanding The First Wives Club fiasco, he's appeared in The Faculty, Playing by Heart, and Big Daddy.) Stewart first performed stand-up at New York fave The Bitter End when he was 24. "As bad as it was," he recalls, "it still felt better than anything else I'd ever done."

Though he claims to have had his share of childhood angst, Stewart, a former psych major at William and Mary College, rejects the old theory that comedians use humor as a way of shielding themselves from life's pain. "Listen," he says, "you don't make a cognitive decision in first grade to go, When that big guy is coming at me, you know what I'm gonna hit him with? A pun. A little satire. That should knock him on his ass."

Stewart will have to tackle a bullyish New York City crowd at Carnegie Hall, but he's already looking forward to the experience. "I can't wait to curse there," he says a little dreamily. As for what makes the Toyota Comedy Festival so special, the witty talk show host has a theory: "Nobody knows comedy like the Japanese automakers. They have an incredible eye for it. That's why they put this whole thing together."

Jon Stewart perform[ed] at Carnegie Hall Thursday, June 8.


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Thanks to Athena for the article.

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