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
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,