Politics is the topic (mainly), Carnegie
the platform as TV's Jon Stewart returns to his old format tonight
Jon Stewart must not be getting much sleep lately
- and it has nothing to do with jitters over returning to his
standup roots tonight for a one-man show at Carnegie Hall.
Stewart - who says he gets the bulk of his inspiration
in the wee hours, when he can't sleep and his brain "keeps firing
ideas" - is already on, days before the Carnegie gig.
Known for his wry, self-deprecating wit, Stewart
can't help firing off one-liners when asked about "An Evening
with Jon Stewart," part of the 10-day Toyota Comedy Festival that
began June 1.
"My act will be basically dealing with the New
York political scene and the general tone of politics today,"
says Stewart, who regularly skewers politicians as host of Comedy
Central's nightly news parody, "The Daily Show." "But hopefully,
I'll get in some of the sexual aspects of the culture, and then
stuff about my dog and cat. My mandate is to keep it funny, and
hopefully, it'll be really interesting. You don't want to see
2,000 people out there just nodding their heads."
But just in case his political musings are a
tad too highbrow for the Carnegie crowd, Stewart adds that "there'll
be some a-- and fart jokes, too. Don't get me wrong. You can't
just expect people to sit through my bizarre thoughts on the world."
But seriously, folks, Stewart is thrilled to
be doing standup again after a string of jobs as a TV talk and
variety-show host during the '90s, including Comedy Central's
"Short Attention Span Theater," the interactive "You Wrote It,
You Watch It" on MTV, two versions of "The Jon Stewart Show" that
aired on MTV and in syndication, and a recurring stint as Tom
Snyder's guest host
on CBS's "The Late Late Show."
"But my goal was always to do good standup,"
says Stewart, 37. "That was really my main desire, and I still
work to get that. It's a fun and interesting format for me, and
I totally enjoy it."
Reared in Trenton, N.J., Stewart - whose real
name is Jonathan Stewart Leibowitz - quit a comfortable job as
a state contingency planner in the mid-1980s and moved to Manhattan
to become a comic.
He jokes that he's blacked out early, painful
memories of his standup career - "I learned from trial and error,
and it was actually more error than trial" - but he admits to
making an inauspicious debut at the Bitter End in in 1987.
"Back then, my act included singing torch songs.
But Harvey Fierstein was there, and I was labeled a copycat,"
After toiling on the national comedy-club circuit,
he got a major break opening for singer Sheena Easton in Las Vegas.
The exposure helped land him the "Short Attention Span Theater"
job in 1991. "You Wrote It, You Watch It," soon followed, a long-forgotten
show that Stewart describes as a cult hit: "It's remembered by
four people in a survival cult in Montana."
After the second incarnation of his self-titled,
cutting-edge variety show was canceled after just nine months
in 1995, Stewart became an itinerant TV personality. Between appearances
on the tube, he landed supporting roles in comedies like "Big
Daddy" and "The Faculty" and published a collection of humorous
essays, "Naked Pictures of Famous People." But Stewart seems to
have finally found a permanent TV home after replacing Craig Kilborn
as host of "The Daily Show" last year.
"Oddly enough, I was at a carnival in Coney
Island when a fortune-teller told me I would be working as a host
of a news parody show - and that I would get the gout," says Stewart.
"The gout part hasn't happened yet, though."
What happened instead is that ratings for "The
Daily Show" have picked up under Stewart's stewardship, with the
show's irreverent style tailor-made for his brand of smart, deadpan
"I find it easier to do relevant political stuff
than trying to figure out what actors from "Melrose Place" I can
get [on the show] that day," says Stewart.
As for his acting career, he has pretty much
put Hollywood on hold while he enjoys his "Daily Show" run.
"Well, the real reason is, you need to have
acting ability," he explains. "From what I understand, that was
still the rule the last time I checked."