NEW YORK Comic Jon Stewart straddles
a chair, leans forward and cups his hands on his chest while cooing:
"Please, leave me alone! Please, stop taking my picture!"
Word that Darva Conger, the former Who
Wants To Marry a Millionaire?
bride, has agreed to do a nude photo spread for a men's magazine
inspired the comic's mocking. She has whined about how the media
won't leave her alone, only to resurface in yet another interview
or another headline-grabbing stunt.
Almost all the 100 spectators in The
Daily Show audience are in stitches at Stewart's
For the former stand-up comic, Conger is pure
gold, the sort of manufactured celebrity ripe for The Daily
Show's brand of media-obsessed satire. She isn't alone,
though. The show has picked through Sen. John McCain's sound bites,
the U.S. government's prideful reports of the war in Kosovo and
the seemingly never-ending tales of Cuban refugee boy Elian Gonzalez.
The show even has former Sen. Bob Dole as its
commentator for its skew of the U.S. presidential race called
Stewart, who has been the show's anchorman for
a year and a half, says the material to fuel the show's comedy
is never in short supply. It isn't so much the news itself that
The Daily Show delights in, he says, but
the way the media packages it.
"We find a lot of material in ... how the
news has been entertainment-ized. That's the crux of where we
live," Stewart says. "You'd think news has a higher
mandate than entertainment, but, apparently, it doesn't. In May
sweeps, you'll get things like: 'Do you know what's growing in
your bathroom?' And then you watch it and you see that they found
fecal matter in the bathroom.
"It's scare tactics. It's the Doppler radar.
It's the mechanism of news that gives us our comedy."
Be certain that The Daily Show
(8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays on Comedy Central) has no pretense
of being a legitimate news organization.
"The news is never funny," Stewart
says. "If there is no humor to be wrought, then we have no
business doing it."
But the show has made its mark by pretending
to be a news-gathering program.
Its team of correspondents are comics who target
eccentrics around the country for profiles.
They've spent a day at a professional wrestling
school where the headmaster is an 80-year-old woman who still
enters the ring; a man who claims God speaks to him directly and
reveals the future; and a government employee living in his mother's
basement who is owner of the country's largest library of adult
Mocking in their tone, those segments, says
Stewart, are "meant to embrace eccentrics." The show
finds their subjects through media reports and word-of-mouth.
"In the old days, people would love to
talk about their eccentric uncle: 'You got to see him. He lives
in a house made of bottles,"' Stewart says.
"I have a great affection for those people.
What we are trying to do is not to spit on them but to celebrate
"They deserve the same kind of news coverage
that we give to anything else. Sometimes they do and sometimes
"The problem is, you can't tell (viewers)
what their perceptions are. You can only do what you're doing
and hope they get it. We don't hit it on the head all the time."
When The Daily Show profiled
Pigeon Forge, Tenn.'s growth a few months ago, a correspondent
talked to a tourism official who spoke of the serenity in the
Great Smoky Mountains. The show inserted the sound of car horns
and angry motorists mouthing off at each other.
They also teased Dollywood theme park by showing
a traffic jam of guests leaning on walkers.
"I had people call after they saw it ...
and (the callers) said they did not do a bad job by us,"
says Kay Powell, assistant director of tourism for the city of
Pigeon Forge. "After I knew what the show was all about,
I watched it, and I was kind of jittery about meeting them.
"Their whole thing was to make fun, and
I was apprehensive about that when I started watching the show."
In retrospect, Powell thought The Daily
Show report was "funny" and "not as bad it
could have been."
"I hope people take our reports with good
humor," Stewart says of the Pigeon Forge report. "Hey,
it's satire, man."
Stewart is serious about his comedic role. His
time at the office can stretch out to 12-hour days.
His office, a floor above the Hell's Kitchen
studio where the show is taped, has a lived-in look: stacks of
papers cover his desk, an opened box of snack cakes sit on top
of the papers. Fifteen minutes after he has shot a Daily
Show, he sheds his nicely coordinated suit for a sweatshirt
and casual pants.
Much of his day is spent writing jokes. Taping
for the half-hour show begins at 6:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays
for airing later that night. Shooting can last for an hour and
When asked about his schedule, he quips, "What's
a typical day like? Well, I like to get up at 7:30 and go to Jazzercise.
Then I go for a muffin, preferably home-baked. Then, of course,
I get home in time for The View. Gotta see the girls
Stewart's real day begins at 10:30 a.m. and
usually wraps up at 9 p.m. On this particular day, he'll be at
the office until 10 p.m. at least. His wife calls during the interview
and wants to know about dinner.
He tells her he'll take her out for dessert
to make up for not being home for dinner.
"I don't know if you can see this, but
I am chained to this desk," he deadpans after hanging up
the phone. "This is like a series of one-night stands. To
be honest with you, I am thrilled that I enjoy this. I like coming
in to work every day and having a life."
For his time and effort, Stewart can take pleasure
in the success of The Daily Show.
It is often one of the cable channel's top-rated
shows and is frequently one of TV's most topical programs.
"There is no one here with the illusion
that we are a voice of change," Stewart says.
"We are here just to make people laugh."