"In this time of apathy and indecision, the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show comes out swinging"
November 2000
by Dave Itzkoff


Maxim: Can I ask you a blunt question?
Jon Stewart: Sagittarius.

M: Good to know; but actually I was wondering which presidential candidate is getting your vote.
JS: I haven’t made up my mind, quite frankly. In times like this it’s hard to be a great leader because the country is healthy, fat, and happy. After 10 years of prosperity, FDR could run right now and people would be, like, “‘Nothing to fear but fear itself’? Shaddup!”

M: Are you better off than you were eight years ago?
JS: Let’s see.… When I started out in the business I was eating a lot of bologna sandwiches and sharing a room with a dude who was an alcoholic, so I’d say I’ve done pretty well. But I’d like to think it wasn’t all thanks to the stock market. Hopefully I got better at what I do. At the time I was living like that, quite frankly, I deserved to live like that.

M: So how did a short Jewish stand-up comedian come to be the political spokesperson for this generation?
JS: You’re talking about Bill Maher, right? I don’t think there’s a spokesman for anything in this country anymore. There are 200 million people and 120 freaking channels to choose from. I’m not even a spokesman for my own viewers—half of them are just hoping that South Park comes on next. When you’re a star on cable, you’re just setting the table for the next running of Mannequin 3.

M: Bill Clinton is a political comedian’s dream come true. Are you depressed that he can’t run for a third term?
JS: The confluence of events that occurred with him was magical. The Lewinsky affair was an event that was enormous—and nobody even died. It was about sex, which is even better, and then it was about the president’s penis, which is about as topnotch sex as you can get. But once you start joking about the president’s penis, you leave the realm of social satire.

M: You covered both conventions. Which party had the easiest chicks?
JS: Chances are, at 2 a.m. after the convention, everybody was getting laid. A political convention is no different than a hardware convention: You take care of business, you pat yourselves on the back, and then you go out and get drunk. The problem with our show is, because it’s fake we had to write it, so we ended up working a lot. Meanwhile Brokaw and Donaldson are fucking partying down with a keg in the bathtub.

M: Even so, this election is shaping up to be a colossal bore. Ever get the feeling democracy doesn’t work?
JS:The system is screwed, but it’s still the best system there is. I don’t think any of us want to still be walking around in powdered wigs in Parliament going, “The gentleman from Gloucester would like a point of reference, please. Robert’s Rules of Order, sir!” America is the weirdest experiment in socializing cultures ever. Nobody else has tried this, like: “Yeah, let’s just let everybody in! And you know who we’re gonna let in first? The tired, poor, huddled masses! Let’s give that a whirl.”

M: What with MTV and the Internet and such, why aren’t more young people getting politically active?
JS: Who’s inspiring them to get involved? If anybody has a decent bullshit detector, it’s kids, and they can see that politics is all bad theater. There is no one giant cause to get behind. The Vietnam protest movement was an aberration, where kids stood up and said, “You know what? The whole shooting-us thing? We’re not real fond of that.”

M: Were you surprised to be named to People’s 50 Sexiest list?
JS: Oh, no, I’d been working my way up for years. I was ranked in the 70s the year before and, through sheer will and Machiavellian deception, worked my way steadily up. I made sure some of the people above me got eczema, blotchiness—until there was nowhere left to go; they had to turn to me. And it was a dream come true.

M: I understand that one of your early gigs was opening for Sheena Easton. Did she give you any career advice?
JS: I think she only spoke to me once because I bombed so badly at one gig. She opened the door to my dressing room and said: [in a thick brogue] “Don’t worry, Jon. Tomorrow’s another day.” And I remember seeing the sun come up the next morning and thinking, Fuckin’ A! Sheena was right! I thought for sure it was going to be the endless infernal night....

M: You got to make out with Gillian Anderson in Playing by Heart. Any important tips for those of us who may someday find ourselves in similar circumstances?
JS: Don’t black out. Boy, that’s embarrassing. You never want to kiss someone in a movie, then wake up six hours later and go, “What happened?” And the director says, “You soiled yourself. Now, wash up and get back in there.”

M: Your performance in The Faculty was easily the best 30 or 40 seconds of the film. Any plans for a return to the big screen?
JS: Oh, absolutely. When you do a role like that, Hollywood doesn’t stop knocking on your door. I hate to be typecast as the guy with the pen stuck through his eye, but now I get calls all the time: “Jon, we were thinking you should diversify—what about a Magic Marker in your eye?” “No, no, it’s got to be a pen or I just won’t do it.” “How about a big stick?” “Nope. No stick. Pen.”

M: If for some reason the whole comedy thing doesn’t pan out, what professional sports are you qualified to do commentary for?
JS: Clearly, kayaking.

M: Imagine, through some quirk of fate, you are elected president of the United States. The first line of your inaugural address is…
JS: “Americans…just what kind of quirk of fate is this? What’s wrong with you people?” Something like that.


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