"Jon Stewart Q&A"
The Daily Northwestern
February 19, 2001
by Daniel Schack

 

Jon Stewart sat down with reporters Daniel Schack of The Daily Northwestern and Cindy Sher of the JUF News, Jewish United Fund's monthly magazine.

Jon Stewart: I'll bet I can guess who's who? One'll be like, "How do you like Northwestern?" And the other will be like, "Kreplach." Pro or con. (laughter)

Dan Schack: So how did you like Northwestern?

JS: Excellent. It could use a sun lamp.

DS: Someone told me to ask you why, you have this nice show up in New York, you can spend your time up there, you come all the way to freezing Chicago.

JS: New York ain't exactly Tampa. It ain't 80 degrees. I mean, what I try to do is, usually one weekend a month go out, get a couple of beers, sort of keep it fresh in my mind, work out whatever new stuff I've been toying around with. It just so happened this month corresponded with the Grammys, so I got slammed.

DS: Have you been doing a lot of prep work for the Grammys?

JS: No, I literally found out about it four days ago, so unfortunately I had to keep doing the show and then come out and do this, so I really won't start focusing on it until tomorrow. What I'll probably do is get with a couple of my buddies and we'll write ten pages of jokes and whittle it down to one page of jokes, and that will be the opening monologue. Try to be music-oriented. But it's in the LA Staples Center. It ain't exactly an intimate setting.

DS: Did you like this size venue (Coon Forum)?

JS: Yeah, I like it very much. Typical thing now is you end up in an auditorium with 2,000, 2,500 kids. I mean it's nice but it's not.

Cindy Sher, JUF News reporter, Jewish United Fund's monthly magazine: So is the Hillel aspect important to you?

JS: That's interesting. Do I do all Hillels? I will only play a gig if there's a minyan (the 10 people, usually just men, required to say certain Jewish prayers). If there's not a minyan I do not.

DS: Do you count women? (laugher)

JS: I am reform. I count Christians. (laughing). Culture is important to me, but I don't judge gigs based on that.

JUF: I got to get a little more into the Jewish thing.

JS: Bring it. Bring it? Why is this night different from all other nights? (laughter)

JUF: There seem to be ugly stereotypes in the media these days. Fran Drescher, "The Nanny." I feel like you often present your Jewishness in a gentle, warm way. Do you feel you have a responsibility to do that?

JS: No, no. I really don't. I mean, I think people are responsible for themselves, for the most part. I think you're responsible to present yourself, to be as positive a person you can be, whether it's because you're Jewish or black or Asian or whatever you are. I honestly think we'd be so much better off if that's what people focus on. There's really one rule: the golden rule. Focus on that, and it really doesn't matter.

DS: As a comedian and a celebrity, what do you think your responsibilities are?

JS: My responsibilities are when I get hired to do something, to do it well. Outside of that, not much else. I think that's such a false premise. The idea that somehow we look to our celebrities to raise people. It just strikes me that awfully bizarre.

DS: You touched on the issue of TV violence, saying people are just going to do those things anyway.

JS: Well, let me put it this way: Where was TV in the 30s? Was there? We had a depression and a Holocaust. You know, if life was so much gentler then, and that was when we dropped an atomic bomb on another country, I don't know, it seems like we've done pretty well so far. I just don't buy the premise. Is it a coarser society? Yeah, there's 6 billion people. There's a lot less room. You know what I mean. There's this real nostalgia for the old days. The old days of what, Jim Crow? McCarthyism? What are you talking about? I'm not exactly sure what the old days were that was so amazing, other than the fact that bread was a nickel.

DS: Do you think the character of the audience was any different tonight from past ones: the kinds of questions you got or the reception?

JS: I don't normally take questions, quite frankly. Yeah, because the size of the audience was manageable, it made it OK. But you know, I shouldn't say that. A lot of gigs I take questions, it's I'm just not asking for them. You know, you play a gig that's 2,500 people, and the opening act is a beer truck, you're gonna get questions. (Drunken voice:) "Take off your pants!" This is nice because it's more of a conversation. It's nice to get that group.

DS: How close do you think your TV persona is to your actual character?

JS: It's pretty close. You know. It's close, but also not close in the sense of I don't live my life like it's a half hour, like it's a show, it's a performance. At home, I don't go to commercial after breakfast. You know what I mean. It's that incredibly annoying thing. But I also don't, the show is not, I'm not playing a character, it's just a heightened performance.

JUF: Regarding the comedy writing on show, in general, it seems on your show ...

JS: I can tie this into the Jewish angle as well. The word 'hamantashen,' funny word. As a comedy writer I use it frequently. When in doubt, hamantashen. (laughter)

JUF: It seems like people often go for the obvious laugh like Saturday Night Live I know came up tonight and that kinda thing. I feel like you, Conan, Dennis Miller don't do that. Why is it that comedy writing has deteriorated so much?

JS: It don't think it has. No, I think some of the best comedy writing that's ever existed. I would put Seinfeld up against any show that ever was. I think what people forget is there's an aggregate, this proliferation of, you know, competence. The ratio doesn't change. In general, 10 percent of the world's business is inspired, 30 percent of it's competent and 60 percent's just getting by. No matter how many there are. There's just a lot of crap on TV. If you back to the '50s and '60s, there was less crap on TV. There was also three channels. It's just that the ratio was the same. It wasn't that everything that was on TV back then was genius.

DS: So what's new? What do you think is exciting on TV?

JS: "Malcolm in the Middle" is kind of exciting, I think. I'm not a big fan of reality TV, but I certainly don't have anything against. I find it, if anything else, unreal, sadly. So yeah, I don't watch. Unfortunately, I get home so late, I watch ESPN or Nightline. So I don't get to see a lot of shows. But on Sunday nights, like the Simpsons.

DS: But you keep up with the news?

JS: That I keep up with. But that's, I have CNN on all the time.

DS: One question ...

Rachel Spiro, program director of Hillel: A couple more.

JS: And then I must blow the shofar. (laughter)

DS: What do you think about the fact that a lot of students, a lot of Americans, watch your show instead of the real news?

JS: I would venture to say that that is a false premise. That I think people watch our show because it would be hard to watch that show if you didn't (watch the news). And again you know, it's this weird idea that the 24-hour news network isn't any more responsible. We clearly are kidding around.

DS: And also, the fact that at Northwestern, we don't have cable in our dorms, so we can't even watch Comedy Central.

JS: Poor, poor children. No cable. Let me guess, they don't offer fast food on Sundays in the dorm either.

DS: No.

JS: Damn it! (laughter). No, I wish it was, and I feel like our audience tends to be on campuses for a large part. It'd be nice if you got a chance to see it. But it's so hard to say. People sometimes say, what's it like to be on camera. It's not a physical set, so it's hard to know. People say, "Do you watch the show?" I don't know. It just never occurred to me. Kind of in a weird way, I tend to like the people who watch the show. Maybe that's a weird thing. The audience that we seem to draw is not a frat-type, police-state mentality. A very eclectic group.

DS: I think you saw that tonight here too.

JS: Yeah, I think so too and I enjoyed that aspect of it.

JUF: Do you like being recognized?

JS: I really only like it when I'm eating. Or maybe having a private moment with my wife. (laughter). In regular life, it just doesn't happen that much. Not really. I wake up, I go to work, I work all day, come home.

DS: You put in nine to five.

JS: No, I put in 10 to 9 or 10 to 8:30. I put in a long day. When I get home, we have our little dinner, call out, get something, a little beverage. It's not, "Oh my God it's almost nine o'clock, time for show-business-people's toast." We all go out and like, hello "Law & Order" star. Hello. It's like your life.

JUF: What's your secret to a happy marriage?

DS: Well, seven months into it, I don't know. Boy, I think the secret to happy marriage is so much about whatever you like. I got friends who married girls I couldn't stand for a week ... You know what I've heard, and I don't know if this is true or not, that women are from Venus and men are from a different planet, an altogether orbit. But I'm not sure which one. Neptune maybe.

[Photo caption: "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart pauses during an autograph signing after his performance Saturday at NU, sponsored by Hillel Cultural Life.]

 

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