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
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
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
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
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.
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
JS: Poor, poor children. No cable. Let
me guess, they don't offer fast food on Sundays in the dorm either.
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
DS: I think you saw that tonight here
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.]