"Can Jon Stewart Handle Grammys Again? 'S' He Can"
The Arizona Republic
February 24, 2002
by Bill Goodykoontz


Jon Stewart is wasting far too much time in a conference call with reporters trying to explain why he was chosen to host the Grammy Awards for a second consecutive year.

The hilarious anchor of Comedy Central's The Daily Show is giving it a predictably good effort.

"I don't know that I can" answer that, he says. "I didn't ask me, so it's hard. . . . Last year, they basically had just gotten down to the S's, I think," before choosing him to substitute for an ailing Whoopi Goldberg. "They were sort of in a bind."

OK, ha-ha and all that. But the real question went unasked: Why wouldn't he be asked to return? I say this even though Stewart's performance last year was something of a disappointment, a bit flat for a guy with his edge. Seems LA's Staples Center was a big room to play.

"This year, I have made adjustments in terms of amplification," he says. "I will be equipped with a megaphone. . . . This year, I've decided to shout the entire presentation."

Comments like those are why I'm more than willing to give Stewart a second chance. No one in TV is quicker or funnier, as any five minutes of The Daily Show proves - or any five minutes of this conference call, even. For instance, did he second-guess last year's performance?

"I was pretty much too hammered for that."

Later, apropos of nothing:

"I will not answer any questions about my controversial gold medal. Let me just say this about the Russian judge - it was not necessarily a sexual (relationship). It was just that she needed a green card."

OK, just one more. After a winding answer about when it will be OK to make fun of George W. Bush again, an answer that he worries didn't make any sense:

"Never get high before the interview. Always after the interview. What was I thinking?"

These would indeed seem to be, ahem, heady times for Stewart. The Daily Show's coverage of the 2000 election won a prestigious Peabody Award despite its not being a real newscast. (Which, frankly, doesn't make it that different from the way "legitimate" news operations covered it; The Daily Show's nightly parody routinely lays bare those outfits' shortcomings.) Recently, Stewart was profiled to good effect in the New Yorker. And like David Letterman before him, he had his coming-of-age, teary-eyed post-Sept. 11 moment on national TV. It happened on The Daily Show's first broadcast after the attacks.

"I didn't feel great about it," he says of breaking down. "I also felt like I had to speak how I felt, hopefully honestly, for my own edification. I don't think anyone in the TV industry likes to feel like they've lost control of their emotions to that extent, but it was an honest moment for me."

Stewart, like most comedians, can be just as interesting when he's being serious as when he's joking. He refrains, for instance, from trying to put Sept. 11 into perspective, even though, much like his real-life compatriots Rather, Brokaw and Jennings, the event has helped define him.

"I think it's too early to tell, quite honestly," he says. "Events such as that, I imagine it will be years . . . before we understand what that meant in our lives. I've certainly never experienced anything of that magnitude, and I hope I never do again."

But before we get too carried away with the deep thinking here, let's remember this is Jon Stewart talking, not George Will. Sept. 11 did, he allows, have some effect on him:

"I spend a lot more time in an underground bunker with Saltines and distilled water."

As to the matter at hand, Stewart claims no expertise when it comes to pop music:

"I gotta say I stopped paying attention when Toto retired, so I don't know what the hell's going on with the kids."

As proof, he lists favorites of his youth as, among others, Peter Frampton, KISS ("I was indeed part of the KISS Army"), the Outlaws, Molly Hatchett ("for the T-shirts") and "Van Halen for the lifestyle they promised us and didn't deliver on."

Yet he's not worried.

"The Grammys deal in not necessarily a very obscure universe," he says. "I've mostly heard of everybody."

That's a start. I'm happy to see where it leads.


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