"Jon Stewart: The SIN Interview"
Student Information Network (William & Mary)
April 26, 2002
by Ben Domenech

 

SIN Editor Ben Domenech interviewed Daily Show host and W&M Alum Jon Stewart, Class of 1984.

SIN: Do you have any especially crazy memories from the last week of classes?

Jon: Not particularly. Everyone went to Nags Head for a week at the end of school when I was there. Not really crazy Ė William and Mary is not the kind of school that you end up throwing a couch out a window thatís on fire, or something. I think maybe farting in Swem Library is the wildest we got, on the last day of classes, sadly. It was that sort of thing.

SIN: Every night on The Daily Show, you have lots of people that are college-age tune inÖ

Jon: Thereís nothing we can do about it. Believe me, we have tried.

SIN: Öand a lot of them say that youíre their primary source for news. Do you think thatís a good thing?

Jon: Probably not, because we make so much up. So thatís probably a bad thing to base things on. But I also donít believe that. 

SIN: Really?

Jon: Yeah. We live in such a media saturated age, I donít think you could have a primary source for news even if you wanted it. News at this point is osmosis, every time you go on the internet, every time you go anywhere. 

And also, you probably couldnít really enjoy our show very much if you didnít have a basic grasp of the news, because weíre not that thorough in terms of filling people in on whatís going on.

SIN: Though you did have H.W. Crocker on the other night, talking about the Catholic scandals.

Jon: But if youíre unfamiliar with the scandal, that interview wasnít probably fulfilling enough if you didnít know that much about it.

SIN: They wouldnít get the wafer joke.

Jon: Yeah, exactly. If you didnít know a little bit about what was going down, you probably wouldíve thought that interview was pretty horrific. And even if you did know, you mightíve thought it was pretty horrific.

SIN: I donít know, I liked it.

Jon: Hey, it ainít the chick from Felicity, but we do the best we can!

SIN: I donít know if youíre aware of this, but there are all sorts of stories, myths, and legends about your experiences here at William & Mary. I donít know how many of them are really justÖ

Jon: Out and out lies?

SIN: Basically. But I did wonder if you knew about the award we give out thatís named after you.

Jon: I just found out about it! Somebody just told me about it. Itís for the soccer team, right?

SIN: Yes, it is. ďThe Leibo.Ē

Jon: And itís the award for the guy whoís not very good, but sorta fun to have around? Is that what it is?

SIN: Itís given to the soccer player who ďbest affects teamís attitude and morale.Ē

Jon: There you go. In my day, that was the guy with the best pot. But you know, that was a different day, a different time.

SIN: One of the rumors that we have that sort of trickles around here is thatÖ

Jon: I once killed a hobo! With my bare hands! You are correct sir!

SIN: Something like thatÖ Basically, the rumor is that you hate us. You hate William & Mary, and you didnít like your time here, and you would never consider saying anything good about the school.

Jon: Oh no no no, thatís not the case. I didnít necessarily have the greatest time there. But that wasnít necessarily their fault. 

SIN: Iím sure that could be said of students here today as well.

Jon: Yeah. I was also an idiot. I went to college, I was 17, I didnít know anything. And it is a conservative place, coming from where I come from. You know Iím from Berlin in the Ď20s.

And I did have a sense down there of not fitting in. But when youíre that age, I think you have that sense. Iíd had that sense in my own family, so I canít imagine that I wouldnít have had it down there. But I also made some great friends, and loved playing soccer.

SIN: Well, thatís good.

Jon: But it was, for a guy like me who didnít know what he was going to do, it was probably the wrong place to go.

But I enjoy the Hot Holly. And always will.

SIN: Do you think that itís strange then that the fact that you came here is one of the things that stands out to students today?

Jon: Well, I remember when I was there, we loved Steely Dan, because he said the words ďWilliam and MaryĒ in his song. So yeah, of course itís going to stand out, at some level.

SIN: They draw this whole line of continuum from Thomas Jefferson to Jon Stewart.

Jon: It ainít the Kevin Bacon game, but itíll do.

SIN: Do you have any particular advice to the kids who are going crazy outside right nowÖ

Jon: Going crazy outside?

SIN: Yeah, well Iím in Ludwell, so itís over on campus.

Jon: Ludwell! Sadly, youíre in Ludwell. Hey, I lived in the one thatís right next to there. What's that ones name? Chandler! 

SIN: Thatís right next to Landrum.

Jon: I lived in Chandler. Landrum was all ladies when I was there.

SIN: Ludwell isn't. Theyíve done a lot of renovations.

Jon: Thatís right next to that field. The hell is the name of that field?

SIN: Barksdale? Where everyone goes out and sits and suns themselves?

Jon: Yeah, and then the one jackass always has to bring a guitar.

SIN: Youíre coming to do standup at the Warner Theatre, in D.C., in May.

Jon: Yes. Yes, I am.

SIN: Do you have any advice for us about how maybe someday the kids here can help in the creation of funny?

Jon: Help in the creation of funny? I thought you were going to say something that had a little moreÖyou know, help in society. But no, "Do you have any, uh, jokes?"

SIN: You have to have your priorities straight.

Jon: No, youíre right, you do. Itís the same advice as probably there is for everything you do, which would be donít think about what the result will be, just concentrate on getting good.

SIN: Well, thatís pretty good advice.

Jon: It is? For godís sakes. And stay in school. And donít smoke.

But you get what Iím saying. Too much of what people do is concerned with the result of what the action will be, as opposed to concentrating on performing the act and doing it well. 

That kind of thing. Of course, if you call Linda Lavin youíll get different advice. Thatís the beauty of William and Mary. It's that you have five people that were in show business. Each one of them will give you a different response. Glenn Close? Sheís got a whole different answer.

SIN: Really?

Jon: Her answer is, donít worry about getting good. Just fucking go for the money.

SIN: What would we have to do get a Jon Stewart appearance on campus?

Jon: Iíve been to campus!

SIN: Would we have to start fundraising now, or would you come here for like an honorary Ph. D. in ďGetting Down With ItĒ or something like that?

Jon: You know what, hereís my fear of coming down there for the Ph. D., is that itís actually just a ruse, and it turns out that theyíre actually just taking away my regular degree.

Can they do that? Can they take away your degree, your Bachelorís, or make it an honorary Bachelor so itís worthless?

SIN: I donít think they can. Theyíd have to dig up your old final exams and give them an F.

Jon: I think they already took care of that.

I think maybe the perception is that I donít go there for a reason. And that really isnít the case.

SIN: Really?

Jon: Yeah. Iím just lazy. 

You gotta understand, this was twenty years ago that I was there, so itís not like Iím going to go hang out at a frat house and say, ďDamn, beer tastes just as good now as it did then.Ē Iím just not much of a nostalgia guy. 

But itís not based on, you know, any prejudiced hatred of William & Mary. I just found it unbearable, whatís wrong with that!

SIN: Maybe part of it is that a lot of people who watch you on TV here can see you at those frat parties, and doing stuff like that.

Jon: Yes. Sadly, that is true.

SIN: I donít know about ďsadly.Ē

Jon: But you know, there were times... I just remember the social life there being a really conservative place, in terms of social life, not just like politically.

SIN: Iím sure itís relaxed socially and politically since you were here.

Jon: You know, I can remember crossing the bridge where youíre supposed to kiss somebody, and there on the other side of it was one of those street teacher type dudes, saying ďYouíre going to hell!Ē and youíre like ďNo, Iím just going to chemistry.Ē There was a guy that would just stand around and proselytize.

SIN: Well, he definitely isnít here anymore. Did you finish the triathlon while you were here?

Jon: Now what is the triathlon?

SIN: I donít know if itís from after you were here, post-Jon, but itís three things youíre supposed to do on campus before you leave. Itís jumping the wall at the Governorís PalaceÖ

Jon: Done it.

SIN: Swimming the Crim DellÖ

Jon: UhÖ

SIN: ...and streaking the Sunken Gardens.

Jon: Okay, no. "A," nobody needed to see me naked.

"B," The Crim Dell, no. All I did was once was break in the gym at night and go swimming at the pool. But I donít even know if that gym is still there.

SIN: Was it near William and Mary Hall?

Jon: No.

SIN: Was it across from the Chemistry Buildings? 

Jon: Yes, that was it. Because when I lived in Chandler, that was nearby.

Good times. You know, now that I recount it, what a time I had! What was I thinking? I loved it there!

But listen. I loved playing ball, there were some really nice guys there. But I also just didnít know what the fuck I was doing with myself. I was uncomfortable in my own skin, let alone being with kids who were not. So that in itself was probably annoying.

SIN: So does that explain the degree in psychology?

Jon: The psychology degree is simply that I was a chemistry major, and they kept wanting the correct answer, whereas in psychology you basically write whatever you want, and chances are you get a B.

SIN: You can get away with it.

Jon: As long as you write long enough.

SIN: The latest version of the Princeton Review calls William & Mary the "bootcamp of academia," and calls the workload "obscene."

Jon: Really? Huh.

SIN: Do you think it was like that when you were here?

Jon: The nice thing about college is that you can be as motivated as you want to be. But yeah, it was definitely ďUVA without the Fun.Ē

I do think that the academics are what the school was known for. It sure as hell wasnít athletics, and it sure as hell wasnít the social life. But it was also academics in a very conservative sense. There wasnít any Black culture as it relates to, oh, Bob Dylanís poetry. It was all ď-ologies.Ē

SIN: Weíve got a Black Studies Department here now.

Jon: Thatís what I mean by it was conservative. Not politically, but also academically.

SIN: In their teaching methods, etc.

Jon: Exactly. So, right or wrong, your experience there was more limited. Mine was. Especially for someone like me, who clearly sucked, the fact that it was set up that way was clearly a drag on me.

SIN: Well, Iím glad to hear that you donít hate us.

Jon: Oh no, not at all. I have great empathy for you, if anything. And for the kids that go there, you will always have a weird connection with the people who went to the same school as you. It doesnít matter where you are. Iím sure that when people run into each other who both went to the Sorbonne, itís the same thing.

Thereís just nothing like the Go Tribe! Plastic beer cup.

SIN: Youíre right. Nothing like it.

Jon: Itís just too damn good.

SIN: So far, you have avoided the whole prospect of ďSuddenly StewartĒ by staying away from sitcoms, and network TV, stuff like that.

Jon: It helps being a very poor actor. You really do save yourself quite a bit.

SIN: Hey, I liked ďDeath to Smoochy.Ē

Jon: [laughs] You stand alone, sir.

SIN: But you told Larry King that if a network offered you a late night deal, you would take it. Either way, will we be seeing you any time soon on a non-"Battle Bots" network?

Jon: Chances are, no. The other thing Iíve learned in my years in this business is, donít look a gift horse in the mouth. And Iíve got a pretty rare gig. Creatively, Iím left alone, I can do my own thing, thereís very little network interference, other than sometimes, you know, ďYou really shouldnít say that about the advertisers on the show.Ē

I get to live in New York, where I love living. I get to see my family. There are certain jobs here, you donít get to see your wife. Iím paid a stupid amount of money to write jokes about cardinals flying to the Vatican. This is a very easy business to get lost in, to be satiated. And thatís not how I feel. I feel very fortunate about the whole thing.

SIN: So do you consider yourself lucky? Or blessed?

Jon: Well, I doÖbut are you trying to make me go the Jesus route? I just want to thank God forÖ

SIN: No, though I always wonder why they donít offer thanks when theyÖ

Jon: Fuck up?

SIN: You know, like ďThank you for making me throw that interception.Ē

Jon: Jesus made me fumble!

Do I feel fortunate? Yes, absolutely. But Iíll also say this: anybody that I know who works hard at what they do and is reasonably sane ultimately does okay. And I know that isnít something youíll see in a Jack Welch book necessarily, or "Seven Habits of Highly Successful" people, but I do believe itís a reasonable recipe for not driving yourself nuts.

SIN: It makes sense.

Jon: If I wanted to be a bitter old fuck, I couldíve stayed in Trenton. I couldíve stayed sitting at the bar going ďI couldíve done this, or I couldíve done that.Ē The truth is, until you go out there and do it, you canít really open your mouth.

So if I think about it in terms of what anything great Iíve done, the one great thing Iíve done is try. Other than that, you have no real control of the outcome.

SIN: Thatís good.

Jon: By the way, thatís all in my book, ďSayings you can sew on a pillow.Ē Itís really lovely.

SIN: Are we going to see another book anytime soon?

Jon: The problem with the book is that they take forever to write.

SIN: Yeah, and you have to use actual spelling.

Jon: Youíve gotta actually sit and do them. So Iím not sure Iíll have the chance to do that for a while. I like to write though, and I enjoyed writing the book. My wife probably didnít enjoy being woken up at three in the morning to see if something was funny.

SIN: Is she a pretty good laugh meter?

Jon: It depends. When sheís high, yes.

You find in those kinds of relationships, youíre not looking for someone who just will laugh, you want someone who will tell you the truth.

SIN: Like: ďThat really isnít funny.Ē

Jon: Or "you have no ability." Or "youíve failed everyone that ever loved you."

But at least you can believe her. But itís a very subjective value to begin with, humor; and one manís meat is another manís Carrot Top.

SIN: A lot of people, myself included, feel that The Daily Show in general, and you in particularÖ

Jon: Youíre about to fire me, arenít you?

SIN: [laughs] NoÖthat youíve taken a comedic direction, post-September 11, that can really be measured as success against everything else.

Jon: In some respects, you function in this idea that thereís this post-September 11th reality and pre-September 11th reality. When really, itís all one reality. And I think that we wonít know thatís a delineation point until many years down the line. You can argue that the most important event of the past millennia has been the birth of Christ, but the day after he was born they didnít start calling it A.D.

I think that itís a mistake that we make to try to figure out who we are in an era that we donít understand. All you can do is what youíve been doing all along, using your intuition comedically. In a weird sense--and this is gonna sound retarded--comedy is a lot like music to some extent. 

SIN: That doesnít sound retarded.

Jon: You use your ear, you hear the flat notes, and do your best to try to avoid them. Itís an intuitive process, and your barometer is internal. And due to the volume of what we do, you hit a lot of flat notes, but itís your gut that tells you what to proceed with, and thereís no way to define that in a pre and post September 11th scenario.

SIN: So you just have really good gut checks.

Jon: One of the things that we did when I got here was take outÖyou know, thereís no real edge in gratuitous slamming of people. Thereís a certain school of comedy that mistakes edge for the obnoxious. I find that the best comedy, the most edgy stuff is rooted in a way of thinking about something that other people havenít come to yet. 

To me, thatís edgy. Edgy isnít calling Carol Channing a coke whore.

Stepping over the line just to step over the line isnít anything any more. The truth is, in a society like ours, there really isnít much of a line any more. Thereís not much you canít do, thatís not allowed.

SIN: Especially on Comedy Central.

Jon: Right! But the existence of HBO, as raunchy and wild as someone wants to get, you can always turn that on and see something a lot more. Thatís all Iím saying.

Iím bringing the funk to my old school! Iím breaking it down old school! Kickin it real at...what was that place? At the Whig!

SIN: The Whig?

Jon: Thatís what they called the cafeteria near Barrett. They had names for them. The Hoi Palloi, the WhigÖ

SIN: Itís still there, but they renamed it. We have three cafeterias now.

Jon: Three? You kids today, you have no idea what it was like...

SIN: We have The Commons, the Marketplace, and the University Center.

Jon: The University Center is the new one, I donít know that one.

SIN: Itís right next door to the stadium.

Jon: Ah, the stadium. Do they still have those little huts next door to the stadium? Where everyone wants to live?

SIN: Yes, theyíre still there.

Jon: Itís hard in the lottery, though.

SIN: Yeah, everyone gets screwed in lottery.

Jon: Everybody? Hmm.

SIN: Did you live there at some point? Or did you have off campus hangouts?

Jon: I lived off campus, on Matoaka Court one year. It was a bunch of soccer players in a house. That was pretty much it. Again, if youíre looking to hang out, thatís not the place to go.

Still, there were some awfully good experiences there. I think.

SIN: As much as you can remember. Well, thanks for talking to us.

Jon: My pleasure.

SIN: And hopefully at some point in the future you can come down hereÖ

Jon: Maybe I can come down and be your commencement speaker.

SIN: We would love that. Would you be willing to?

Jon: Sure Iíd do that! You kidding me?

SIN: How about this year? They havenít announced anyone yet.

Jon: Mine was Elizabeth Dole, I think.

SIN: So are there any words of wisdom youíd like to bestow on us on the last week of classes?

Jon: Okay, so if youíre gonna go to Nags Head, and youíre gonna get high... Just wait til you get there. There are a lot of cops on Yorktown Pike. And from a man who had to go to the Court House and explain himself, in front of the judge... Take it from me. Just wait.

 

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