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.
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
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
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
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
SIN: They draw this whole line of continuum
from Thomas Jefferson to Jon Stewart.
Jon: It ainít the Kevin Bacon game, but itíll
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
Jon: Ludwell! Sadly, youíre in Ludwell. Hey,
I lived in the one thatís right next to there. What's that ones
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
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
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.
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
Can they do that? Can they take away your
degree, your Bachelorís, or make it an honorary Bachelor so
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.
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
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
Jon: Done it.
SIN: Swimming the Crim DellÖ
SIN: ...and streaking the Sunken Gardens.
Jon: Okay, no. "A," nobody needed to see me
"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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
SIN: We would love that. Would you be willing
Jon: Sure Iíd do that! You kidding me?
SIN: How about this year? They havenít announced
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.