"The Daily Show's Jon Stewart is a comedian, anchor and stand-up guy"
October 17 - 23, 2002
by P.F. Wilson


He is one of America's great comedic voices. "Where? Right here on the line? That's exciting," says Jon Stewart from his Daily Show office in New York City. "I'm very excited about coming to Cincinnati."

When not sitting behind his anchor desk, weeknights at 11 p.m. on Comedy Central, Stewart often hits the road.

"I try to do a couple of dates a month, usually," he says. "It's a comedy show, some bit of close up magic."

Of course, the stage is a different venue than a TV studio, and Stewart's live act reflects that.

"It's really just a string of vulgarities," he says. "Pure flat-out profanity, heightened by bizarre nudity at the end. 'Gratuitous,' I think it's called. It's everything that's going on and the sadness we feel about it -- turned into comedy! What's funnier than war and things?"

He offers one more important distinction: "I'll be able to stand, whereas on the show I sit. Although, who knows? Maybe I'll bring the desk. I haven't decided yet."

It's easy to see why Stewart might want to bring the desk, since he's built a solid presence around that piece of furniture.

"We're having fun," he says. "It's hard to tell how it's going, because we're here. So we're critical of ourselves and the way we do things, but the viewers, we can't hear them at home. We don't know if they're laughing, sleeping or waiting for Half Baked."

Apparently they're laughing and watching, because Stewart's program consistently draws big numbers for Comedy Central. "We're thrilled at the way it's gone," he adds.

Many credit Stewart with taking The Daily Show to the proverbial next level, even though it seemed to be running quite well with Craig Kilborn as host. Perhaps it was Stewart's stand-up sensibilities that cranked it up a notch or two.

He took over in January 1999, when Kilborn bolted for CBS. "I was actually taken from house in the middle of the night. Knocked out. I believe it was chloroform; they swear it was ether."

In reality it was a savvy group of executives at Comedy Central that had the notion to apply Stewart's talk-show experience, writing skills and wit to the critically acclaimed Daily Show.

"I've worked with a lot of these people in the past," Stewart explains. "The executive producer is my executive producer from the MTV show. Doug Herzog, the executive here, was the executive at MTV. So it was like getting the band back together ... if the band was Colour Me Badd."

On Kilborn's final broadcast he announced that Jon Stewart, his good friend, would be taking the anchor seat.

"I actually don't know him very well," Stewart says. "I'd spoken to him a couple of times before he had taken the show."

At one point Stewart stops the interview briefly to chat with a producer about a rewrite. Each show is well-planned, and changes occur constantly until they think they've got it right.

"It's very similar to trying to hit a piñata," he says. "We're a very reactive organization. And it doesn't take nearly as many people to fake a news network as it does to run one."

Some days offer more opportunities for satire than others, but that doesn't hamper The Daily Show. "That's the difference between us and actual news. We don't really have to cover anything. We can pick and choose something that is appropriate to the kind of show we do."

That kind of show continues to attract viewers and, at some point, The Daily Show could make a move similar to the one Politically Incorrect did a few years back.

"Actually, I want to move it on to a smaller network. Maybe D-I-Y," he jokes. "I don't think that much about that. Obviously I'm not insane. If someone said, 'We're going to give you a larger forum for this,' I wouldn't say, 'What? Why would I want to expand my audience?' But my goals are closer to my face than that."

He's appeared in a handful of films but doesn't seek a career on the big screen.

"Clearly, my filmography, if you will, is astonishing," he says. "I think I will try and continue to do one every five years."

For now Stewart is content to enjoy his duties as anchor, commentator and chief wiseacre on The Daily Show.

"It's a lucky business to be in," he says. "I've had enough regular jobs to know that I like this business. People asked, 'Were you nervous about taking the show?' I guess, but what was I supposed to do? 'I will not take a job in show business because I'm nervous about it'?"

Stewart continues to draw acclaim and high profile gigs like hosting The Grammys. Sitting or standing, he'll undoubtedly be a comic force for quite a while.

JON STEWART appears at the Taft Theatre at 8 p.m. Friday.


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