host Jon Stewart Talks About Real News, Fake News, and His
Career in Comedy
on the way up, an appearance on David Letterman's late-night
show is "Valhalla," according to Jon Stewart, who is now the
host of his own late-night show on Comedy Central.
Stewart, who first appeared on Letterman's show in the early
1990s when he was working the club circuit, compares a Letterman
slot to being knighted, or blessed by the pope.
a Letterman appearance is not an instant, career-making
moment, Stewart told Ted Koppel on UpClose, ABCNEWS'
late-night interview show. "It was also an incredible lesson
in the idea of the journey as opposed to the destination," he
said. "I felt really great, and went home to my illegal sublet,
and was still as short as I was the night before, and still
had roaches. It was a lesson that nothing changed."
39, is now host of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, an
Emmy- and Peabody-winning spoof newscast that is the nation's
leading source of political satire. He has dozens of other television
credits, and has appeared in eight films and written a book
of essays, Naked Pictures of Famous People.
He has become
successful, but says there was no single event that marked his
arrival. "There is no 'making it,'" he said. He attributes his
success to the "gradual process of the roller coaster," and
says his feelings of accomplishment came from inside, rather
than any external marker. "You learn to develop an internal
barometer, and that was the turning point for me — more
than anything else, more than any show — that deemed me
to be a comedian or said I was worthy to be on the air. It was
learning, intuitively, when I was good and when I was bad."
retains a grounded humility — spiced, of course, with
a matchless wit at once sardonic and sincere. The roller coaster,
he says, "doesn't end because somebody outside deems you worthy....
You have to learn that, yeah, maybe you're not going to be Woody
Allen; but at least you're not going to be as godawful as you
were that one night in the Village when it was raining and they
booed you off stage."
Stuart Leibowitz grew up a sharp, soccer-playing short kid,
voted "best sense of humor" at his New Jersey high school. After
graduation he worked a series of odd jobs — including
collecting and sorting mosquitoes for the state of New Jersey
to test for encephalitis — before attending college at
William and Mary in Virginia, where he got a degree in psychology.
Stewart came back to New Jersey and drifted for a while, working
the same odd jobs he had had since high school. "At 23 you sort
of find yourself wondering what the hell you're going to do,"
he told Koppel. "You could join the softball team, and bartend
at the bar, and work for the state, and pretty much stay in
that equilibrium for the next 50 years. Or you could figure
out something else that you're going to have a passion for,
and make an attempt."
began one day in 1986: Stewart sold his car, left his apartment,
and made the 60-mile pilgrimage to New York City. "That is apparently
where dreams come true," he remembers thinking.
Mike for a Plate of Falafel
arrived on the scene in the midst of what he calls a "comedy
explosion," and he joined in the search for a stage.
to what he calls a comic "feeder system" were open mike nights
where the stage was open to all comers. Even if he remembers
open-mike nights as "the super minor leagues," they offered
him more than just a chance to play for the scouts: at their
feet, he polished his game.
travel the country and make 600 bucks, 800 bucks a week. Or,
you could do what I was doing, which was open mikes for a plate
was just to get better," he said, "to learn what your voice
was. It was, in some respects, an exercise in Outward Bound
for neurotics. It was a mental challenge."
think it was a rhythm ... that I didn't realize that I had,"
he explains. "Until I got on stage, it didn't actually make
to Comedic Butterfly
York, Stewart kept working odd jobs to pay the rent. This time,
an uninspiring position as contract administrator for the City
University of New York freed up his evenings for his first regular
gig: at 2 a.m., Sundays through Thursdays, at the Comedy Cellar.
Within two-and-a-half years, Stewart's wit was sharp enough
to support him.
clubs to college tours and cable TV, Stewart was soon spinning
jokes before a national audience — including the appearance
saw Stewart go from stand-up success to full-fledged actor,
writer and television personality. He hosted a series of his
own talk shows, first at MTV, and then in syndication through
Paramount. But it wasn't until January 1999, when he stepped
in at the helm of The Daily Show, that Stewart hit his
was a perfect match for its modest yet incisive new host, bent
on finding humor through juxtaposition and paradox, and on mocking
to scratch an itch, and I want to make humor about things I
care about," Stewart says. "Where do the jokes come from? Really,
they, they come from a place of pulling your hair out, of seeing
things that make you cringe, and wanting to turn that into something
that will make you laugh."
doubled under Stewart, and The Daily Show won an Emmy
in 2001 for its writing, including its irreverent coverage of
presidential politics, "Indecision 2000," which featured regular
commentary from Bob Dole, and is said to have inspired a new
generation of Americans to pay attention to politics.
calls the The Daily Show staff — who come up with
more than 120 pages of jokes every day and then cull them into
a 35-page script — "one of the most crack fake news teams
Aim at Cable News
target of the team's scorn is cable news, which Stewart calls
"our saving grace."
like having my own bank," he said, "because they've so destroyed
the fine credibility or the fiber that was the trust between
the people and what they're hearing on the air."
news cycle, Stewart says, has sacrificed fact to the "louder
and brighter and faster" pulse of marketing, and of the corporate
model. The fact-checker today, he says, "is just the one going,
'You know what I heard?'"
what they should call CNN — 'You Know What I Heard?' I
don't even know if they've got an acronym for that."
caption: Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's The Daily
Show, talked to Ted Koppel.]