NOW that CNN International is broadcasting
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to more than 200 countries worldwide,
host Stewart is scared: “We’re barely understood in
this country—I just can’t imagine what they’re
thinking of all this in, say, Zimbabwe. But we have a disclaimer
saying, ‘This is not actual news. Please don’t bomb
our country based on anything you see’ ...”
Always the snarky jokester. That’s what
has made Stewart’s Comedy Central satirical news show—with
his arch commentary and fake correspondents’ reports—a
long-running hit. In January 1999, he took over the late-night
TV gab-fest from original anchor Craig Kilborn, who’d
hopped to CBS.
Comics say funny things; comedians say things
funny. Naturally-funny Stewart—who is also Daily Show co-executive
producer and one of its writers—is a member of the latter,
more prestigious fraternity. Before breaking into TV, he plied
his trade on the stand-up circuit.
With Stewart hosting, The Daily Show has won
both Peabody and Emmy awards.
A credit to Stewart’s universally appealing
humor, last September CNN premiered a weekend version of the program:
The Daily Show: Global Edition, beamed to about 160 million households.
The half-hour consists of chunks of the previous week’s
shows that are of relevance to viewers in, among other spots,
South Asia, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
“Ever since I was a boy, I dreamed of
being broadcast into all the nations of man. No, that’s
not true!” says Stewart. But as youth, he did study German
for 15 years. However, “the only thing I can say is ‘Peter
by the boat’ and ‘Monica by the train.’ It’s
really quite a simple language as long as people stand by the
train or the boat!”
He is chatting, in his office, a few hours before
The Daily Show’s evening taping on Manhattan’s West
At the “anchor desk,” Stewart spouts
his witty, sometimes-outrageous opinions about current events.
Discussing anti-war worldwide demonstrations before the United
States’ conflict in Iraq, he “reported”: “Latin
America roiled with protests from Mexico to Brazil to Argentina.
You know you’re in trouble when thousands of South Americans
take time out of a busy schedule of protesting their government
to protest ours!”
Or: Commenting on Attorney General John Ashcroft’s
long-winded announcement last month that the US terror-alert level
had been raised from Yellow to Orange: “We all know John
Ashcroft’s motto: ‘Never say clearly that which can
be proclaimed by a multitude of obfuscating verbiage.’ Why
does listening to Ashcroft make me feel like the world has already
Stewart himself can be a man of few—but
very funny—words. Interviewing political journalist Joe
Klein, his first question smacked of trademark mock sarcasm melded
with a winsome innocence of delivery: “France, Germany w-w-what’s
Interviewed by this reporter, most of Stewart’s
responses were aimed at tickling the ribs. Does he want to make
more movies? He’s been in the hit Big Daddy, plus Death
to Smoochy, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and did voice work
for The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina, among others.
“Traditionally, a film career expands
upon success. I have not had that. ... I’ve rarely seen
any of this stuff in theaters. So far as I know, it only airs
in the international market. I do everything for the international
market. I don’t do anything for this country. I’m
huge in Belgium!”
The graying Stewart, 40, counts a short 5-foot-7
stature among his biggest attributes: “I have a very low
center of gravity, so I’m very hard to knock over. But if
I’m looking the other way, sometimes I can be tipped.”
Stewart’s newest TV deal is writing and
exec-producing an NBC sitcom, due this fall, starring Daily Show
“newscaster” Steve Colbert.
And cable star Stewart is penning a second book
following his best-selling essay collection, Naked Pictures of
Famous People (Rob Weisbach Books). The new one, A Guide to Democracy
Inaction (Warner Books), is— what else?—a satire on
the US political system.
Stewart first grabbed attention playing himself
on Garry Shandling’s sitcom, The Larry Sanders Show, where
he was also creative consultant. Born Jonathan Stewart Liebowitz,
he chopped off his surname shortly after breaking into stand-up
comedy in New York. “It was bungled one too many times by
MC’s,” he recalls.
A Manhattan native, Stewart lived briefly in
Inwood, Queens, before moving with his family to Lawrence, N.J.
Growing up, he certainly had no overpowering drive to get into
show biz. “I was much more interested in the New York Mets
than in The Ed Sullivan Show.” In college, his goal was
“to get through it purely on essay tests. I was young and
immature and idiotic: I truly had no idea what I wanted to do,”
says Stewart, whose best efforts were directed at playing soccer
during his years at The College of William and Mary.
At 24, he landed in Manhattan to try his luck
at stand-up. He’d already begun writing comedy. “It
was a natural progression from that to performing because the
writing just boiled down to jokes,” he recalls, serious
for once. “So it ended up being more appropriate for somebody
to say it on-stage than it was for anything else.”
With an act largely about his rocky family life,
Stewart quickly won spots on David Letterman’s show and
guest-hosted on “Live with Regis.” Soon he climbed
to the next, enviable level: an HBO Young Comedians Special and
his own half-hour late-night gig, The Jon Stewart Show, first
on MTV, then syndicated 1994-95.
The comedian’s quick, sardonic humor earned
him his present post, from which he has presided over the Daily
Show’s two much-lauded election specials, “Indecision
2001” and “Indecision 2002.”
Off-screen, Stewart has been wed for three years
to Tracey McShane, a veterinary technician researching animal
behavior. During her training, a bunch of critters, including
a frog, mouse and two fish, called the Stewarts’ house home,
joining the couple’s long-time pets, two dogs and a cat.
Oddly, Stewart says he would be thrilled to
stop the “preponderance of animal-like neck hair”
he himself regularly grows. “The wife doesn’t like
having to pick that off. Actually, she shaves it,” he laughs.
“Sure, she does! That’s the beauty of being married!”