"John Stewart takes joking worldwide with 'The Daily Show'"
The Manila Times
April 10, 2003
by Jane Wollman Rusoff

 

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 Side.

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 ended?”

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 up?”

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. Retorts Stewart:

“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!”

 

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