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Jon Stewart; Host of The Daily Show!
Jon Stewart lived with his parents and his older brother, Larry, until their parents divorced in 1971. After that, he and Larry lived with their mother. According to friends, the divorce was difficult on Jon, who has alluded to tension with his father in his comedy act more than once. His mother downplays the family difficulties, pointing out that jokes are just that. Jon himself has said "I made up s**t for the [Jon Stewart] show, about my family ..." [Axcess, Vol. III, Number 3 (1995) "Jon Stewart: New York Stories," by Michelle Farrar]. There may be some truth to the comedy though, as Jon recently said that his father has never seen him perform. [The New Yorker, 2/11/2002, "Is It Funny Yet?" by Tad Friend]. When he was 17, Jon left home for college (see Education). After graduation, he came back to New Jersey but did not live with family members. He had a variety of roommates in New Jersey and in New York after college, including at least one live-in girlfriend. It was while living with her that he had the two cats he frequently mentions in his standup act. Sydney (Sidney?) was the female cat who he describes going into heat, while Stan was the male who left the house to get neutered. When Jon and his girlfriend broke up, they decided the cats should stay together, and Jon kept them both. Sydney (Sidney?) is presumed deceased.
In 1996, while filming Wishful Thinking, a production assistant (P.A.) on the set approached Jon and told him that her roommate, Tracey, was perfect for him and that he should call her. Jon said that the production assistant described the woman in such glowing terms that he decided to call. Unfortunately, by the time he went to call her, he had lost her number. Eventually, he realized that he had the P.A.'s number on the Wishful Thinking contact sheet, and he called Tracey for a date.
Finally, the two went out. At first, the blind date did not go well. Looking back on the date, Jon said that when he is nervous, he talks a lot. He also said that when Tracey is nervous, she gets very quiet. The date was very one-sided at first, until they had a few drinks and relaxed.
The two continued to date and eventually moved in together. On an episode of ABC's The View, which aired on June 30, 1999, Jon Stewart publicly announced his engagement to Tracey. He described his unusual proposal method. Jon commissioned a professional crossword puzzle maker to make a personalized puzzle for Tracey. In it, he proposed to her. It is not clear exactly when Jon and Tracey married, but on the April 23, 2002 episode of The Daily Show, Jon mentioned that they had been married "almost 18 months."
Tracey used to be a graphic designer but went back to school to become a veterinarian shortly after Jon took over hosting The Daily Show. She previously worked at the Bronx Zoo and currently works at a veterinary clinic.
Jon and Tracey are both animal lovers, and Jon jokes that Tracey brings home the vet's mistakes. They currently have two pit bulls and a cat. Shamsky is an agoraphobic pit bull who lived in a small cage before he was rescued by the Stewarts. She was named after the only Jewish member of the 1969 "Miracle Mets." Monkey, the other pit bull, is named after his propensity to throw his own feces. The origin of the name of their cat, Stan, is unknown.
Jon Stewart moved to New York City in order to do standup comedy in 1986, but didn't actually get on stage until April 1987. His first gig was at The Bitter End in New York. He had four minutes prepared, but got through only two minutes of it. After what he described as "the humiliation" of his first performance, it was another four months before he took the stage again. Even though he bombed on his first attempt, he said it was clear from then on what he wanted to do with his life.
His first regular gig was at the Comedy Cellar, where he was the last performer of the night on Sundays through Thursdays. He went on around 1:45 a.m. to a crowd that sometimes included only the club staff. It was great training, but he has said he almost quit every night for the first two years he performed.
Eventually, Jon was doing more high-profile gigs like opening for singer Sheena Easton in Las Vegas, and he became rather well known in the comedy circuit.
Jon continued to do standup and later did some non-credited writing for television. He wrote sketches for Caroline's Comedy Hour and some children's shows [The Onion AV Club by Stephen Thompson]. He was eventually selected as the host for the Comedy Channel's (now called Comedy Central) Short Attention Span Theatre.
After Short Attention Span Theatre was canceled, Jon continued doing standup. Eventually, he moved to MTV and hosted You Wrote It, You Watch It. He wrote his own segments for that show, which lasted only 13 weeks. After it was canceled, he pitched the idea of a talk show to MTV, which became The Jon Stewart Show.
The Jon Stewart Show was a 30-minute talk show, MTV style, which first aired on October 25, 1993. It was critically acclaimed, but didn't do well in the ratings. In September 1994, the show was bought by Paramount and went into syndication. There were some changes in the show, the most obvious of which was that it moved from 30 minutes to 60 minutes. The show lasted about nine months in syndication until it was canceled on June 23, 1995
After the cancellation of The Jon Stewart Show, Jon signed a three-year, six-movie deal with Miramax. He was to star in two movies per year and write and produce some of them. Some of the films included: Almost Romantic, First Wives Club, Playing by Heart, Wavelength and Wishful Thinking.
Although some of the films did not get made, the deal was considered fulfilled. (See filmography for more details.) This same year, Jon signed a deal with David Letterman's production company Worldwide Pants. It doesn't appear that anything ever came of that deal
While he was working on the Miramax films, Jon was writing his book Naked Pictures of Famous People. It took him eight months to write the series of humorous essays in the style of Woody Allen or Steve Martin. Jon described many nights of writing until four in the morning. Of everything he's done professionally, Jon says it's his book he's most satisfied with.
Jon Stewart was a frequent guest host for Tom Snyder on The Late, Late Show with Tom Snyder -- so frequently that it was rumored that he would get Snyder's spot on CBS after Snyder's retirement. It didn't happen. Instead, Jon went on to play himself playing Larry Sander's permanent guest host on The Larry Sanders Show. When Gary Shandling, who played Larry Sanders, was set to leave the show, it was hotly rumored that Jon would take over the show for real. Jon insists that was never a real possibility, though. "That was a little something called fiction." [Entertainment Weekly, 1/8/99, "Jonny on the Spot," by A.J. Jacobs].
Jon was also a finalist to replace David Letterman when Letterman left NBC for CBS. Instead, the slot went to Conan O'Brien. On January 4, 1999, Jon Stewart moved into his office at The Daily Show, where he had just seven days to prepare for his first show as host and co-executive producer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
As a self-professed news junkie, the show seems a perfect match for Jon's talents. When he had been with The Daily Show for two and a half years, he said it was the longest he'd ever held a job. He has a four-year contract that will expire in January 2003.
Recently, it has been rumored that various networks are interested in signing him as a talk show host. Although the $1.5 million he allegedly earns annually is much less than he might earn at one of the major networks, there are certain advantages he has working at Comedy Central. He works four days per week with one week off per month. He also has more creative freedom than he might at a major network, which is something he has previously cited as being very important to him. Whatever he chooses to do when his contract is up, he is clearly in demand.
Comedy Central Sweetens Stewart's Deal
Jon Stewart, anchor of "The Daily Show" and co-author of the best-selling "America (The Book)," is adding "producer" to his list of titles. And he's doing it on someone else's dime.
Comedy Central says it has forged an agreement with Stewart to finance his production company, Busboy Productions. In return, the cable network where Stewart works will get the first shot at any TV project the company develops. Stewart and Ben Karlin, executive producer of "The Daily Show," will head up the company.
"Jon Stewart is the preeminent voice in comedy today. As evidenced by the incredible success of 'America (The Book),' Jon and Ben have much more than a nightly TV show's worth of comedy in them," Comedy Central president Doug Herzog says. "We're incredibly excited about the possibility of making more television with this exceptionally talented group of artists."
Stewart has ventured into producing before, selling a pilot with fellow "Daily Show" funnyman Stephen Colbert to NBC in 2002. The show didn't get off the ground.
"The Daily Show" enjoyed the best ratings of its eight-year existence in 2004, when its coverage of the presidential campaign helped it average better than a million viewers per night. Stewart's contract with the show runs through 2008.
Jon Stewart to Join CBS News?
Jon Stewart is fond of calling his Comedy Central program The Daily Show "fake news." CBS is famous for its "fake but accurate" reports. Is this a marriage made in TV Land? Perhaps. CBS News has been the butt of jokes for many years and now Les Moonves, chairman of CBS will not deny reports of possible plans to bring comedian Jon Stewart aboard to deliver "fake news" at the much maligned network.
Is this just a joke? Maybe not as AP is reporting that "CBS will probably replace Dan Rather on the evening news with a multi-anchor, perhaps multi-city format that changes the "antiquated" way of reporting the day's top stories."
Moonves refused to comment on the earlier reports of the network contacting Katie Couric to anchor the evening newscast and when pressed to comment on Jon Stewart, Moonves wouldn't rule out a role on the evening news for Comedy Central's "fake anchorman." CBS is an absolute mess right now and this multiple anchor format that is being proposed may not be a bad idea.
The network's credibility is shot among many news consumers; perhaps if they hire a partisan comedian to check in and take shots at Republicans with "fake news" they can deflect their "fake but accurate" reputation.
Jon Stewart's 'America' Named Book Of Year
Jon Stewart's "America (The Book)," the television commentator's million-selling riff on politics and other matters of satire, has been named Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly, the industry trade magazine.
In announcing the award Monday, Publishers Weekly called the book "a serious critique of the two-party system, the corporations that finance it and the 'spineless cowards in the press' who 'aggressively print allegation and rumor independent of accuracy and fairness."'
Stewart, a comedian, is best known as the host of The Daily Show, a satirical news program that airs on the cable network Comedy Central.
His book was released in September and immediately topped best-seller lists even as Wal-Mart declined to stock the book, citing a page featuring the faces of the nine Supreme Court justices superimposed over naked bodies. The page facing the nude photos has cutouts of the justices' robes, complete with a caption asking readers to "restore their dignity by matching each justice with his or her respective robe."
Earlier this year Stewart sparked a feud that straddled the line between politics and entertainment when he appeared on the CNN debate show "Crossfire" and angered its bow-tied conservative host Tucker Carlson by calling the show "partisan hackery" that does little to advance the cause of democracy.
Jon Stewart Roasts Real News
"What has become rewarded in political discourse is the extremity of viewpoint. People like the conflict. Conflict, baby! It sells. Crossfire! Hardball! 'Shut up! You shut up!'" says Jon Stewart.
Regardless of who winds up on top in the upcoming election, one of the biggest winners so far has been Jon Stewart. He seems to be everywhere.
"The Daily Show" on Comedy Central has become must-see television for news junkies and politicians alike. And now, he's kicked up some dust by going after what Correspondent Steve Kroft calls "the shouting matches that pass themselves off as cable news."
In a boilerplate campaign of prefabricated speeches and talking points, Stewart is never on message. And, as Kroft reports, when things get too serious, Stewart is America's favorite political commentator.
What is Stewart's most-savored moment of the campaign so far?
"Just every moment with Dick Cheney has been my favorite. Here's what I wonder about Dick Cheney, and the reason that maybe they keep him only in loyalty oath audiences, is if he becomes angry, I do believe he turns into the Hulk. And so, they try and keep people from questioning him, because he'll just -- the shirt rips, and suddenly he has hair," says Stewart.
"So he's been my favorite, because he just goes out there to a room full of supporters and says, 'You know we're all going to die, right?' You're going to die unless I'm in charge.'"
Jon Stewart's Book: From banned to borrowed
Jackson-George libraries checking out formerly banned book.
The libraries in the Jackson-George Regional Library System began checking out Jon Stewart's "America (The Book)" on Tuesday, just one day after the library's governing board lifted a ban that made national headlines.
"We're circulating seven copies," with copies already in the hands of each of the library system's eight branches, said Bob Willits, director of the regional library board.
Stewart talked about the ban on his Comedy Central show, "The Daily Show."
Stewart said the "go to" joke would be "libraries in Mississippi," but also noted that he thought there were far more offensive things in the book than a picture of nine naked men and women with the heads of the U.S. Supreme Court pasted on top of them.
That image was the reason the Library Board banned the book. Board members reversed the ban in a 5-2 vote Monday night, saying they were making that decision after receiving intense scrutiny.
Since the story broke over the weekend, Willits has received more than 400 e-mails, with more than 90 percent of the messages sent from out of state.
Almost all of them question the district's decision to ban the book, though Willits said he did receive some messages in support of their decision.
Example: A mother in Atlanta praised Willits for taking a stand in support of the ban, saying "too often today our children are exposed to filth and garbage...and then we blame the children when they make wrong choices for their lives concerning sex, violence, drugs, etc."
The majority of e-mails, however, blasted the ban and Willits himself. One e-mail suggested that Willits reacquaint himself with the meaning "satire" and its significance in a political debate.
The writer went on to say, "Since you pride yourself on having been a librarian for 40 years, my only hope is that you are close enough to retirement and/or the grave that the people of Mississippi will soon be rid of your paternalistic and non-sensical edicts."
Tara Skelton, who wrote a letter to the editor that helped bring media attention to the issue, said Tuesday she was looking forward to checking out the book from the Ocean Springs library.
"I really love where I live," Skelton said. "I'm so proud. Mississippi has done the right thing."
Controversial Library "Book Ban" Reversed
The Jackson-George Regional Library board had the final say on whether to circulate "America... the book" by Jon Stewart. It's a book that features images of the nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices superimposed on naked bodies.
"I thought we were right before and I don't see any reason just because a few people objected that we are wrong now," Member James Corley says to the board.
It was a painstaking evening as library board members had to deal with the pressure from local opposition and national media attention.
"Is it not incredible that such a small action to be considered has blown up into a national issue," Member Bruce Grimes says.
Yet some board members' stance against putting Jon Stewart's "America (the book)" on their library shelves remain unchanged.
"I just think it's inappropriate," Corley said.
"If somebody is so interested in reading trash, they can go purchase it," another member said.
The second time confronting the issue though, the board got to hear what some in the community think.
"This book is not pornography in any way," one residents said.
"Right now in Iraq there are young men and women dying for the right to read whatever they want to because this is the USA," another said.
When the board voted, the opposition won out.
"We live in a really open-minded community and the board really listened to what we had to say and considered some points of view that maybe they hadn't considered before," Tara Skelton said.
The reversal means some board members changed their minds.
"I did second the motion to not allow the book on the shelves at this last board meeting," Grimes said.
They say it was the local outcry, and not the nation's critical eye, that made them reconsider.
"Today, that decision was the right decision," Board Chairman David Able said.
Mississippi libraries ban Jon Stewart's 'America'
Library officials in two Mississippi counties have banned late-night comedy host Jon Stewart's America (the Book) from its shelves, citing the satirical textbook's nude depictions of members of the U.S. Supreme Court.
"I've been a librarian for 40 years and this is the only book I've objected to so strongly that I wouldn't allow it to circulate," Robert Willits, director of the Jackson-George Regional Library System, told the Associated Press.
"We're not an adult bookstore. Our entire collection is open to the entire public," he said. "If they had published the book without that one picture, that one page, we'd have the book."
The ban is effective in eight libraries in the southern Mississippi counties of Jackson and George.
The inflammatory page depicts the heads of nine Supreme Court justices superimposed over naked bodies. On the facing page, there are cutouts of the judges's robes along with a caption asking readers to "restore their dignity by matching each justice with his or her respective robe."
In October, Wal-Mart also banned the book from its stores because of the page of nude judges. However, the popular chain continued to sell the book via its website.
Wal-Mart bans Jon Stewart book from stores
Retail giant Wal-Mart has banned America (The Book), a fake textbook written by Jon Stewart, the host of The Daily Show, from its stores.
The chain will not be selling the book because it contains a fake photo of the members of the U.S. Supreme Court in the nude.
"We were not aware of the image that was in the book [when Wal-Mart ordered it] and we felt the majority of our customers would not be comfortable with it," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karen Burk told the Associated Press by way of explaining why the corporation had cancelled its order.
"We offer what we think our customers want to buy," Burk added. "That just makes good business sense."
The picture, on page 99 of the book, shows the heads of the Supreme Court justices grafted onto naked, sagging bodies.
The book supplies cut-outs of judicial robes so readers can "restore their dignity by matching each justice with his or her respective robe."
Warner Books spokeswoman Jamie Raab said the photo was in keeping with the tone of America (The Book), which is meant to be a spoof of a history textbook.
"It's funny, yet to the point. When you undress the Supreme Court justices, they're just men and women and you have to judge them on who they are and what they do. It makes you look and think and laugh," she said.
Raab said Wal-Mart is within its rights, but pointed out that the picture is not sexually explicit. A better strategy might have been to let customers make up their own minds, she said.
This isn't the first time Wal-Mart has banned a product. The chain does not stock lad's mags such as Maxim, and in 1996 it refused to sell a Sheryl Crow album because of one song with lyrics suggesting Wal-Mart sells guns to children.
Wal-Mart will, however, continue to sell America (The Book) through its website. Burk said people who buy products from Wal-Mart online are a "different audience."
The book was written by Stewart, along with the rest of the writing team from The Daily Show, which airs on Comedy Central in the U.S. and the Comedy Network here in Canada.
According to the Comedy Central website, America (The Book) explores "the reasons why concepts like 'One man, one vote,' 'Government by the people,' and 'Every vote counts' have become such popular urban myths."
Wal-Mart's move comes less than a week after Stewart made a controversial appearance on the CNN program Crossfire.
Stewart got into a verbal dust-up with co-host Tucker Carlson, calling him a "dick" who promotes "partisan hackery.
Jon Stewart may be a fake newsman, but he has plenty to say
Sifting over the events of Jon Stewart's scarcely believable 2004, it's hard to say what he should be most proud of. Obviously, the birth of his first child, Nathan, on July 3rd, has to go at the top of the list. But what comes next? That he and his Daily Show co-writers had a Number One best-selling book with America: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction? Or that he had that painfully compelling verbal pissing match with Tucker Carlson on live TV, in which he made headlines for calling the bow-tied Crossfire co-host "a dick" (and thereby won the respect of human beings everywhere)? And where would he rank the satisfaction of seeing Bill O'Reilly's claim that The Daily Show is watched mostly by "stoned slackers" refuted by the Annenberg Center, whose survey of 19,000 adults revealed that Stewart's viewers were better-informed on the presidential candidates than people who didn't watch late-night comedy? Or does Stewart just kind of lump all this stuff together in his mind and chalk up 2004 as the year when a stand-up comic with a half-hour fake-news comedy show on cable was celebrated as one of the most trenchant, and influential, commentators on the selection of the most powerful being on the planet? We called him to find out.
What was the best thing about last year?
Having a kid.
The worst thing?
Realizing he didn't like me -- that he thought I was "overexposed."
Well, what about that? You had one hell of a year. Was it your biggest year?
I would think so! By the way, you could pretty much bet it's going to remain my biggest year. Ultimately, when you're something that's praised, chances are you will be overpraised. And, hopefully, this election puts the final nail in the coffin of the "Importance of Satire." It may be important as an emotional valve, but in the practical sense it's absolutely meaningless.
So Tucker Carlson was a big moment in your life last year. What was that like?
I was there, I started to get dizzy, I blacked out and woke up naked and bruised on the curb on Connecticut Avenue. I only found out later that I apparently called someone a dick on national television.
Was it all as awkward and uncomfortable as it looked?
I'd say that other than going to Thanksgiving with the Falwells and announcing you're gay, it's pretty fucking awkward. But at least we finally got a chance for the media to start the conversation about whether or not I'm too big for my britches. Because that's what the conversation turned into.
Were you surprised that the appearance got as much attention as it did?
I was taken aback. That certainly wasn't the desired goal. I started out attempting to be lighthearted. But in my mind it went south when the condescension reached a point that I just thought, "You know what? Fuck you and your dismissive attitude." But I thought it was really telling afterward that [Carlson] would literally talk to anyone who would talk to him. I realized that this is the greatest thing that ever happened to him. For me, it's "Oh, my God, that was awful." And for him, it's "Let me go on Extra and Access Hollywood!"
You must have loved the Bill O'Reilly sex scandal --
The only thing to enjoy in that O'Reilly story is the schadenfreude of comeuppance for the powerful. When scolds fall prey to the same moral vulnerabilities as the rest of us, there's something satisfying in that.
Has it been difficult to find a focus for the show since the election?
The show's hard to do in the sense that everything you've been doing for months has been geared toward this one night. And then there's the next night. All of a sudden you think, "Oh. Right. Fuck."
Jon Stewart's popularity is up
For the third consecutive year, Oprah Winfrey topped the Harris Interactive poll of favorite TV personalities. In the 12 years that Harris Interactive has conducted the polls, Oprah has never ranked below the top three and this is her fifth time in the top position.
David Letterman retained the No. 2 position from last year. Jon Stewart was No. 3, up from No. 6.
Holding the No. 4 and No. 5 positions they occupied last year were Ray Romano and Jay Leno, while Bill Cosby made his first Harris Interactive appearance since 2001, at No. 6.
Ellen DeGeneres moved from No. 10 to No. 7, and Bill O'Reilly dropped from No. 3 to No. 8. Dr. Phil McGraw went from No. 6 to No. 9 this year, tied with Regis Philbin.
William Peterson, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Aniston and Martin Sheen all dropped off the list.
Jon Stewart's TV phenomenon
Though he occupies a mere sliver of the TV dial -- a half-hour slot on late-night cable that attracts a relatively paltry 1.2 million viewers -- Jon Stewart has the impact of prime time and the reach of a satellite dish.
His sendup of a classroom textbook, "America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction," is a best seller and recently was named Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly. A frequent and favored guest of major network news shows, Stewart, the host of "The Daily Show," a satirical news roundup on Comedy Central, was profiled by CBS' "60 Minutes" recently. Earlier this year, the man who makes a living mocking the media -- tickets are now on sale for his Jan. 29 performance at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank -- made the cover of Rolling Stone and TV Guide, nearly a year after he landed on the cover of Newsweek.
And, a few weeks ago, he grabbed headlines for spearheading a sparring match with Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala on CNN's "Crossfire" -- and creating a downloadable moment in the 2004 election season.
Whether he likes it or not -- and lately it seems he's bristling, not basking, in the glow -- Stewart, who grew up in Lawrence, has become not just a TV phenomenon but also a cultural force, if not hero, influencing discourse at the dinner table and in the college dorm and even, some believe, the turnout at the polls.
The accolades are as ubiquitous as he is. Stewart's effectiveness as a political humorist is akin to Will Rogers "and probably two or three others in the last 100 years," says Darryl Paulson, a political scientist at the University of South Florida.
"There have been days when I see what they've done and I say, 'Wow, he's the best media critic I know,"" says Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. This year, the Television Critics Association gave Stewart's show, a five-time Emmy winner, its award for best news and information program. And this from Tom Brokaw: "He sees that the emperor has no clothes, and some of the mainstream media don't have the same 20/20 vision." Watching his show is "a little like watching 'Seinfeld.' You just can't get enough."
But whenever you become the darling of the very thing you're criticizing, conventional wisdom dictates that you run the danger of losing your edge, which some erstwhile fans say Stewart already has done. And as the comic increasingly plays the role of critic, some media watchers say Stewart risks becoming the kind of overexposed personality he so mercilessly skewers four nights a week.
The paradox of a fake newsman becoming news himself is not lost on "Daily Show" executive producer Ben Karlin. "It's very easy to go from media darling to media whore to media washed-up-on-the-street-corner. That's a path that we've seen many, many times," and one they poke potholes into on the show. "We just want to make sure we embrace (the attention) so tightly, the irony is lost on nobody."
Karlin, who calls the adulation "uncomfortable" and the hype "unjustified," says that "there's a certain pack mentality. Once something catches fire, everyone catches on. To a certain extent, it's this kind of media snowball. A lot of it is just, 'Enough already,' " not to say that Karlin is not "very thankful and appreciative" of praise for the show.
Not surprisingly, Stewart, who declined comment for this story, is backing off from press coverage these days. Stewart, 41, has been everywhere because "the media today exaggerates everything, as Jon Stewart would probably be the first to point out," Rosenstiel says. "The mainstream media want to assimilate the cool of Jon Stewart." And in its predictable cycle, the mainstream press eventually "tries to eat its young."
Ted Koppel, who calls Stewart a "comedic genius," recently sent his friend an e-mail: "This is it. You are now in big-time media land: First we build you up, and then we tear you down to pieces."
"I'm sure the backlash has begun," Karlin says. "But after the election, this too shall pass."
In large part, the 2004 election is what got them to these heights in the first place. If the 2000 race put "The Daily Show" on people's radar, Stewart and company's take on this year's events, part of Comedy Central's Indecision 2004, put the show on people's sonar, as Karlin puts it.
Academics had a hand in generating buzz earlier this year when the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 21 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds regularly receive their presidential campaign news from "The Daily Show" and "Saturday Night Live."
The show's success also is interesting because, as Karlin readily will acknowledge, the premise is nothing new. From HBO's '80s series "Not Necessarily the News" to "Saturday Night Live""s long-running Weekend Update, "there are so many shoulders we stand on," he says. The difference, some say, is having a host, an heir to David Letterman -- a highly likable and accessible one at that.
But what about the humor of Bill Maher and Dennis Miller, two frequent comparisons? "Too poisoned," says Paulson, who moonlights as a political humorist himself. "They're trying too hard to appear smart, both of them."
Stewart's humor "doesn't come with that acidity." And though Stewart has indicated that he supported John Kerry, "no matter if you're a Democrat or a Republican, you find him funny."
When Stewart, for a long time a fixture on the stand-up scene as well as on MTV and Comedy Central, took over "The Daily Show" in 1999, "most folks were writing it off as the show Craig Kilborn left behind. But Jon and his outstanding team of writers quickly turned the program into the best 22 minutes of television," Smith says. As Comedy Central's distribution has increased, ratings for the show have gone up 72 percent compared with 1998.
As an ever-stronger magnet for Generations X and Y -- 38 percent of "The Daily Show""s audience is aged 18 to 34, up 19 percent over last year -- Stewart has been credited with energizing an otherwise apathetic electorate. His brand of covering politics is an antidote to the earnestness of, say, MTV's Choose or Lose voter initiative -- an approach that cynically conditioned youth find refreshing.
Interactive media producer Shawn Schrager, aside from being a daily "Daily Show" watcher, bought the book, took in the recent "60 Minutes" profile, read the "TV Guide" story and checked out the "Crossfire" scolding session. When Stewart blasted the show as "partisan hackery," it was a moment for which Schrager "was never more proud."
Fans say Stewart's self-deprecating shtick is part of his charm. Brokaw says Stewart signed his copy of "America": "To the man who gave us the greatest generation. From the least generation." Dana Sisti, 28, a software consultant in Denver, calls him "the John Cusack nerd-next-door that the women love and the men want to share a beer with."
But for Greg Palmer, Stewart's "Crossfire" lashing was a sign that "he may be getting a little full of himself." Stewart, appearing on the show ostensibly as a bit of levity, decided that he wouldn't be Carlson and Begala's "monkey" and slapped the show as not reasoned debate but "theater." Palmer, 49, a college professor from Rexburg, Idaho, "had been using Jon Stewart as an escape, and my old buddy turned on me." Stewart has said he should have been more "delicate."
"I think (Stewart) would characterize that as not his best or proudest moment," Karlin says. "It was cathartic, but not something that came across the way he hoped it would." And "as uncomfortable as all of us were with the way it came out," Karlin points out that it was a rare outburst of raw rage.
"Usually the satirists who get too close to being serious have a shorter shelf life," Rosenstiel says. "I don't think he crossed that line, but I think he became aware of that line. The net effect was to rally more fans" and, that double-edged sword, to garner more attention.
"One way the system punishes you for speaking out is that it overdoes the reaction," says Jay Rosen, the chair of the journalism department at New York University. "The message that comes through is that you think you should be dominating the conversation."
Analysts agree that as the zeitgeist shifts, so will interest in Stewart. With the election season over, Stewart will soon settle into a comfortable if somewhat less influential late-night niche, as "SNL" has -- and then reclaim his perch for Indecision 2008 (his contract expires at the end of that year). "He'll be in and out of popularity," says Rosen, but he'll be a host for "a lot longer than Paul Begala.
Jon Stewart Bitchslaps CNN's 'Crossfire' Show
In what could well be the strangest and most refreshing media moment of the election season, "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart turned up on a live broadcast of CNN's "Crossfire" Friday and accused the mainstream media — and his hosts in particular — of being soft and failing to do their duty as journalists to keep politicians and the political process honest.
Reaching well outside his usual youthful "Daily Show" demo, Stewart took to "Crossfire" to promote his new book, "America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction" (see "Jon Stewart Writes A History Textbook That — At Last! — Features Nudity"), but instead of pushing the tome, Stewart used his time to verbally slap the network and the media for being "dishonest" and "doing a disservice" to the American public. After co-host Tucker Carlson suggested that Stewart went easy on Senator John Kerry when the candidate was a guest on "The Daily Show," Stewart unloaded on "Crossfire," calling hosts Carlson and Paul Begala "partisan hacks" and chiding them for not raising the level of discourse on their show beyond sloganeering.
"What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery," Stewart said. "You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.
"I watch your show every day, and it kills me. It's so painful to watch," Stewart added as it became apparent that the comedian was not joking. He went on to hammer the network, and the media in general, for its coverage of the presidential debates. Stewart said it was a disservice to viewers to immediately seek reaction from campaign insiders and presidential cheerleaders following the debates, noting that the debates' famed "Spin Alley" should be called "Deception Lane."
"The thing is, we need your help," Stewart said. "Right now, you're helping the politicians and the corporations and we're left out there to mow our lawns."
While the audience seemed to be behind Stewart, Begala and Carlson were both taken aback. The hosts tried to feed Stewart set-up lines hoping to draw him into a more light-hearted shtick, but Stewart stayed on point and hammered away at the show, the hosts, and the state of political journalism. Carlson grew increasingly frustrated, at first noting that the segment wasn't "funny," and later verbally sparring with the comedian.
"You're not very much fun," Carlson said. "Do you like lecture people like this, or do you come over to their house and sit and lecture them; they're not doing the right thing, that they're missing their opportunities, evading their responsibilities?"
"If I think they are," Stewart retorted.
The conversation reached its most heated moment when Carlson said to Stewart, "I do think you're more fun on your show," to which Stewart replied, "You're as big a dick on your show as you are on any show."
"That went great," Stewart could be heard sarcastically saying as the show went off the air (a transcript of the show is available on CNN.com).
In an era when the media is increasingly fragmented and viewers can surround themselves with programming that falls right in line with their own views, be they on the right or the left, Stewart's blast seemed especially on point. It seems fitting that the tirade came on a day when much of the media attention focused on the presidential race was directed at the mention of Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter during the last presidential debate, as opposed to the issues addressed at that debate.
Everyone likes Jon Stewart
An interesting thing has happened to Jon Stewart in recent weeks, and it's not the navel-gazing conundrum of whether a satirist has crossed some imaginary line and become a boringly righteous lecturer. Well, that's still mildly interesting and not at all settled. But what's more important is that in this short time frame, Stewart, once host of a small cable comedy show (that uses the news as its punch line, creating the ubiquitous "fake news" style of comedy), has become the most popular late- night talk show host on television. He now has more cachet than David Letterman or Jay Leno.
In the parlance of TV industry hacks, Stewart has "popped" -- like a Roman candle. In some strange way, this was inevitable. Stewart is a brilliant comedian -- as sharp and savage as any of the best. This is what has attracted such feverish fans to his show. He's smart. He gets it. In a world gone mad, Jon Stewart is there to make fun of our sad plight. And we love him for it. But Stewart has, since his early MTV days, been a great TV presence and long ago morphedinto an addictive late-night host. For longevity, there can be no other kind. Viewers have to crave a late-night host, in some way, for him to be successful.
With Stewart, it's his mix of snarkiness and smarts, his goofy likability and a sense of frank righteousness. People relate to his opinions because they think, "That's what I would say." Well, not as hilariously. But Stewart says what people are thinking about events in the news. He finds humor and skewers the truth of everything important in our lives. And people appreciate that. On television, they crave it. But "The Daily Show" pulls in fewer than 2 million people each night. It is not the late-night behemoth that Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" is. Despite a lucrative contract recently reworked by Comedy Central, Stewart is not paid like either Leno or Letterman. And if you believe in the idea that there's a level of respect in television and that respect comes in the form of a gigantic network wanting you to be its late-night voice, Stewart has also missed out on that bonanza.
It is Conan O'Brien, as NBC made clear recently, who will take over "The Tonight Show," still considered the gold standard of talk shows, despite Leno proving that for it to succeed in Middle America, where the viewers are, it can't have any rough edges. So how is it then, that Stewart is the king of late night? He just is. This isn't about ratings so much as perception and respect and heat. And yet, despite smart people knowing Stewart would one day be big, nobody knew that day would be now, and that a niche cable channel would have him. Yes, Stewart has been popping up on the mainstream radar bit by bit, here and there, over the years. But look at it this way: Stewart was more popular last week than he was the week before. And twice as popular two weeks ago as he was four months ago.
Perhaps it pays to throw Tucker Carlson to the mat or poke a finger in Ted Koppel's chest, even if their confrontations with Stewart have been blown ridiculously out of proportion. Maybe they provide tinder to spark the fire. But they can't sustain the heat. Stewart is on everybody's radar now simply because he's arrived. It's a fascinating moment in pop culture. People are getting it -- it being Jon Stewart -- pretty much at the same time. Hey, you know you've arrived when the press, which has bowed to your genius for lo so many years, has already started the inevitable teardown. Welcome to the limelight, friend. It can't pass as mere coincidence that Stewart is popping like fireworks against the dull black background of pop culture right this very minute. If he's our nation's It Boy, he worked hard to get there. Just look at the evidence. He has this country's best-selling book, "America." People are still talking about him and his jihad against "Crossfire" and mainstream news failures. Despite this, news people still want to be seen with him (as do politicians).
Everyone wants to interview him. He was on "60 Minutes." He was on the cover of Rolling Stone, TV Guide and Newsweek among others. He is beloved by his peers -- a notoriously hard-to-please lot. There's more: Stewart and his show were the subject of a September poll by the esteemed National Annenberg Election Survey, which found out that -- contrary to the worries of old-school media members -- uninformed people weren't getting their news from "The Daily Show" and Stewart. Informed people were. Dannagal Goldthwaite Young, senior analyst at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, said this about the findings: "Daily Show viewers have higher campaign knowledge than national news viewers and newspaper readers -- even when education, party identification, following politics, watching cable news, receiving campaign information online, age and gender are taken into consideration."
No wonder Stewart is being talked about and dissected as a man so powerful he could help shape the presidential race and now, as predictable as anything, he's being ever-so-gently torn down (a rant in New York magazine, snide comments by news figures, clucking in Web blogs, etc.). Man, remember the good old days -- like in early 2004 -- when he was just a guy on cable somewhere, and if you stumbled onto his less-than-swanky studio in Manhattan you could actually stand in line for a free ticket? Meanwhile, blocks uptown, getting into Letterman was a near impossibility? Remember when Jimmy Kimmel was the guy people thought would remap late night? Remember when people were stunned when Craig Kilborn left his late- night gig at CBS and, not long after, Conan locked up the "Tonight Show" seat? Those stories are ancient now. Of no value. Oh, Kimmel is still funny and a wildly different take. Kilborn just seemingly disappeared from pop life, but there's still an ounce of interest in what CBS will do with his old job. And Conan's lock-in remains intriguing on a few levels. But nobody's talking about any of that. In fact, nobody's talking about Letterman or Leno, either. All air, all ink, goes to Stewart. That's a late-night TV revolution, fully told. And it didn't happen on broadcast television. It happened on cable.
There's an interesting little story no one is talking about. What everyone seems obsessed with now is whether a comedian can turn serious and still be considered funny. Apparently dropping the mask of perception is a dangerous thing. We like people conveniently labeled. When Tucker Carlson nearly begged Stewart to be funny and Stewart said, "No, I'm not going to be your monkey," it had the potential to be polarizing. Disingenuous to mock the media and then lecture it for not doing its job, providing the fodder for your jokes? Probably. Weird that a comedian would relentlessly protest that American journalism is faltering?
Maybe. But a lot of people have strange hobbies, quirky and secret interests. Let Stewart share his serious side with America. It's a free country. But it's not a forgiving one. And in the coming weeks we'll find out if his face falls off the magazines, if the hipster nation turns its lonely eyes to someone less likely to "sell out." Fine. Whatever. This much remains unchanged by the fickleness and whimsy of pop culture success: "The Daily Show" will remain, onward through the election, required viewing. And Stewart will remain, through the heat and the mud, a comic godsend.
Jon critiques the media on how they cover politics..
If you didn’t watch CNN this past week or one of the clips making the rounds on the Internet, you missed The Daily Show host Jon Stewart deliver a damning critique on the media and how it covers politics. In a tense, heated exchange with co-hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson, Stewart not-so-tactfully alleged that so-called “debate” programs such as Crossfire and Hardball are “hurting America” by limiting public discourse and playing directly into politicians’ cynical media strategies.
For a “fake” newsman, Stewart’s comments could not have been more authentic—or truthful.
As Stewart correctly pointed out, most American media outlets present two sterilized, predictable points of view to the exclusion of other, more nuanced ones. But it’s not because most journalists rely on knee-jerk “left-right” schemas to tell their stories, or because the most frequent political “analysts” are former political staffers and not smooth-talking policy wonks.
The real dilemma isn’t the declining condition of journalism either. The true culprit is the condition of the broadcast news market itself. In political broadcasts, powerful market forces dictate that every actor must advance his own career and interests. The conflict between profitable public debate and profitable television means the quality of discourse diminishes as politicians, political aides, journalists, and talk show hosts cave to self-interests.
Why would we expect otherwise? Take a look at who’s giving the analysis and where their interests lie. The “analysts” who consumers watch are not Ph.D.s from prominent think tanks or academia. They are former politicians and political consultants whose livelihoods and fates are tied to the political parties whose views the networks pay them to represent. Most have preached the party line throughout their adult careers. And if they are still active consultants, they will make more money if their party wins. Why then should anyone expect them not to advance party dogma?
The reasons producers hire these folks as pundits is that, after months or years of carefully crafting and manufacturing a media personality as a campaign spokesperson or consultant, they are well-known “stars” of the campaign trail and a sure-fire audience draw. After Joe Trippi, Internet trailblazer for Howard Dean’s campaign quit, MSNBC hired him as an analyst—less than two weeks after he left. What campaign professional doesn’t fall asleep at night dreaming of Stephanopolous-like fame and fortune?
Politicians, though, are pulled in a different direction. Media appearances increase the potential for error, so politicians are naturally risk-averse. Few senators or governors want to be bathed in the heat of a camera lamp and pancake make-up, and be grilled in front of a live national audience if they can avoid it. The only thing politicians hate more than speaking in sound bites is having to deviate from their prepared remarks. Meaningful debate often comes from confrontation, but what talk show host wants to risk alienating his guests by coming off as too tough or intrusive?
The Tonight Show’s Jay Leno, with his watered-down monologues and softball inquires into his guests’ latest projects, follows this doctrine: Don’t scare off your talent. No host or producer wants B-list talent on his show, so he structures his broadcasts to appeal to all participants. Familiar faces of Beltway insiders; predictable, poll-tested sound bites; a lack of punchy follow up questions; and a split-screen whose mere presence signals the exclusion of other viewpoints keep all interested parties satisfied and coming back for more.
Some might argue that public television shows like Charlie Rose and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer fill the void that bottom-line commercial broadcasts create. Yet few current politicians show up around Rose’s table, and The NewsHour, for all its civility and substance, is more like a valium-induced version of its competitors than a true innovator. Part of the reason is that PBS’s publicly-subsidized shows are not immune from the market either. They rely on corporate sponsors, who still favor putting their money on shows that won’t cause too much of a stir.
Jon Stewart did cause a stir last week. Like the rest of the improvisational “correspondents” on his show, he showed up ready to deliver a message while appearing unscripted and unrehearsed. It’s too bad that most real correspondents, too shackled and dependent on the status quo, can’t be so candid.