Nobody thought Jon Stewart could do it. As he took over the immensely popular Daily Show from Craig Kilborn, bets were being cast to see how long the show would last.
But, Stewart, instead of falling, flew. He got rid of Kilborn's five questions bit and took the show from edgy to bitterly over-the-top. His popularity could be attested to from the long lines and instant sell-out for his Bailey show.
Breaking onto the scene in 1993 with The Jon Stewart Show on MTV, he then did the stand-up thing for a while, until landing a gig on The Larry Sanders Show. Picked up to replace Kilborn in 1999, Stewart has taken off into the stratosphere of comedic popularity. He's basically gone from just one more sarcastic Jew to the spokesperson for a generation of sarcastic Jews.
Daze talked with Stewart after the show. The Cornell Lunatic was there for the fun, too. Somebody from the program board kicked us out before we got down to the nitty-gritty, but we did get some choice quotes out of Stewart before he was hustled back to the big city.
Daze: Where do you think stand-up comedy is now?
Jon Stewart:: What do you mean?
D: In terms of, it's not the '80s where Seinfeld is coming up, Reiser is coming up, all these guys are coming up. It's not like that anymore.
JS: Now you're making me nervous, that my career's over.
D: No, don't worry, you have a television show.
JS: Are you telling me to go back to college? You're telling me to go to graduate school? Uhh, yeah it's hard. I don't know. It's so hard to say. I mean, you'd like to think that people wouldn't say "Oh, I hate going to the place where they make me laugh, that place blows." You know, you hope that ... Well, like any business it shakes out after, you know. We consider ourselves a cross between stripping and karaoke. We're hoping to ride both of those waves as long as we can.
Cornell Lunatic: That's sort of the one question I was hoping I could squeeze in.
JS: About stripping or about karaoke?
CL: Actually, it's about comedy, and not specifically stand-up.
JS: You're firing me, you've been sent here to fire me, is that what this is?
D: Jon, we're gonna have to let you go.
CL: It's just the idea that you run out of things to parody.
JS: But everything's got a shelf life, you know. There's very few shows ... Even SNL which has been on for so long, it, uh, doesn't have the cultural impact. You know, it's like porn, when you guys were what, 12 years old if you got a picture of a girl in a bikini, you were, like, "Oh my god." Now, if it's not literally a midget sucking off a donkey it doesn't do anything for you. People's tastes move. The paradigm keeps pushing out. The last thing you do is worry about the idea that, theoretically like if you were to figure it out mathematically, yes we could theoretically run out of things to parody. But, you can't spend your time ... you keep hoping Stone Phillips does something else stupid.
CL: But you could have the medium, like painting, run out.
JS: Of what, paint?
CL: No, forms and then photography comes along.
JS: But that's for people who talk about art forms. I guarantee you when you're working you're not sitting around going, "You know, Christ, this medium seems spent." You're literally like, "Holy shit did you see Bush fuck up the word strategy? Let's go people lock and load we're shooting at six." It's about whatever point of view is. The world is constantly repeating itself. But that doesn't mean, uh. You know the language is 26 letters, that doesn't mean you're gonna run out of shit to say ... But I think that's the luxury people have when they're not making [pause] coin. When you're making coin you're literally like, "put on my earmuffs and give me the thing, uggghh start digging." But ... I think that's what you guys will do. We're done, we're old ... It's hard to stay relevant for a long period of time. Because people's tastes change and move forward. The shit that you do, when you guys are out there doing that stuff, will be the stuff that people are talking about then, I'll be the old bitter guy with the scotch going "fucking prick interviewed me five years ago, told me we were running out of things to parody and now look at him" ... But yeah, I mean I guess that's the way it is. And then what will happen is there'll be a nostalgia for it. You know, That'll be the cycle. You know, I'm sure ten years ago Santana wasn't feeling too good about himself. Right now he's like, eh.
daze: I think Saturday Night Live is actually coming back a little bit
JS: Yeah, when it first happened, like anything that first happens. It's sorta like when you see a voice that you haven't seen before. Like, uh, Sam Kinison, when Sam Kinison first came out it a was a voice that nobody had ever ... you know, blown away by it. But even that, you know even that, you get accustomed to the rhythm of it. So even that doesn't have the ...
It's like the first time the kids take the Ecstacy at the raves. Apparently it's very nice. But, by the fifth time, it seems like No-Doze.
D: I think that's a serotonin thing
JS: Yeah you're probably right
D: Another question. Reading the New York Times, they have lists of places to go for election coverage ... Comedy Central, Daily Show 11 pm
JS: Yeah, I think they listed us with that, but it's more like, where should you go to eat? McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Hardy's, Chubby's, they always put a little one in.
D: But they were putting you in with all the other serious news
JS: I see what you're saying
D: They weren't putting you in with Saturday Night Live election special. Like, here's all the serious election coverage.
JS: I think it's because also we were one of the places going live that night, so if you watched us you would have known who won. That was probably one of the only reasons we were in there.
D: One other thing, I saw the 25 lamest videos with you, Jean, Denis. Did Vanilla Ice really try to kill you? Were you guys honestly scared, because you all looked like you were scared out of your minds and trying not to look like it?
JS: Oh yeah, he had a bat and he was literally smashing the furniture around us, and we're literally combined weight of 280. You know he had a bat and was just going, [Stewart comes at me like he has a bat] 'Cause imagine if you were standing here and somebody with a bat went, "nice camera." [Stewart pretends to smash Sun photographer Steph Jones' camera] We were all walking around like, what the fuck?
D: I guess that's what happens when you sit there and make fun of someone ...
JS: Who was the production genius who sat, thought, "Let's invite the guy and give him a bat?" I'm sure one of them said, "Hey how about a chainsaw?"
D: How many of those songs were you like, hey I like that?
JS: All of them, probably.
Stand-Up And Sneer
Jon Stewart needed an opening act. There's a lot more to be said about Mr. Stewart's appearance at Bailey Hall last Saturday, but the bottom line is that the poor guy needed an opening. He needed to be treated like the star he is.
Cornellians waited in a line extending from Willard Straight all the way to Uris Library in the cold and rain to see the host of The Daily Show speak funny stuff in a more intimate setting.
The cost was 15 dollars and a missed class, but the payoff was only an hour stand-up show. It felt a lot like going to a gourmet restaurant in the city. The food was pretty good, but the portions were too small. And the waiters were snooty.
Stewart came out and immediately was unhappy with the spotlight, joking that he would have to do the whole show with his back to the crowd because he couldn't see. It seemed like a joke, but most of the time, Stewart was turned to the side or generally not looking at the audience, probably to avoid the light.
Without a warmup, Stewart had to come out and try to make the crowd feel comfortable. It wasn't bad, but jokes about Ithaca weather and location are starting to get a little old. Adam Sandler, Jay Mohr, now Jon Stewart. Everybody thinks they're a comedian when it comes to Ithaca jokes.
In an interview with The Onion a few years ago, Stewart said his stand-up act was the Jewish holy trinity -- politics, sex and religion. That material was pretty much it for the night.
On politics, Stewart said, "The Boy Scouts of America -- who are they kidding ... They're the gayest organization in America ... The Village People are going 'I'm not putting that thing on.'"
On religion, Stewart said, "The pope is a hat choice away from being the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan." That didn't go over with the crowd too well, though, so Stewart retorted, "not so funny when it's your god, eh?"
Sensing that his final part -- sex -- would be the ticket, Stewart got to the dirty stuff. Handjobs, diarrhea and horny cats won the day.
But, throughout, Stewart's stand-up act felt like extended Daily Show bits. They were funny, but he never really got into the classic story-telling that engages viewers in truly great stand-up acts. He told stories, but they were funny without punchlines and without points.
Okay, I laughed. I laughed quite a bit. But, my job is to be critical and Stewart's show didn't quite live up to my high expectations.
Archived article by Jason Weinstein