Comedy Centralís dark horse The Daily Show has become a prize stallion since Jon Stewart took the reins in January 1999. Under his stewardship, the skewed news program has nudged robot battles and six-week wonders aside to become one of the stationís best runners, winning Emmy and Peabody awards and proving that there is something funny about todayís often-bleak headlines. South Park may still rule with the X-box set, but itís Stewart who has established the high-water mark for contemporary American political and social satire.
Stewart started in comedy clubs before working his way up through an MTV talk show, HBO specials, and minor film roles to his current $1.5 millionĖsalaried position. Next Saturday heíll make an increasingly rare return to stand-up at the Orpheum Theatre. "I probably donít spend as much time on my stand-up as I should," he explains over the phone from The Daily Showís New York City offices, where he and his staff work furiously to write and wrap four episodes a week, which air Monday through Thursday at 11 p.m. "I feel this TV show is a worthy adversary, and one that deserves all my attention when Iím doing it." With that, he submits to a few questions.
Q: How has doing The Daily Show affected your stand-up?
A: Now that The Daily Show is broadcast internationally, I do my stand-up show in seven different languages.
Actually, I donít know that itís much different. I was always pretty topical. But oh man, do I have a Lyndon Johnson chunk thatís going to blow the kids away. Well, really, with the country on code yellow, that has a tendency to influence where youíre going with your stand-up. The elections and where weíre going with Iraq ó these are things that have a little more relevance.
And then, of course, thereís my ending with the show tunes. Youíve got to give the kids some music. You canít just talk to íem.
Q: The showís previous host, Craig Kilborn, led with a parody of vacant anchor-man narcissism ó if that was a parody. But along with your satire comes a sense that you care.
A: Well, you donít want to be strident or didactic, but if you donít care, the show has no sense of direction, and that was one of the larger problems I had with it when I arrived. I wanted to add a point of view, so it came from a place that was consistent but real.
Q: Humanistic, too?
A: You try. Itís hard to write the show every day, but as long as you keep in mind what youíre trying to accomplish, you canít stray too far. Although there have been times . . . [laughs].
Q: In a New Yorker profile, you said that one of your earliest memories was the day Martin Luther King was shot. JFK and Bobby Kennedy were also killed in that era . . .
A: Not a good run!
Q: . . . so I wonder how that and growing up with Vietnam on TV affected your viewpoint.
A: Itís not just that. What informed a lot peopleís political upbringing was also a sense of protest leading into Watergate. Thatís a different cultural foundation than Reagan into George Bush senior.
Itís hard to point to moments and say those were the defining ones. I recall Martin Luther King being killed as one of my first memories, but I canít say that memory necessarily skewed my view one way or the other. I may have been too young to digest it.
Everybody likes to wonder how things play out in different directions. How did September 11 affect us, etc. For the most part, I just think itís a long road. Thereís still shit in my parentsí divorce that I havenít figured out, and I was 10 when that happened.
Q: Weíve talked about some serious stuff. What strikes you as flat-out funny?
A: Iím a big fan of people slipping on ice. A big fan of dignitaries coming out of planes and bumping their heads. Love that!
Jon Stewart plays the Orpheum Theatre, 1 Hamilton Place, next Saturday, December 14, at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the box office or by calling (617) 931-2000.