Oprah: I think what your show has done, especially during the election, is allow people to ask, "Are we just being sold a bill of goods?"
Jon: There are a lot of people saying what we're saying, but I hope we're doing it in a funny and artful way.
Oprah: You are.
Jon: I'll take that. It's not about power. It's about allowing more people to sample knowledge because it's baked in a delicious chocolate cake.
Oprah: And you don't have an agenda?
Jon: We do have an agenda—just not the one many people think we have.
Oprah: Do you have an intention?
Jon: Ooh, well done! Yes, and it's a selfish one. The barometer I use is mostly internal. A bad day for me is when I feel incompetent, not when I feel powerless.
Oprah: What makes you feel incompetent?
Jon: Poor execution. The show is a recipe of the silly, the relevant, the didactic, and the bawdy. We try to mix it in just the right measure so that it tastes delicious but still has enough nutrients. I would love for this show to be as competent as Seinfeld. I just want to be really good at what I do and feel good about doing it.
Oprah: Do you?
Jon: On more days than I deserve. But some nights, I'll come home to Tracey and go, "Honey, I got no mojo." It takes a while to hustle your way out of that—especially after a kid.
Oprah: Has parenting surprised you?
Jon: There's always talk about the red-blue cultural divide. But I'm surprised at the difference between having kids and not having any. Tracey says she now sees everyone as somebody's kid. When I look at Nathan, I think, I could kill someone for him. In fact, I could do it almost every day. When I see people walking down the street, it's like, Somebody is crazy about this person in a way that hurts his heart.
Oprah: Or somebody needed to love that person.
Tracey: Now we sometimes see people and think, Somebody wasn't so good to them.
Oprah: Since you've hit your stride on The Daily Show, do you feel successful?
Jon: I feel comfortable in my own skin. For me, that was the battle.
Oprah: When did you win it?
Jon: What time is it? When you walked in the door and I didn't cry. No, really—it was gradual. After college, I bartended while working for the state on a puppet show about disabilities—I was literally helping and hurting people, all on the same day. While the show was a noble effort, it was completely unsatisfying for me because I didn't feel part of it. When I dreamed, I dreamed of being somebody else. I realized I needed to create something I felt part of. Then slowly, that feeling of wanting to be someone else went away.
Oprah: You'd rather be yourself.
Jon: Right. I think that's a huge victory.
Oprah: I think so, too. If I come back in a second life, I want to come back as me.
Jon: [Laughs.] You know what? I'd like that, too.
We Hear You!