Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, is one of the funniest and smartest people on the planet. He is a best-selling author, his show has won 14 Emmy awards and, according to a Time magazine poll, he is considered the most trusted newscaster in America.
The irony is that The Daily Show isn't really a news program and Jon isn't really a newscaster. He's a comedian who hosts a half-hour news satire that pokes fun at politicians and the professional journalists who cover them.
Now, Jon is taking a break from his riotous commentary on the news and is making headlines of his own. He recently announced his Rally to Restore Sanity, set to take place in Washington, D.C., on October 30, 2010.
Jon says he wants the event to highlight what he calls the "busy majority"—those who don't care about the partisan ideological battles that drive 24-hour news channels. "Seventy to 80 percent of the people in this country are reasonable, nice individuals, may disagree on principle on things, but could come up with rational compromises, could accomplish things, could get things done, could live with the results. And then the other 15 to 20 percent of the country run the place," Jon says. "People don't have time to take sides and to shout. 'Crazy' gets on television, but 'normal' has to make dinner."
Jon says he knows the rally won't actually solve anything but hopes it offers an alternative to the angry Americans typically seen on cable news channels. "They're scaring the hell out of everybody. This country is not a fragile country. Look how far we've come. We have had our issues. We had a Civil War. We had slavery. Now we're arguing about whether or not Glenn Beck is too hyperbolic?" he says. "We've come a long way."
Jon's 2004 best-seller America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction showcased his trademark wit in a parody of history textbooks and national politics. His new book, Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race, takes on an even larger target.
Jon and his co-authors find comedy in what sounds like a grim scenario: For some unknown reason, humans no longer live on Earth. The book's purpose is to help the aliens who will someday visit Earth understand its former occupants. Earth (The Book) skewers the entire human experience from reproduction and marriage to commerce and religion.
Jon says that while Earth (The Book)'s sense of humor is similar to The Daily Show's, the process of writing it felt different. "The show ... can feel very ephemeral," he says. "You work really, really hard every day to put it out there, and some days you're successful with it and some days you're not. That can be forgiving as a process, ... but there's not much time to savor anything either."
Jon's new book has nearly every aspect of life on the planet covered, but there's just one thing left out...there's no page on Oprah! To fix this oversight, Jon brings out the "missing" page from Earth (The Book).
Jon reads a passage of the page: "As you dig through our civilization's ruins, you will find references to a powerful and ubiquitous entity known as Oprah. An American media figure and entrepreneur in the 20 and 21st century and possibly 22nd century. Oprah did, indeed, possess extraordinary powers. But let's be clear. She was not a god."
Jon Stewart isn't just America's most trusted newscaster, he's also a husband and father of two children.
Jon says fatherhood presents special challenges for a comedian. "It is an amazing opportunity to be able to ruin someone from scratch. They will believe anything you say," he jokes. "How do you not prank such innocence? 'Daddy, are there monsters?' 'Oh, there they are!'"
Tracey, Jon's wife of 10 years, says Jon's legions of devoted fans would be surprised to see what he's like at home. "He never talks about politics or world events," she says. "I forget how smart he is until I see him on television."
While the September 20, 2010, issue of New York magazine called this "The Jon Stewart Decade," Jon says he doesn't spend much time thinking about the impact The Daily Show has on our culture. Instead, he says he focuses on meeting the show's own high standards of entertainment and information.
Jon says starting his career as a standup comic taught him the value of not placing too much emphasis on what others say about you. "You'd have nights where you would just bomb onstage, and you would feel like the biggest loser in the world. Then you'd have other nights with the same material where you would crush. What it begins to teach you is the reaction is not necessarily the barometer of the quality of something," he says. "I think there are people out there who like me too much and there are people out there who hate me too much. It's like figure skating: I just toss out the high score and the low score and I go, 'I'm probably somewhere in there.' To maintain any kind of balance in this type of industry, I think you have to develop that."
Jon has been the host of The Daily Show since 1999, and he's been on The Oprah Winfrey Show 11 times before, but Oprah's never been a guest on Jon's show. Jon jokes about all the ways he's invited Oprah to be a guest, but Oprah reveals none of them are true
Oprah: Why haven't you ever invited me on your show?
Jon: I invited you. I sent you notes. ... Want to come on my show?
Oprah: Yeah, I really would.
Jon: Seriously? Then it's done. ... Let me ask you a question. Will Travolta fly you there? And where are you going to take my audience?
Jon's most vocal fans have openly wished he'd run for elective office, but he says you'll never see his name on a ballot. "My ability to recognize not having the answers is what keeps me sane," he says. "I don't solve problems. If my job became solving problems, I would suddenly become a lot less good at what I do. You know, unless the problem that was being had by the country was a lack of jokes."