Oprah Talks to Jon Stewart
Jon: Right. After every show, we have a two-minute postmortem where we go, "Jesus, I can't believe we did that" or "We should have moved that piece up higher." And then it's "What are we doing tomorrow?" When I come home, Tracey says, "Who was on the show tonight?" and I have no idea because it's not about that. It's about hitting the next night.
Oprah: People come up to me and say, "I was on your show two years ago," and I have no idea who they are.
Jon: At least we only have one guest a night. The Daily Show is really about the writing. We've realized that people will become accustomed to our voice, and we have to evolve it in a way that's inspired. You can exist on television for a long time as mediocre. You can become comfort food. We don't want that. I can't imagine doing this 20 years from now.
Oprah: Are there topics you consider off-limits?
Jon: I hope our humanity saves us from producing nasty or mean-spirited shows.
Oprah: You caused a media storm by calling Crossfire host Tucker Carlson a dick when you went on his show last year. Do you regret that?
Jon: I regret losing my patience. That's about it. But calling him a dick? Not really. I was calling that guy who was on that show right there a dick—I don't pretend to know Tucker as a person. But I regret going on air as tired as I was and not being more articulate with what I wanted to say.
Oprah: That's what happens when you're on the edge.
Jon: I thought, Let's just end this on a sneeze!
Jon: The TV networks have an opportunity to bring noise or clarity. So much of what the government and corporations do is bring noise because they don't welcome scrutiny. They don't necessarily want you to know what they're up to. So if you're working in a medium that has an opportunity to bring clarity and you instead choose to create more distraction, that's theater—which is what these news channels have become.
Oprah: Theater that isn't really challenging.
Jon: The reason everyone on Crossfire freaked out is that I didn't play the role I was supposed to play. I was expected to do some funny jokes, then go have a beer with everyone. By stepping outside of my role, I stunned them. Imagine going on Crossfire and expressing an opinion that causes a problem. Apparently, the only people you cannot put in the crossfire are the hosts of Crossfire. What they do isn't real. It's talking point, talking point, talking point. It's like, "We all understand this is a game. Now let's go have dinner." But for those of us watching at home, it's not a game. It's frustrating. And it wasn't their dismissiveness that riled me; it was their condescension. It was like, "How dare you come on here and not do what you're supposed to do?"
Oprah: Because you're supposed to be a comedian.
Jon: Right. What I ultimately said was, "Tomorrow I'll go back to being funny, and you guys will still blow." I have no respect for them. It was as if they thought I was suddenly taking myself too seriously. What do you think The Daily Show is about? Just because we're comedic doesn't mean we don't care about this stuff. We do.
Oprah: I love that you told John Edwards he'd have to announce his candidacy someplace else because it didn't count on a fake news show.
Jon: Right. My interview with John Kerry wasn't very good.
Oprah: You don't think so?
Jon: No. Our interviews either have to be really funny or find some humanity in the subject. I didn't do either. He remained guarded throughout, so it struck me as a boring fencing match.
Oprah: When I'm talking with politicians, I can't break that wall.
Jon: Politicians are salespeople. If you're trying to sell a product, what's more powerful than an appearance on Oprah's show? In the last four months, one book overtook America on Amazon. It's called He's Just Not That into You. When I saw that title, I said, "What the hell is that?" Somebody told me, "The author was on Oprah." So politicians see your show as their chance to display their theatrical humanity, not their real humanity. They come on my show to display their theatrical sense of humor—and to show that they're down with the kids.
Oprah: Kerry didn't accomplish that.
Jon: No, he didn't. Because he was—like I was on Crossfire—tired and in a certain mood.
Oprah: Right. So you don't think you'll be doing The Daily Show in 20 years?
Jon: I don't want to be. I love my wife, and we want more kids. I'm not going to disappear, but I don't want to work this hard.
Oprah: What kind of daddy do you want to be?
Jon: The kind who stays. The kind who doesn't say to a 9-year-old kid, "This doesn't mean your mother and I don't love you" as he's heading out the door.
Oprah: What's important to you?
Jon: That. I've achieved far more than I ever thought I would. I'm not complacent, but I don't think long-term. I tell myself, "If I get good at this, it'll be fun to do."
Oprah: Can you taste your success?
Tracey: I can taste it.
Jon: For her, it actually tastes like an online catalog. I just don't think it's in my nature to savor things. But I no longer live with a gnarly void, like an angry troll under a bridge.
Oprah: Isn't that what defines a real man?
Jon: That seems genderless to me.
Oprah: It's also what makes a real woman.
Jon: Yes. What I'm proudest of is moving to New York.
Oprah: You left the puppets.
Jon: Yes—and I surprised the crap out of everyone. I might have become a bitter guy at the end of the bar, complaining about how I could've been somebody. But I sold my car and moved up to New York with no job because I wanted something different. I yearned, and I went for it.