Jon Stewart, the Edward R. Murrow of The Onion generation, sweeps into the room as if he’s made this entrance a thousand times: brisk, no-nonsense and sporting a wide grin that says, “Look out, America. It’s showtime.”
His hair is perfectly coiffed, just enough “poof” on top and a stylish dusting of gray on the sides. He looks younger than his 47 years, but maybe it’s the lighting. Age be damned, he still brings to the job a recoiling, childlike confusion to hypocrisy and lies. He unleashes the truth in a way that makes you go, “God, what a mess this country is in,” followed by the most stress-reducing laugh you’ll have all day.
That’s the man who comes before me, dressed as always in a perfectly fitted dark suit, looking equally suited to tell me what’s what in the way I want to hear it, the way millions of viewers look for it four nights a week on Comedy Central on “The Daily Show,” now the most trusted name in news on whom the most jaded generation relies.
I must admit it’s a bit intimidating to interview Jon Stewart. Unlike some people we get our hands on, he’s really smart – I mean super-smart, and he doesn’t suffer fools. On his show, he doesn’t offer easy questions and he doesn’t take easy answers. He’s lovably ruthless.
Before this moment arrived, I had imagined how this interview would go a hundred times. Jon and I (we’re on a first-name basis by now) would get started by going over a few of his thoughts about what’s too taboo to send up on the show. I’d find out which president he would want to riff on if he had a time machine and how his show would address another major terrorist attack. Then we’d chat a bit about the process, you know, the comedy industry stuff, and he’d probably comment that I’m asking great questions.
But first, let’s hit the basics. Born Jon Liebowitz (he formally changed it to Stewart, his middle name, in 2001), he attended William and Mary College and is married with two children. That’s private stuff, however. He doesn’t want to talk about the family, and frankly, I really don’t want to hear about them either. For a lot of women my age -- and I say this knowing my age -- this guy schleps into your libido and becomes the ultimate fantasy; the man you want and want to marry. It’s rare when humility becomes such a powerful aphrodisiac, but on him it works, and his audience is a jealous lover.
Right now he’s giving me that look — chin raised, knowing downcast eyes. The pen in his hand is quivering. We need to get things rolling.
So I launch into my first question: How has your celebrity status in news, with its access to powerful people and personalities most of us will never get to talk with or question, shaped or changed your views on our political leadership and popular culture?
Ah, but Jon only wants to talk about what he wants to talk about. That is, poking fun at the news of the day: the surreal vehemence of the health care reform protests, the Bizarro World musings of the “Tea Party” activists, the affairs of statesmen, that sort of thing.
The fact is, the guy’s just so gosh-darn charming that I can barely get in a word edgewise, and his disarming humor throws me off my game.
He even introduces me to some of the other “Daily Show” correspondents, who regale me with tales of their cross-country adventures.
Before I realize it, however, the 30 minutes I have with him is almost over, and until now I’ve only listened to him joke about current affairs without much to show for the interview.
But before I can get too stressed out about it, Jon offers me my moment of Zen. He flashes me a photo of an orangutan dressed like the pope. I start to giggle, and before I know it, the music takes over. Familiar credits begin to roll. I beg for a few more minutes, but Jon shuffles his papers and goes mute.
I don’t have time to wallow in disappointment, however. I only have two minutes before my next brush with celebrity: a sit-down with Stephen Colbert of “The Colbert Report.”
I must get ready, pick out something smart to wear. Stephen Colbert notices those things. He’s a fine judge of character — and so funny and cute! I can’t wait.
As exciting as my job is, it’s not easy being a journalist in these 24/7 TV media-saturated times. I’m booked solid in front of the set for the rest of the night. After my chat with Stephen — I hope he lets me call him Stephen — I get to meet with those delightful children from “South Park.” It should be great, but I’d better have a bleep-censor ready. Kids say the darndest things.
By Sandra Moen, Contributing Writer