Last Thursday night at Joe’s Pub in New York, Jon Stewart appeared on the live talk show Employee of the Month. The show is also a regular podcast and is hosted by Catie Lazarus, who put Stewart through a 45-minute exit interview of sorts. During the interview, Lazarus asked Stewart about why he’s leaving The Daily Show, what he’ll miss about his 16-plus years with Comedy Central, what he’s planning to do next, why he wasn’t a very good employee in jobs other than TV show host (such as actor and stock boy), and who he hopes will replace him.
As for why Stewart is leaving, he gave Lazarus several reasons. One of which was he wanted to have more flexibility with his schedule so he could spend more time with his family. In other words, he wants more work/life balance. And he joked that he only has four years left until his kids want nothing to do with him. He also joked that you can’t go 9 to 9 for 16 years and expect that your kids will listen to you when you tell them not to smoke pot. He also added that, post-Daily Show, it’s likely he’ll work more hours, not less, but said that those hours will be on his terms, giving him more time at home.
Another reason Stewart gave was restlessness. He said that even a little restlessness from the host wasn’t a good thing for The Daily Show. And that, as a result, it’s time for someone else to takeover who can bring their entire attention to the job, who’ll be there in “full spirit and mind.”
On the topic of leaving, Stewart noted that he won’t miss being on television, but will miss creating and collaborating with his team of Daily Show employees. In fact, he sang the praises of his Daily Show team on several occasions, saying that not only are they talented professionals but also excellent human beings.
At one point, Lazarus pointed out that Stewart has been a great mentor, noting that Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, and John Oliver have all come through the Daily Show ranks. To this, Stewart said he didn’t hold anyone’s hand and give them advice. Instead, he called mentoring an “act of collaboration.”
As for Stewart’s next career move, he told Lazarus that he’d like to return to doing more stand-up comedy and spoke warmly of his experience directing the feature film Rosewater and said he hoped to direct more.
Although the entire interview was full of Stewart’s pitch-perfect humor, Stewart was perhaps at his best when talking about his failures. Stewart knows well that the way to an audience’s heart is through self-deprecating humor, and, as always, he was unafraid to laugh at himself. In this case, the laughter involved his efforts at acting (Lazarus showed a couple choice clips of Stewart attempting to emote on the silver screen in B-movies of yesteryear; I challenge you not to laugh at the supposedly romantic scene between Stewart and Gillian Anderson in “Playing by Heart”). Stewart humbly noted that he doesn’t have the language to do what actors do, that he doesn’t have that kind of talent. That is, he knows his weaknesses and limitations.
Stewart, at the encouragement of Lazarus, also told the story about why he was fired from his first job—and fired by his brother at that. His brother managed a Woolworths in New Jersey and Stewart worked for a short while in the store as a stock boy. Until, that is, he caused an accident involving several beanbag chairs, a leap that would make an Acapulco cliff diver proud, and $2,000 worth of aquarium equipment and fish.
And when asked whom he hopes will succeed him, Stewart had this to say: “What I want to see there is the next iteration of this idea. I feel like the tributaries of my brain combined with the rigidity of the format—I feel like I utilized every permutation that I could possibly use.” In other words, new ideas are needed to make sure The Daily Show continues to improve.
Lazarus ended the interview by presenting Stewart with, among other things, a Cobra insurance form and a receipt for a dress she bought for an audition with The Daily Show that didn’t pan out. Taking a close look at the receipt, Stewart quipped, “Holy sh**! You really wanted a good job.”
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