Jon Stewart Talks Oscars, Influences and Ambitions (and the Mets)

jon stewart backstage daily show
Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com
Jon Stewart backstage at the Daily Show
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In a wide-ranging interview in the current issue of Rolling Stone, Daily Show host Jon Stewart talks about Obama, Fox News, and fart jokes, among many other topics. So many, in fact, that we couldn't fit it all in the magazine. So here's an online-only cut from the extended interview.

Eddie Murphy just got picked to host the Oscars. Any advice for him?

Listen, the last person I would give advice to is Eddie Murphy. He’s gonna fucking kill it. He’s the type of guy they haven’t had in a while. He’s a movie star, but he’s a great comic – sort of similar to Billy Crystal in his “multi-ability.” 

He’ll probably be a little more show-biz in his approach than you were.

Right. With guys like me, you get the sense that at some level, deep down inside, we think it’s fucking ridiculous. Now that can make for a very entertaining show. But it’s good to mix it up.

The biggest problem of the show is the show. My favorite thing was when we showed one of their montages about all of these incredibly socially powerful films, and how Hollywood was a leader in the civil rights movement. I came back after the montage ended and said, “And racism was never a problem again.” You just felt the whole room go, “Hey, motherfucker! Who do you think you are?” 

Is there a comedian past or present who you particularly admire?

George Carlin is probably the gold standard in terms of the type of material he did, how prolific he was. Richard Pryor. But with those guys, it’s like saying, who do you like as a baseball player? “I think Babe Ruth was decent.” Those are easy pickins. 

There are a lot of guys around now that I came up with in the clubs: Louis C.K., Colin Quinn, Dave Attell. We all learned how to bomb together. Those were the guys you just love sitting in the back of the room and watching. They’re incredibly spontaneous, but you also enjoy the alchemy of the live – Wednesday night, 1 a.m. in the Village, watching them rip the shit out of a table who really are just there to celebrate their bachelorette party and had no idea that they were walking into the abattoir. They had no idea that the blades would be spinning as fast as they were. 

Seinfeld wasn’t our generation, but nobody crafts a routine as well as that guy. Chris Rock would come in and blow you away with some of the stuff he’d come up with.

You’ve been hosting “The Daily Show” for almost a dozen years. Are there still places where you run up against your own limitations – things you wish you were better at?

Oh, yeah. You have a small bag of tricks, and you try to deploy them in various permutations. How many times can you stare at a clip incredulously and twitch your nose? That’s one of the things I like about Colbert – he’s a five-tool player. He can do a lot of things, like Murphy and Crystal and those guys. You could have dropped them into a vaudeville show 70 years ago and they would have been perfectly at home. Their ability to bring any facet of the game is kind of remarkable. I’ve always thought that I’m narrower: There are certain things that I do well, and I’ve rode those monkey tricks as far as I can ride them. Then again, I also feel that limitations are one of the keys to creativity. If it came easy, maybe I wouldn’t have worked as hard. For instance, there are ways to handle impressions if you’re not a good impressionist that can actually make them come alive even more. You search for things. 

Give me an example.

Like the Bush thing for me, or the Cheney thing. What I try to do is boil them down to an essence as opposed to an actual impression, because I’m just shitty at that. But sometimes you find something in the laugh, or in just a “quack,” that encapsulates something you wouldn’t have come to if you actually had ability to mimic people’s voices. It’s always hard to say who you would be differently – it’s one of those crazy parlor game hypotheticals. But, you know, I also wish I was taller.

Is there a guest you’d really love to have on the show, if you could have your choice of anybody you haven’t gotten?

There’s no one in particular who I look at as the white whale. For me, having Springsteen on kinda did it. There’s no politician or world leader that I think, “Boy, if I only had a shot I really could unravel this Kosovo mess.” 

That’s interesting, because a lot of hosts, like the Oprahs of the world, always seem to have some dream guest they haven’t been able to get.

Yeah, I got nobody. Oh wait – Oprah! That’s it. That’s who I want. Son of a bitch. Thank you.

So you don’t lie awake at night dreaming of getting an interview with George. W. Bush. 

Yeah, I do lie awake at night, but not about that. It’s mostly about the Mets payroll. “Really? You’re going to drop it down after all this?”