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Behind the Scenes with Jon Stewart

‘The Daily Show’ Host on Fox News, Obama and the Power of Satire

jon stewart daily show rollingstone cover backstage set

Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com

In the new issue of Rolling Stone, on stands and available through All Access on September 16th, Jon Stewart talks to Rolling Stone Executive Editor Eric Bates about his disappointment in Obama, political satire in the post-Bush era and how the 24/7 media is corroding the national debate. This set of photos by Benjamin Lowy, shot behind the scenes at the Daily Show, is accompanied by the some of Stewart's most thoughtful, funny and provocative quotes from the story.

jon stewart daily show rollingstone cover backstage set

Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com

On the Power of Satire

"Everyone overestimates the power of satire. There’s a great thing Peter Cook once said. Somebody said to him that the most powerful satirists in history were the cabaret artists in Berlin during the 1930s. And Peter Cook said, 'Yeah, they really showed Hitler, didn’t they?' In a lot of ways that’s how I feel about it."

jon stewart daily show rollingstone cover backstage set

Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com

On Fox News

"Oddly enough, Fox News and our show have a tremendous amount in common, in that we are both reactions to the news and to government. We’re both expressions of dissatisfaction. His, I think, happens to be a slightly more powerful version [laughs]."

jon stewart daily show rollingstone cover backstage set

Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com

On His Disappointment with President Obama

"Obama ran on this idea that the system and the methodology are corrupt. It felt like the country was upset enough that he had the momentum needed to re-­evaluate how business is done. Instead, when he got elected, he acted as though the system is so entrenched that it has to be managed rather than – I don’t want to say decimated, because I’m not an anarchist or a nihilist. But I’m surprised at how much he deferred to the legislative process. He’s accomplished some things, and I’m sure he’s pleased with what he’s done, but I would have preferred to see something a little bit more transformative. They haven’t made the case that government can be effective, or accountable, or agile."

jon stewart daily show rollingstone cover backstage set

Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com

On Obama’s Attitude

"He feels like the only president who begins every press conference with a heavy sigh. I think he was already kind of over us by the time he got into office. And now he’s like, 'What the fuck is wrong with these people?'"

jon stewart daily show rollingstone cover backstage set

Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com

On Civility

"I don’t know if I have civility as a core value. That’s been overblown. But I do think it’s very easy to absolve behavior from people you agree with and demonize behavior from people you don’t. I believe that not everybody who doesn’t support gay marriage is homophobic. I’m not for civility. I’m for not amplifying everything to the urgency of evil."

jon stewart daily show rollingstone cover backstage set

Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com

On ‘Freedom’ and ‘Jobs’

"'Freedom' and 'jobs' are the loaded words that people use to shut each other down right now. It’s how 'terrorism' was used eight years ago. That’s the cudgel: 'Should we be talking about this? We should be focused on jobs.' Or if you don’t want to make a move legislatively, you say, 'I’m for freedom.' Really? Freedom is a pretty broad word that is not necessarily defined along the construct of 'Founding Fathers fighting a tyrant.' For most people, freedom may be a little bit more small ball than that: 'I want my kids on my health insurance' or 'If I lose my job, I don’t want to lose my house.' That’s the part of those arguments that drives me nuts. 'Jobs' is the same way. It’s not just the private sector. You may work for the government and feel that a government job is actually a job."

jon stewart daily show rollingstone cover backstage set

Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com

On Ron Paul

"I love the fact that none of them talk about Ron Paul. I don’t understand how a guy with consistent grass-roots support at the level he has is not a part of the conversation. I saw on the news networks, 'Rick Perry enters the race and immediately jumps in at second place, bumping Michele Bachmann down to fourth.' But they don’t mention, 'Hey, guess who’s in third place?' Ron Paul! Aren’t you going to say his name? You’re not even going to mention it? You’re just going to fucking follow Rick Santorum around as he goes into his 'Water is water, marriage is marriage. You can’t call water beer!' Nobody is fucking listening to that guy."

jon stewart daily show rollingstone cover backstage set

Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com

On the Debt Ceiling

"The debt ceiling would have been raised automatically if they had passed the budget before the election. The new House changed the rules to separate whether or not the debt ceiling would automatically go up. In some ways the Republicans are right in saying that without that forced issue, the Democrats wouldn’t have been willing to discuss the types of cuts that they’re discussing. So in their minds, they feel like it was effective. And what’s the penalty they pay for it? Other than the idea that the stock market now has no idea what’s going on. Their whole argument leading up to this was, 'The markets need certainty. So here’s how we’re going to give the markets certainty: We’re going to threaten to default on the United States of America.' OK. I get your logic."

jon stewart daily show rollingstone cover backstage set

Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com

On the News Cycle

"Ten years ago we could do something a week after it happened, and it wouldn’t feel dated to us. Now it’s like bananas – you bring ’em home, and the next morning they’re brown. You’re like, 'What the fuck happened?' It can definitely drain you a little bit."

jon stewart daily show rollingstone cover backstage set

Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com

On Media Vacations

"When I go away on vacation I won’t look at the computer – I’m out. It’s like oxygen suddenly returns to your blood – it’s awesome."

jon stewart daily show rollingstone cover backstage set

Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com

On Maintaining a Balance

"It’s an odd potpourri of outrage and sanctimony and preachiness, with fart jokes. There are definitely moments in rehearsal where we go, 'Wow, that’s a little strident or didactic. We might want to dial that down a bit.' But you also want to be in the moment of delivering it with an audience, so there are times where it will overreach. You just hope it doesn’t become unbearable."

jon stewart daily show rollingstone cover backstage set

Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com

On CNN

"Their version of clarity seems to me to be – [gestures at his plate] – grits without salt. It’s just all mashed up – there’s no direction, under the guise of 'integrity.' I can never figure out what the hell I’m watching. With other networks, you either agree or disagree with how they do stuff, but CNN feels like an opportunity squandered."

jon stewart daily show rollingstone cover backstage set

Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com

On Progress

"Ten years from now a Republican may look progressive. But I never think that things are intransigent. A guy on the floor of the Senate once beat another senator with a cane. We were in a civil war over slavery. The country began in a revolution, grew through a removal of a native people, enslaved a whole other group of people – and now our big culture battle is whether or not gay people can marry. That is a remarkable achievement as a society. If that doesn’t speak of the progress of a nation, I don’t know what does."

jon stewart daily show rollingstone cover backstage set

Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images for RollingStone.com

On Assholes

"I’m always of the mindset that any asshole victory is short-lived. It just is. They lose. Assholes lose. They’re annoying. They cause momentary hardships. But they ultimately lose. And that’s a good thing."

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