America’s most lovable talk show host wasn’t always so sure about his job. Apparently, when host Jon Stewart first arrived at Comedy Central, the Daily Show was not a pleasant place to work.
Picking up the pieces from departing host Craig Kilborn, who famously left after friction with female staff members and led a female coworker to quit after he told a sexually explicit joke about her to Esquire Magazine, Stewart quickly found out that the Daily Show writing staff was littered with “insane” “assholes.”
“I walk in the door, into a room with the writers and producers, and the first thing they say is ‘this isn’t some MTV bullshit’ …. And then I was told not to change the jokes or improvise,” he said during an interview by Stephen Colbert at the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, New Jersey. Stewart then abruptly contacted his agent ordering him to “get me the fuck out of here. These people are insane.”
Stewart claimed that it took 2 years for what he euphemistically referred to as the “natural winnowing process” to build a team that supported his vision for the show. (Read: Jon Stewart fired some people. Maybe even a lot of people!)
During the interview, Stewart also admitted that he felt regret for allowing Yusuf Islam to appear during his 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear, stating that he had misconstrued Yusuf’s views as more peaceful. Yusuf Islam famously condoned the fatwa against British Indian author Salman Rushdie for his 1989 book The Satanic Verses.
“I’m sure he doesn’t believe that people should be put to death for apostasy,” Stewart said, but added that when asked, Yusuf turned the conversation to “why do you have to insult the Prophet?”
It became “very clear to me that he is straddling two worlds in a very difficult way… It broke my heart a little bit. I wish I had known that. I wouldn’t have done [the rally with Yusuf]… death for free speech is a deal breaker,” Stewart added.
Some more tidbits, as reported by the Third Beat article:
- In a 2001 episode of the Daily Show, Colbert took on the role of Al Sharpton when the real Sharpton was a no-show for his scheduled interview. Colbert – a massive Lord of the Rings fan – had scored a pass for that night’s New York premiere of The Fellowship of the Ring. He was on his way out (“my hand is literally on the door”) when he was called to the studio over the PA system. The instruction was simply, “Sharpton didn’t show up. Be Sharpton,” he said. Colbert assured the Wellmont audience that he was happy to stay behind and accept the task. “It was so fun,” he said.
- During the audience question and answer portion, a man who had been in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, thanked Jon for the speech he made when the Daily Show returned and said how helpful it had been in his healing process. Stewart was gracious, but said “I don’t think I’ll ever in my life be able to watch that again,” admitting that he gets choked up just thinking about it.
- Another audience member asked the duo for marriage advice. Colbert told a story about how he used to sleepwalk (which was news to Stewart). Two weeks into his marriage to his wife, Evie, he had a dream that she had a tracheotomy hole in her neck, and little blue ghosts kept floating in and out of it. He decided he needed to stop this, so he placed one hand over the hole. The ghosts kept getting through his fingers, so he used both hands. Evie woke up to her new husband with both hands in strangling position around her neck. She responded with a calm but terse “What… are you doing?” He replied earnestly, “I’m keeping the ghosts in."
- Stewart’s least favourite guest of all time is Hugh Grant, “and we’ve had dictators on the show.” Grant spent his time at the studio complaining that he had other places to be. “He’s giving everyone shit the whole time, and he’s a big pain in the ass,” Stewart recalled. Grant also complained to the staff about the clip that was selected of the movie he was promoting, Did You Hear About the Morgans? – a clip that was obviously supplied by the film’s publicist. Stewart recalls Grant angrily asking “What is that clip? It’s a terrible clip.” “Well, then make a better fucking movie,” Stewart said, adding that he would “never” have Grant back.
- In discussing how people want to ascribe importance to their work, Colbert said “it doesn’t mean it’s not important. Because laughing is vital, it’s like oxygen as far as I’m concerned.”
See more quotes and fun facts from the interview after the jump.