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Jon Stewart

The Rise of America's Preeminent Political Comedian


The Daily Show's Jon Stewart

Daily Show host Jon Stewart


In 1998, Comedy Central's Daily Show was a mix of TV news satire, celebrity interviews and a liberal dose of frat-boy smarm delivered by its host, ESPN refugee Craig Kilborn. It was a funny, irreverent show to be sure, though nothing particularly memorable. But by 1999, Kilborn moved on to CBS' Late Late Show, and a nebbishy comic from New Jersey took over The Daily Show's anchor chair to little fanfare.

At the time, Jon Stewart was best known as the ill-fated successor to Arsenio Hall's late night-talk show. In the intervening years, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart has become a bellwether of political satire, and Stewart has established himself as one of the country's premiere comedians.

With Peabody, Emmy and Grammy awards to his credit, Stewart has parlayed his celebrity into hosting duties for the Grammys and Oscars, a bestselling book (America: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction), and a notorious mano a mano with political pundit Tucker Carlson, which helped seal the fate of CNN's debate show Crossfire.

Why Jon Stewart Is So Damn Funny

Stewart employs a deft comic touch as he levels hilariously deflating broadsides at America's political landscape. Mixing piercing satire with spontaneous wit, Stewart essentially sits in the back of the country making wisecracks and throwing spitballs, as he once put it.

The Bush administration has made Stewart's job easy, although the success of the show owes in large part to Stewart's unflinching determination to expose hypocrisy, his pointed interviewing style, and his even-handedness in skewering anyone stupid enough to deserve it. Liberal-minded fans particularly love The Daily Show because it serves as an irreverent and intrepid check on power -- fulfilling a role all but abandoned by the mainstream media.

The Daily Show's refreshing candor is one reason why many people prefer to get their news fix from Stewart's show rather than conventional news outlets, making the show's onetime slogan – "The most trusted name in fake news" – more prescient and ironic than Stewart probably ever intended.

Jon Stewart Career Highlights

1986: Stewart, 24, moves to New York City to begin a career in stand-up comedy. His first appearance at an open mic event is an unmitigated bomb, and four months pass before he musters the nerve to get back on stage.

1989: Stewart lands his first TV hosting gig –- Short Attention Span Theater on The Comedy Channel, a forerunner of Comedy Central.

1992: You Wrote It, You Watch It debuts on MTV, featuring Stewart as host.

1993: Stewart's eponymous talk show gets its start on MTV. The same year, he's a finalist to succeed David Letterman on NBC's Late Night, which eventually goes to an obscure Saturday Night Live writer named Conan O'Brien.

1994: MTV's parent corporation, Paramount, axes The Arsenio Hall Show and moves Stewart's show from MTV into Hall's syndicated spot.

1995: The Jon Stewart Show is cancelled.

1996-1998: Stewart can't hold down a full-time hosting job but substitutes for Tom Snyder on The Late Late Show. In an art-imitates-life storyline, Stewart appears as himself on The Larry Sanders Show, as a frequent sub host for (and threatened successor to) late-night king Sanders (Garry Shandling).

1999: The Daily Show adds with Jon Stewart to its title. In an odd bit of synchronicity, Stewart begins hosting the program.

2000: The Daily Show dubs its year-long coverage of the 2000 campaign "Indecision 2000." Later, during the Bush v. Gore stand-off, Stewart says, "We had no idea the people were going to run with that." The show's election coverage in '00 and '04 gains both popular acclaim and Peabody awards.

2001 and 2002: Stewart hosts the Grammys.

Sept 2003: Sen. John Edwards announces his presidential run on The Daily Show, making him the first presidential candidate to launch a campaign on a TV comedy show. Stewart informs Edwards that The Daily Show is fake.

August 2004: Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry appears on The Daily Show for an interview. The exchanges between Kerry and Stewart are awkward and lackluster, and Stewart later acknowledges that it wasn't one of his better interviews.

October 2004: Appearing on CNN's Crossfire to shill for America (The Book), Stewart pleas with hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala to "stop hurting America." He accuses them of "partisan hackery" and says they "fail miserably" in their responsibility to the public discourse. Carlson ends the tense segment lamenting Stewart's lack of humor, and Stewart responds with a phallic epithet. Video of the show spreads like wildfire on the Internet, and Stewart's appearance is later cited by CNN president Jon Klein when he announces Crossfire's cancellation in January 2005.

March 2006: Stewart hosts the Oscars. His performance, light on the political jabs he employs on The Daily Show, draws mixed critical reaction.

Next: Jon Stewart Fun Facts, Sound Bites & Video Clips
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