Late night satire’s biggest secrets were revealed live on stage in Montclair, NJ Friday night as Stephen Colbert interviewed Jon Stewart at the Wellmont Theatre, a fundraiser for the Montclair Film Festival.
While the two have discussed their work onstage together before, this was their first lengthy public one-on-one. And despite their 14-year professional relationship, each brought forth stories that surprised both each other and the sold-out audience.
It’s widely known that Stewart executed a shift in the Daily Show’s voice when he took over from Craig Kilborn in 1999, changing from a local news magazine format to the issue-driven satire it is today. But that change almost didn’t happen, and Stewart almost backed out of the gig altogether.
“What I did not realize is, a lot of the people who worked there were assholes,” Stewart recalled.
“I had, before taking [the job], some conversations with the powers that be there about the direction I thought we could move the show…. I wanted it to be satirical in the classic sense of the word, not the Spy magazine sense of the word where you just add adjectives like ‘pepperpot’,” he said.
When said when he met with the writing staff the month prior to taking over the show, he “got the impression that that had been discussed,” and he was met with strong resistance.
“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.
He immediately phoned his agent, James Dixon, telling him to “get me the fuck out of this. These people are insane.”
“How close were you to saying that was it, you weren’t going to do it anymore?,” Colbert asked.
“I had to be talked down from a moderately high cliff,” Stewart said.
According to Stewart, it took about two and a half years for the “natural winnowing process” to leave him with a fully supportive staff.
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