The Daily Show‘s Host Comes to UCSB
Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens, the now shuttered bar on Canon Perdido Street, was legendary for its constant jazz soundtrack. But every night at 11 p.m., the jazz would be turned down in favor of the TV’s audio. The Daily Show was on, and those gathered ‘round the bar—like the millions across the country who were tuning in with them—would soak up the wit and sarcastic wisdom of its host Jon Stewart.
Stewart, a comedian by trade, started The Daily Show in 1999 as a satirical news program covering the politics of the day. It became an overnight success, turning “fake news” into a force to be reckoned with. Today, Stewart’s guests are as prestigious as they come, and just last week, Howard Dean credited Stewart and his fans for the Democrats success in the recent election.
In some happy fluke of planning, Stewart will be stopping by the UCSB Events Center this weekend to deliver a little 75-minute stand-up routine in a rare public West Coast appearance, his only this season. He spent a few minutes on the phone with us this past Tuesday, and here is a trimmed version of that chat. Here is the full interview.
Hi, this is Matt.
Matt. It’s Jon Stewart.
How’s it going?
Oh, it’s good. I’m sorry I was a little late there. We’re doing a what-do-you-call-it-there, a stupid TV show.
You gotta do that, I guess.
Yea, every day.
I only got a few minutes with you, so I might as well start off here.
Jump in baby!
When the hell did fake news become more reliable than the so-called real news?
[Laughs.] From the advent of fake news, back in the old town crier days. That’s when it took off, sarcastic town criers.
It’s definitely experiencing a resurgence as of late.
The future of fake news is bright.
Do you think it’s especially popular right now because we have such bumbling, obviously evil administration?
I don’t know about that, but I do think that their incompetence coupled with an absurd sense of certainty provides a perfect storm, if you will.
I hear complaints about mainstream media all the time, but if you take away Fox News and look at the rest of the mainstream media, are they really that bad? It seems that if you look for the news you want to find, you can find it and a lot of the time it’s through the mainstream media outlets.
A part of the problem is we tend to think of the news like a borg, that it’s this giant organization that is working in concert. It’s really not, and I think that’s part of the issue, that people have that sense of the media. But it’s really a series of fiefdoms and I think part of the issue is how easily knowing that can help people manipulate what they want to manipulate. It’s sort of an easy system to game right now.
Blogging is out there now. Some of it scares me, in that you have people who have no training in news gathering and they’re out there spouting news. At the same time, it seems to have a leveling effect—you see a lot of blogs breaking stories that the mainstream sits on.
Listen, everything is judged on its own merits. Some blogs earn credibility, some blogs become known for being a resting shop for Photoshop and paranoid theories. It’s like anything else: if you put it out in the public, it gets vetted and that’s the vetting process. Also, there are definitely places where people go to find their own points of view reinforced. Blogs makes that easier. But in the larger perspective, that comes to the fore ultimately as well.
Speaking of the media, have you been aware of what’s going on with our daily paper, the News-Press?
I have not. What’s going on?
About five years ago, an independent lady came in and bought the paper and people thought it would be this good thing, because the New York Times had owned it then. People though it might be a return to the community. But then things got kinda funny over the last couple years, and about six months ago, we saw nine editors and writers quit because they said that the personal opinions of the owner and editorial page editor was creeping into the news stories and certain stories were even being killed. Since then we’ve had more than 30 people who’ve been fired or quit….
Vanity Fair did an article, it’s been all over the international news….
Yea, we got that going on.
Kind of exciting.
Yea, but it also shows the downside of smalltown ownership.
Right, but it’s always been that way. The only problem is when it is purposefully being used to distort. And there’s a lot of noise out there, you have to bring in the noise, and adding to it, that can be difficult. It seems like the media should be more active. If everyone is throwing fog out there, you should at least have a fan.
Are the certain media outlets you find do that more than others?
Uh, no. Not that I’m aware of, not in the larger context, no. But I think there’s a real opening for that. I think it would be great is someone as directed and impassioned as Fox News, but in that direction. And by the way, that’s not a liberal or conservative value, that’s a deconstruction value.
What are your thoughts on the current elections?
Oh, what happened? I was outta the country. Anything good?
I hear that Howard Dean is crediting you and everyone who watches your show as turning it around. Do you think the Dems can turn it around?
Time will tell. I think the most important thing to come out of this election was the sense that when things are incredibly shitty, and there seems to be a general consensus of their shittiness, that the process that was designed to lessen the shittiness still worked.
So it does still work, it seems.
I think it provided for people the same way it provided for people in 1994 when they felt like things were going the wrong direction. If 70 percent of the people go, “The country is moving in the wrong direction,” and one party has the entire power structure and they say, “We’re not changing anything,” if their catch phrase is “Stay the Course,” I think people weren’t able to change the dynamic, they would have felt somewhat feckless.
Ever try to get George W Bush on the show? Sure.
What’s he say? As far as I know, it probably never even gets that far. My guess is like, many things, it stopped at the gate.
Since you play the role of the funnyman on TV…
I don’t play the role of the funnyman! We’re actually writing jokes.
…I assume that some people might thing that you’re apathetic about things.
Really, because I see what we do as being adorably sincere. But one thing that is really important when you’re doing a show or doing comedy or doing anything, is that you can’t control how people perceive it. So we don’t worry a whole lot about whether we’re perceived as cynical, whether or not we’re perceived as democrat, whether or not we’re perceived a liberal or whether or not we’re perceived as nihilist or Whigs or dumb-asses or any of that. It’s all based on a feel for hopefully what we think is a good, entertaining show.
Did you know it was going to take off like it did?
I’ve been fired from enough jobs to never feel that anything is secure in that manner. But what I feel best about is that every year we’ve gotten better at doing it. That, to me, is the most important thing.
There’s a legendary bar in town called Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens that recently closed after more than 50 years. It’s real close to my house, so I know it well. The bartender poured strong drinks and jazz was played constantly. The only time every night that they would turn off the jazz and turn on the TV volume was for The Daily Show.
You’re kidding! And your story is “that’s why they went out of business”?
[Laughing.] So let that be a lesson to all the people out there who are trying to start a business.
And now, how are we so lucky in Santa Barbara to have you come through on your only public West Coast appearance? What’s the deal?
Honestly, I have no idea. I was coming out there to do a benefit in L.A.., and I’m never out there, so a buddy of mine said, “Why don’t you try to do a gig out here? Don’t just fly out Friday afternoon and go home Saturday morning.” So I said, “What’s near there?” He said, “Santa Barbara is beautiful.” I said, “Alright.”
Ever been here before?
No, never have. I really don’t know much about the West Coast quite frankly. Other than the fact that when the great reckoning comes you will all die in a fiery pit of hellfire because of the sinful and dangerous lifestyles that you all condone. Other than that, I don’t know a whole lot about it. And I am hoping that the hellfire doesn’t come down while I’m there.
I don’t know. It could be getting close with those election results.
You’re probably right.
Do they have you staying in a nice place out here?
I have no idea.
I’m sure you’re staying in a pretty nice place.
I hope so. If you see me in a tent, you’ll know it didn’t work out.
I heard that you don’t come to the West Coast because you’re afraid of flying. Is that true?
Not that I’m aware of. If they did build a pneumatic tube from New York to Los Angeles, I’d probably take that. It’s not so much that I’m afraid of flying, I just don’t like doing things. It’s more of an inertia thing.
Are you still coaching soccer?
I wish. I wish that my body was still vibrant enough.
Do you have full gig lined up for out here?
I’m gonna do a whole stand-up show.
Do you still do that much these days?
Not a ton, but I get out there probably once or twice a month, on the East Coast mostly, within driving range. I like to get back.
Well, thanks for your time. Got any bright, witty things to say on the way out here?
No. I haven’t had one of those in about nine weeks, but we’ll come up with something.
Alright, thanks a lot.
411 Jon Stewart comes to the UCSB Events Center on Saturday, November 18. Call 893-3535 or see artsandlectures.ucsb.edu for tickets.