TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

So maybe you heard our interview with Jon Stewart that we broadcast on October 4th. Because I recorded a 90-minute interview with him, there wasn't time in our broadcast for many of the interesting things he had to say about his life, his show and his views on the news media. So today, we have a different edit of that interview with lots of new material.

Jon Stewart has been hosting "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central since 1999. The show's two Peabodys and 11 Emmys are examples of the widely held opinion that he's a brilliant satirist of politics and the news media.

He's been in the news a lot lately because of his Rally to Restore Sanity, which will be held next Saturday on the National Mall. On the website, it's described as, quote, "a rally for the people who think shouting is annoying, who feel that the loudest voices shouldn't be the only ones that get heard. If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence, we couldn't. That's sort of the point," unquote.

The occasion for my interview with Jon Stewart was the publication of the new "Daily Show" book "Earth: A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race." Our interview was recorded September 29th, before an audience at the 92nd Street Y in New York, which is famous for its lecture series, its lyrics and lyricists series, and its programs about Jewish life.

So it's the Million Moderate March, to Take it Down a Notch for America. And everyone is trying to figure out: Is this a new breed of comedy festival? Or is this, like, a political march to bring out the vote, particularly, like, the younger voters? Like, tell us what it really is.

Mr. JON STEWART (Host, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"): Well, when we figure out what it is, Terry...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You're going to call me?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: We're going to be delighted. First of all, let me just thank - I want to thank everybody for coming out. It's an honor to be at the 92nd Street Y, which - I don't know if you know this - the third-holiest site in the Jewish religion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: It's very exciting for me to be here, this, the - I believe it's the Wailing Wall, Zabar's and the 92nd Street Y. So obviously, for me, this is an honor, and it's...

GROSS: But what is the march?

Mr. STEWART: The march is - like everything that we do, the march is merely a construct. It's just a format, in the same way that the book is a format. You know, a show is a format, the book is a format to translate the type of expression that we do, whether it be a satire on the political events. It's a format to be filled with the type of material that Stephen and I do, and the point of view.

So it's not - you know, people have said it's a rally to counter Glenn Beck. It's not. It's - what it is, is we saw that and thought, what a beautiful outline. What a beautiful structure to fill with what we want to express in live form, festival form.

GROSS: Now, are you nervous at all about tens of thousands of people are going to leave their homes and travel long distance because you asked them to? And anytime there's this, like, huge rally in the National Mall...

Mr. STEWART: You're saying: Am I a Jew?

GROSS: That's exactly - no, I mean, it's like...

Mr. STEWART: I'm nervous about everything. I'm nervous about...

GROSS: It's like, worse than throwing a wedding or something. I mean, it's like...

Mr. STEWART: No, I'm nervous about traffic. I'm nervous about everything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: No, I know, but it's like...

Mr. STEWART: I'm nervous - I would like to see a bus that's just filled with Purell go down there. I don't, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: ...I'm nervous for everybody. I don't want people to get sick. I don't want them - we're, at the rally, we're going to be, we're going to have -you know how rallies usually have, like, things you can buy. We're going to sell scarves. I mean, it's the end of October. It could get chilly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Now, you made "The Daily Show" a much more political show than it was before you came.

Mr. STEWART: Right.

GROSS: Because it was - it pre-existed you, but you completely changed the show. And before I ask you about how doing the show changed you, I want to play you a short clip of what Stephen Colbert said, when Stephen Colbert was on our show the first time a few years ago.

Mr. STEWART: How did you get access to him? Because I call over there all the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Very busy man.

GROSS: So this is what Stephen Colbert said about...

Mr. STEWART: All right.

GROSS: ...being on your show, working with you and becoming more political. Here it is.

Mr. STEPHEN COLBERT (Host, "The Colbert Report"): When I got to "The Daily Show," they asked me to have a political opinion - or rather, Jon did. Jon asked me to have a political opinion, and it turned out that I had one. But I didn't realize quite how liberal I was...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COLBERT: Until I was asked to make passionate comedic choices, as opposed to necessarily successful comedic choices.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So he feels that he became more political because you pushed him to make passionate political choices in humor. Did doing the show make you more political than you ever expected to be - more politically aware, more politically engaged?

Mr. STEWART: I think it made me less political and more emotional. The closer you spend time with the political and the media process, the less political you become, and the more viscerally upset you become at corruption. So it's - I don't consider it political, because political I always sort of denote as a partisan endeavor.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. STEWART: But we have - I have become increasingly unnerved by just the depth of corruption that exists at many different levels. I'm less upset about politicians than the media. I feel like politicians, there is a certain, inherent - you know, the way I always explain it is, when you go to the zoo and a monkey throws its feces, it's a monkey.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: But, when the zookeeper's standing right there, and he doesn't say bad monkey...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Somebody's got to be the zookeeper. And that's - so I tend to feel much more strongly about the abdication of responsibility by the media than by political advocates.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEWART: They're representing a constituency. And the media - you know, our culture is just a series of checks and balances. That's why I'm never - you know, the whole idea that we're in a - suddenly a battle for, between tyranny and freedom - it's a series of pendulum swings. And the swings have become less drastic over time.

That's why I feel sort of, not sanguine, but at least a little bit less frightful in that our pendulum swings have become less and less. But what has changed is, I think, the media's sense of their ability to be responsible arbiters or - I think they feel fearful.

I think there is this whole idea now that there's a liberal media conspiracy. And so if they feel like they express any moral authority or judgment - which is what you would imagine is editorial control - that they will be vilified. Or there's - you know, I honestly don't know what it is.

GROSS: So it strikes me that your interviews have gotten more serious over the years - not all of them, but some of them. Most famous: Jim Cramer - well, one of the most famous, Jim Cramer, which basically held him and CNBC responsible for the financial meltdown because they weren't really reporting it.

And what I mean by that is you accused him of being able to see this coming, of knowing the things happening behind the scenes.

Mr. STEWART: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So what were the repercussions of it? Because he's certainly...

Mr. STEWART: He was sad.

GROSS: He was sad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. I think he expected something more humorous.

Mr. STEWART: Probably.

GROSS: And you, but anyways...

Mr. STEWART: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: I guess what I'm really wondering is, how it left you feeling about doing really serious interviews with somebody.

Mr. STEWART: Oh, I don't care for it. I'm not, you know - I think I've done, you know, three like that in 12 years. The intention is never to go out there and be humorless and sanctimonious - not that I can't do that, you know, and have shown that in the past.

But some of it is the alchemy of the person's reaction to how it's being presented to them, their reaction if there are moments in a conversation where you become infuriated. But that's never - it's never the goal. And the entire sort of ideology of how it all happened is silly.

We were basically making a case - the Jim Cramer, Bear Stearns stuff that we ran - and I don't know if anybody's familiar with it, but it was, you know, right before Bear Stearns went from, you know, $60 to six cents - you know, like that week he was like: Bear Stearns, you'll love it. You know, and then he hit the button and they're like (makes noises). You know, that whole thing.

So we had done that a year ago. And so when we put it back in, it was just, it was all a reaction to - there was a gentleman named Rick Santelli, who had gone on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and had done - this was his famous sort of Tea Party rant.

And it was about the irresponsibility of homeowners, and how dare the taxpayers have to bail out irresponsible homeowners who had taken loans that they were unable to pay off.

And I thought that was an incredibly arrogant statement coming from somebody who worked for CNBC, a 24-hour news network devoted to financial analysis, who call themselves experts, who - how was their judgment?

So that was the - the whole way that the bit came about was, you're yelling about the judgment of individual homeowners who took on loans that they didn't realize were going to bury them, or they didn't know that the values would go underwater. Let's go back and check your judgment. And it was just a 10-minute clip package of them being wrong.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. STEWART: He was one very small part of it. But he poked his head up and went, that was unfair. That was out of context. So I said - because we don't want to take people out of context: Hey guys, I thought we checked this out. Go back and check, because if that's not fair, we should actually come up with a way to figure that out. Well, it turns out not only was it fair, but there was a whole other Christmas box filled with (bleep) predictions.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. STEWART: So, what do you do in that situation? You put those together.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Then you put that out there, and then he goes: That's it. I'm coming on. I mean, they called us and said: Can he come on? And...

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. STEWART: And there was no - you know, they made a whole thing like well, they promised they wouldn't do the - no, we didn't. We didn't promise anything. In fact, I went back there right before the interview and said: Look, man, this probably isn't going to be a pleasant conversation. I hope it'll be fair. See you out there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: One of the amazing things you did on your show, after "South Park" did its Prophet Muhammad sequence over the summer...

Mr. STEWART: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And the whole idea was that, you know, the Prophet Muhammad was like, hiding in a truck, I think - like under a shroud or something.

Mr. STEWART: Bear suit.

GROSS: And - bear suit, right. And you're not supposed to depict the Prophet Muhammad visually.

Mr. STEWART: Especially in a bear suit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But it turned out it was really Santa Claus. It wasn't the Prophet Muhammad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But...

Mr. STEWART: And then at the end you were like, geez, why was Santa really hiding? It didn't really make a lot of sense.

GROSS: But still, a lot of people - I think a lot of Muslims were very angry at even the sentiment behind it. But...

Mr. STEWART: I don't think even a lot were. I think there were certain...

GROSS: Some. Some.

Mr. STEWART: ...extremist groups that expressed their outage.

GROSS: Yes. Right. And there were death threats against...

Mr. STEWART: I believe that's correct.

GROSS: Yes, the creators of "South Park." And you did an incredible thing afterwards. You devoted a segment to it, and then you said: I say to anyone who's threatening death in the name of religion or politics -and then a gospel group came out, and then - do you want to say what you did?

Mr. STEWART: I believe the phrase was: Go (bleep) yourself.

GROSS: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: And then we danced and sang. Can I tell you the most difficult thing about that?

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEWART: Finding a gospel group that'll sing, go (bleep) yourself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I tell you, they're not - not easy to find. We called a lot of churches. We're like, do you have a gospel group? Yes, we do. Would they possibly come on and sing, go (bleep) yourself? And they're like, yeah, we could do "Amazing Grace."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Can you do - you know, so the negotiations to get them up there were difficult. But, you know, I think the lesson that I sort of took from all that is, again, there's a difference between disagreeing with people, like newscasters on Fox News that I think are incorrect in their analysis of the day's events, and people that threaten to kill you for putting a cartoon image of Muhammad in a bear suit. And that's a line that we too often forget.

And it's very easy to dehumanize - and I will say in this room: I would imagine, you know, Beck and Palin are easier punching bags. And we can think of it as, oh my God, I'm so scared if they take over. And you know what? We'll be fine.

You know, we had a Civil War. Just - we're not that fragile, and I think we always have to remember that people can be opponents, but not enemies. And there are enemies in the world. We just need the news media to help us delineate.

And I think that's where the failing is, that the culture of corruption that exists in the media doesn't allow us to delineate between enemies and opponents. And that's where we sort of fall into trouble.

GROSS: Now in terms of consequences...

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEWART: (Singing) We are the world.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: (Singing) Yeah, love on the rocks. Ain't no surprise. Something, something...

GROSS: That's good.

Mr. STEWART: (Singing) ...tell you no lies.

GROSS: That's good. OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: (Singing) Baby, we were born to run.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So you were doing comedy long before "The Daily Show."

Mr. STEWART: Yes.

GROSS: So what was your comedy like before it became a critique of politics and media?

Mr. STEWART: Mostly balloons.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: It was a critique of religion and politics and media. It was my feelings on that, but in a - just in a much less savvy form, a much less technically aware form, a much less educated form.

Our process has allowed us to extend it, you know. The amount of material that we go through in a day now - I mean, it took me six years to write my first, you know, 45 minutes.

GROSS: What was in the first 45 minutes? Tell us something that was in it.

Mr. STEWART: There was, let's see - you know, it was so long ago. This is 1980. There was a lot of Saddam Hussein stuff. I don't know if you remember that guy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: There was stuff about - I remember the first Persian Gulf War, where, again, it was this idea that, you know, everyone was afraid it was going to be another Vietnam.

I think the joke was, you know, it was going to be another Vietnam. We can't go in there. It's going to be another Vietnam. And then the whole war lasted two days. There wasn't even another Woodstock - you know, it was that kind of thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Or that, you know, there's a lot of those types of issues still. It was actually a lot of religious stuff sort of working out.

A comedian's first 15 minutes is typically about his life. I'm a - you know, your first joke is usually who you are. You just kind of walk out and go, I'm a Jew who was raised in New Jersey - joke.

You know, it's - and then you work through your family and, you know, you basically go through your entire history with them, and then you sit and stare at them, but they're not doing much. So you have to then spread out.

So then your next jokes usually come from where you go on the road. So I've taken my act about being a Jew from New Jersey to Tennessee. Want to hear about Tennessee?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: You know, and then that's your next...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. STEWART: Your next act is about your life as a comedian. And then when that's exhausted, you tend to turn your vision to the world, and that becomes sort of your tableau for the rest of your career - at least in the instances that I've seen.

GROSS: We'll hear more of my onstage interview with Jon Stewart after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to the interview I recorded with Jon Stewart last month at the 92nd Street Y in New York.

You got MTV shows earlier in your career and worked on other shows. But when your MTV interview show was discontinued, you went on Letterman's show right afterwards.

Mr. STEWART: Right - no.

GROSS: Was there another show that was discontinued?

Mr. STEWART: Yeah. It was - there was an MTV show, and then it was bought by the guy - Arsenio Hall was on, and he had a Dog Pound...

GROSS: Right. Yeah.

Mr. STEWART: Then he left.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. STEWART: And they thought, who is going to look out for the Dog Pound?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: So they hired me, because what a perfect line of succession that would be.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I have an idea: Let's bring in the opposite of him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: So that lasted a very short time, and that was the thing that...

GROSS: That was the thing that was canceled.

Mr. STEWART: That was the thing that got canceled. Then I went on Letterman that night. Although, I was scheduled to be on Letterman not - it was happenstance more than it was...

GROSS: Right. Right. So what you said to Letterman was that you were thinking of going to L.A., but in L.A., everyone tries to tell you who you are. And in your case, they tell you, you're a younger Richard Lewis. You're a younger Jerry Seinfeld - which means: I'm a Jew.

Mr. STEWART: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So if that's what they were telling you who you were, who did you think you were then?

Mr. STEWART: That's one of the things that I think I pride myself on, is not thinking about that.

GROSS: Yeah?

Mr. STEWART: You know, I never in my career have ever thought about what the goal was. The goal was always to be better than I was at the present time at what I was doing.

As a stand-up, my break in stand-up was not getting on Letterman. My break in stand-up was - there's a place called the Comedy Cellar in the Village on MacDougal Street, and a great group of guys that were together in those days performing. And they put me on every night at 2 a.m.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I was the last guy on every night - and not on the weekends, because I wasn't good enough for weekends. So, Sunday night through Thursday night, it was me and drunk, Dutch tourists...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: ...in a basement in the Village, and I would perform for the plate of hummus that would be served to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Because above the Comedy Cellar is a Middle Eastern restaurant because - because, of course. And I went on every night, and I learned the difference between impersonating a comedian and being a comedian.

And that was my break was learning how to be authentic - not to the audience, but to myself. I developed a baseline of confidence and also insecurity. I knew how bad I was, and I knew how good I was. And that is what helped me through a lot of the ups and downs as we went along.

GROSS: You're much more comfortable at the anchor desk on "The Daily Show" than standing up in front of a microphone?

Mr. STEWART: No. I love stand-up comedy.

GROSS: Okay.

Mr. STEWART: And the anchor desk, to me, feels more of an artifice than - the show, as it's done, I understand the practice of it. Performing the show is the last thing I think about. My day is writing and rewriting the show. And then a lot of times I'll be like, okay. Let's go. Right. Right, and then you think about it. But that, to me, is artifice. I like the crafting of it.

GROSS: Tell us a little bit about what the morning meeting is like.

Mr. STEWART: The morning meeting - as we call it, our morning cup of sadness -we get in around - you'd be incredibly surprised at how regimented our day is and just how the infrastructure of the show is very much mechanized.

It - you know, we come in, and it's not - people always think "The Daily Show," you guys probably just sit around and make jokes. We've instituted - to be able to sort of wean through all this material and synthesize it and try and come up with things to do, we have a very, kind of strict day that we have to adhere to. And by doing that, that allows us to process everything and gives us the freedom to sort of improvise.

I'm a real believer in that creativity comes from limits, not freedom. Freedom, I think, you don't know what to do with yourself. But when you have a structure, then you can improvise off it and feel confident enough to kind of come back to that.

So the morning meeting is at nine o'clock. And what we've done is we have - I guess you'd call them mole people that live in a little, subterranean area of our building. And they are charged with watching all of these shows. And they are just tragic, tragic individuals.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: They are - they live lives of true sadness. They are mole people. They're - someday they will be free, and we will all celebrate their freedom. George Bush will come in and free them.

The - so the morning meeting is, it's typically what are the top stories, and how have they been covered? We have a nine o'clock meeting and a three o'clock meeting.

The nine o'clock is to kind of rehash the sort of analysis that we were going over the night before, to see if the premises and hypotheses that we had come up with the night before have come to pass, and what's the video evidence.

And then we take that, and we sort of - then we begin to knit it together for writing assignments. And then those writing assignments are usually coming back in at 11:30, at which point we begin to read them. There's really - my day is very interesting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Then we read them and go over the notes of how we want to attack it. We don't have enough there. We'll push it back out to the writers. They'll come back at 12:30.

And the day basically goes as sort of a little dance of collaboration between writing and rewriting and including all of the other elements of graphics and all those kinds of things to put together.

GROSS: We'll hear more of my interview with Jon Stewart in the second half of the show. It was recorded onstage at the 92nd Street Y in New York.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Im Terry Gross, back with more of the interview I recorded with Jon Stewart September 29th, on stage at the 92nd Street Y in New York. We broadcast part of that interview on October 4th. But now, we're going to hear material we didn't have time for during our first broadcast, including questions that came from the audience.

So you were voted most funny person in high school.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What got you that honor?

Mr. STEWART: It was mostly the political stuff.

GROSS: Yeah, I'm sure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: You know, I was obnoxious. I was obnoxious and people in New Jersey in the late '70s dug that, man.

(Soundbite of snapping fingers)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: You know, I think I always - it's not like I was morose and then suddenly went into comedy. I mean, I was a - I guess what you would consider back then, a pain in the ass.

GROSS: So was this from, like, did you have a stage or something to be funny on, or were you just like, funny in the halls or?

Mr. STEWART: No, I had a stage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I had a stage set up and then people would...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: ...come by and go, hey, what are you going to geometry class? Nice shirt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Does it come in men's? Boom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: You know, that kind of comedy...

GROSS: And were you performing? Were you in shows? Were you in...

Mr. STEWART: I was not into theater. I was into sports and...

GROSS: That's funny.

Mr. STEWART: Well, I had the...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I had the dream.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I had the dream that I would not have Bud Harrelson's body. I thought I would have, perhaps, I would grow into something. So I wanted to be an athlete. I didn't want to be in show business.

It was a very different world, and I know a lot of people here are of that era. It was not - we were not in the world where everybody was special yet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: We had not entered into that stage of where everybody had a Facebook page that they could personalize with tunes they love. And you know, my kids will never know what it's like to have nothing to watch because there's like - they will - I mean, I'm surprised that when we have human interactions, they don't like go, let me freeze that and just run that back. Like they're...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: They're accustomed to things being presented to them when they want it, in exactly the form that they want it. And they're accustomed to the idea that - I'm special, and I can do anything, and if I do it, just by the very nature of me doing it, it is in fact then special. I came from the era of, you're not special.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Don't - oh, you think you're special? You're not so special.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Jewish parents can be very good at giving you that...

Mr. STEWART: Oh, no, my mom - well, listen...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. STEWART: I mean, that's not her, but that was the culture of the time. She was, I think, an anomaly in that era. You know, she - there was like, a quiet confidence because she had to fend for herself. You know, divorced in the '70s, and that sort of thing. So I think she had a very different outlook. But that -the community at large was not like that. The community at large was, hey, hey, you going to move to New York, huh? Eh, good look at the Gay Pride Parade - you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Mr. Big Shot.

Mr. STEWART: Yeah. You know what I mean? It's not - it wasn't about empowerment and creativity. I didn't - there was - I had no sense of this world of expression that existed out there.

GROSS: Okay, so when you were 13 and you were bar mitzvahed(ph), what was the music that was...

Mr. STEWART: Do we have footage of that too? This is going to be interesting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: What was the music that was played at your bar mitzvah? Was there a band? Was there a DJ? And what was the music?

Mr. STEWART: The music that was played, I guess was "Tonight's The Night. I think the theme was Under the Sea.

GROSS: Did you have a theme?

Mr. STEWART: No.

GROSS: No. Good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Again, this is before people like hired the Yankees to come to their bar mitzvahs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I believe at the time the announcement after the bar mitzvah was: And I think there's pound cake in the back. Enjoy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: So it was, you know, and I think I was on crutches at the time and so I do...

GROSS: Seriously.

Mr. STEWART: I do have actually...

GROSS: Were you seriously on crutches?

Mr. STEWART: I was seriously on crutches. I broke my ankle.

GROSS: Was it a sports injury?

Mr. STEWART: A gang fight.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: We'd had a rumble. I think it was mathletes versus...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: It was a, yeah, you know what I had been doing; I think I had been playing basketball on a skateboard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I did a lot of that, though. And I went to the emergency room a lot, because I was always trying things like that.

GROSS: We're you really?

Mr. STEWART: Yeah. I would do that or I would say hey, you see those logs that go up like, halfway there? I bet I could jump over that. You know, and then I would run and like, get halfway up and then, you know, I mean like they'd take me home in a, you know, a wagon half the time or just leave me on my front steps.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: And, you know, my mom would have to come home and be like -hospital. Yeah, I think we (unintelligible).

GROSS: But seriously, yeah?

Mr. STEWART: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. So excuse the cheap psychoanalysis here, you're doing that with comedy now. You're taking those leaps with comedy. You really are. No, sorry. That is cheap. But it's true. But it's true. Cheap but true.

Mr. STEWART: What's interesting about that is people will say like, are you nervous about doing the rally? And you're like yeah. So why do it? Well, why not? What, you know, Steve and I always talk about this, which is when you feel like you want express yourself you need an impetus, you need a catalyst. And part of the catalyst is get yourself in trouble. And that's how I got into this business, I got myself in trouble, I moved to New York. There was no reason for me to move here. I always had a very happy life bartending at the Bottom Half and working for the state of New Jersey, but I wanted to get myself in trouble because I felt like I would not accomplish anything that meant something to me unless I did. And so moving here was a leap of faith but, you know, what if it didn't work out? Then it didn't work out. Life's not a - there is no guarantee in any way, if you go a simpler path.

GROSS: You worked so hard on the show. It's so obvious how much work you put into writing and performing it; and how long your day must be and how it never ends particularly, doing an event like this rally. I mean youre...

Mr. STEWART: You'd be surprised how easily I turned off when I go home.

GROSS: Really.

Mr. STEWART: I've gotten really good at when I go home, the kids and I, we watch The "Wizards of Waverly Place," and I don't think about it again

GROSS: Have you changed the amount of time you're willing to devote to the show and to work, now that you're the father of two?

Mr. STEWART: No. I'd rather they suffer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I'd rather not. I figure I'll catch up with them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: No. But what I have decided is when I'm home, I'm home. And to me, that's the difference. You know, I can't not be at work, but the real challenge is when I'm at work, I'm at work. I'm locked in, I'm ready to go, I'm focused. When I'm at home, I'm locked in, and I'm ready to go, and I'm focused on home. And we don't watch the show. We don't watch the news. We don't do any of that stuff. I sit down, I play Barbies. I, you know - and then sometimes, the kids will come home and play with me and then...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: You know, it just - you know, they're just sitting there. I mean, she's got a horse and a kitchen, and I just think like, the possibilities.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: If I'm able to give them my full attention for the amount of time I'm able to give it to them, I prefer that to, you know - I like to turn the switch on and off. And it's still, you know, it'll - in times like this, I don't sleep well, just because of so much that's going on. But I try not to let it affect me in my waking hours.

GROSS: Do you take anything?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Hmm. Manischewitz.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I'm going to read some questions from the audience.

Mr. STEWART: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What role does Judaism play in your professional life? How about your personal life? Gee, could we appear on the Jewish Y?

Mr. STEWART: I can't believe that came out of 92nd Street Y.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: You know what's great? Look through that. I bet they're all that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: What role does Judaism play in your day? Next question: Judaism, does it play a role?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Next question: your roles in Judaism, what do you think?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: The - I mean I don't know even, so what is it again? What is it again?

GROSS: It is again, what role does Judaism play in your professional life? How about your personal life?

Mr. STEWART: What role does Judaism play? Wait - let me, I don't know who ask this question, so let me just direct it to the audience, what do you want me to say? That it forms my...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Let me focus the question for you. I think maybe what they want to hear is did you ever practice? Was being Jewish ever significant to you, other than culturally, the kind of humor and...

Mr. STEWART: I think I am genetically, I don't know what tribe I am from, but...

GROSS: The Henny Youngman tribe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Yeah, I mean I'm not a - I don't prescribe, necessarily, to - I dont, you know, there's so many different things that go into Judaism and the cultural aspect of it. I feel like an outsider. So, to some extent, I guess, Diaspora is in my wheelhouse. But I don't know if that's Judaism or other things, or just the way my brain is wired.

GROSS: Well, you probably feel like an outsider among Jews, too.

Mr. STEWART: That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I would consider myself reform in the sense that, for instance on Yom Kippur this year, I had a bacon egg and cheese Croissanwich.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: No, I think, you know, I am respectful of those that practice religion. I think that religion is not the sole source of morality in this world, so I don't...

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEWART: I am respectful of it. If that's how you get your center and your bearing, I think that's great. I also think, like anything that powerful, there is a dark side to it that also needs to be addressed and oftentimes isn't, because of how delicate a subject matter, you know, it can be. So, that's generally how - I mean my wife is Catholic, neither one of us - we're raising the kids, obviously, to be sad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: We'll hear more of my onstage interview with John Stewart after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to the interview I recorded with John Stewart last month at the 92nd Street Y in New York.

What is your media diet when you go to serious sources for news?

Mr. STEWART: I read all the papers in the morning, Post, Daily News...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: ...the one they hand out by the subway...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: ...and sometimes I look at the ticker on the top of the cab.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I just - I read a lot of papers. I like, you know, for me, I like the active engagement with the news as opposed to watching it on television. I think it's, boy that's another thing that I think is really an interesting phenomenon now, is the disconnect between television news and news in the paper and where the emphasis is.

GROSS: You mean on the news channels?

Mr. STEWART: Well, if you watch the big story on the 24 hour news networks, who are no question, driving the discourse. They are the most fundamentally important drivers of public opinion and government action, I think. They are an incredibly powerful force. The disconnect between what they view as important and urgent, versus what you would see in a more traditional paper, is stark and pretty scary.

GROSS: You give your views of Fox a lot on the show. I mean you lampoon Fox a lot on the show. What about MSNBC?

Mr. STEWART: Because they're so good.

GROSS: What about MSNBC, though?

Mr. STEWART: If they were better at what they did, I think we'd lampoon them more. But they don't, you know, they're right now I feel like they are like Dennis the Menace compared to, you know... I mean Fox News is a brilliant organization. However you feel about their point of view, there is no denying the excellence with which they execute it. And the Roger Ailes is a brilliant guy.

You know, what stuns me is that nobody can match him - not on the Democratic side, on the liberal side, but on the side of creating a tenacious non-ideological moral arbiter that earns credibility from people, and earns their respect, and earns their sources. It's stunning to me that that can't be accomplished. Because MSNBC they're, you know, they're all getting their ass kicked. And CNN, god bless them, I mean it looks like a clown car just driving around like...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What about Rachel Maddow? What do you think?

Mr. STEWART: Say it again.

GROSS: Rachel Maddow, what do you think?

Mr. STEWART: I think Maddow is - she's doing a terrific job at presenting the liberal point of view from a well-researched position. Like, she is, I think, an example of a more ideological broadcaster, but who does it, I think, in a like, with moral clarity. You know, I don't feel like she's a bully pulpit individual. I think hers is a thoughtful liberal pulpit.

But, you know, it's MSNBC. The idea that MSNBC is in any way the type of well-oiled machine that Fox is, is an absolute - it's a nonstarter. You know, you've got three hours of Scarborough. What Fox News is great at is - it's almost like if you watch a weather map of how a hurricane starts and how it has to - and it builds and the whole, and there are cyclonic, you know, the guys in the morning go, you know, what happens is that night Hannity will be like, is Barack Obama a socialist who is indoctrinating your children? And then in the morning they will come on and go, some people are concerned about socialism in the White House.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: And you're like, I think that was the guy who was on at 10 o'clock.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: They feed each other, and what happens is there is no cold water, so the storm just builds and builds and builds. On MSNBC, you get a little bit of builds here but then Ed Schultz comes on and you're not really sure what the hell he's talking about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: And then it goes to Scarborough in the morning and that's cold water. You know, it's they don't have the discipline or the narrative to be able to focus it. And I - listen, I admire what they've done. I'm stunned nobody has copied it. I think the difference is Ailes provides his people with courage and cover; and the other, you know, I don't think it's a - there's a lot of smart people out there. I blame the editorial managing people.

GROSS: Okay. On "Crossfire" you argued that to rule on TV is different because you host a fake news show on Comedy Central. How do your roles and responsibilities change with the organizing of this rally? Is it fair to argue that your roles and responsibilities don't change?

Mr. STEWART: Sure it's fair to argue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Are we done?

Mr. STEWART: It's fair to argue everything. I disagree. You know, I think it matters in this world what you label yourself and how you conduct yourself, and that was my argument CNBC and Jim Cramer. You can't label yourself as, you know, more trusted than God on financial and then deliver what you deliver. I do think there's a difference between the responsibility that journalists have and the responsibility that I have. But like I say, if things are out of context, we will correct them. We are not trying to manipulate things to the point where they lose their intent and meaning, and that's just the way we operate. Now - but, there is this false idea that we have to be fair, that there has to be a fairness in what we do. If you - you have to find equivalents on each side and all that.

It's a wonderful game every body is playing, in that they have misconstrued criticism as persecution. And they have created a great little trap, that any criticism of them, however valid, is further proof of the plot that is out to get them and how persecuted they are. And it allows you to escape any of your own sense of think... You know, what we were arguing on, I don't even care about civil discourse. I don't mind people yelling as long as it's authentic. But what it felt like to me, is it was gamed. "Crossfire" felt like to kabuki, it didn't feel, I wasn't arguing that you shouldn't have people who disagree on. But, I was arguing that there should be some moral authority in the room, earned or otherwise, that has to be able to say okay, there is a difference between you don't believe that gay people should be able to get married and lying about statistics when it comes to what happens to gay families and children. There's a big difference in that.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEWART: And there has to be a moral authority in the room, to be able to not go: that was an interesting discussion, we'll be right back. But to be able to go: oh, hold on one second. That was bull (bleep).

GROSS: Now you told Paul Belgala and Tucker Carlson in a stunning guest appearance on their show "Crossfire," that they were ruining America. And...

Mr. STEWART: Well, that was - I was trying to be flippant at the time. You know, I'd always made fun of the show and I thought I'd come on there and be like hey, guys, you know, remember all that stuff I was saying about your show? Yeah, I mean that. You are terrible. You know, and I thought they'd be like oh, that's right, I thought that's funny and they'd move on. But then they came, you know, I realized they had prepared gotcha questions about how I had soft-balled John Kerry, and that's when I think, as I say, the alchemy, the moment takes over and you just go, seriously?

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. STEWART: Okay. Let's - gentlemen, let's do this. You know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: And that's what happened.

GROSS: We'll hear more of my on stage interview with Jon Stewart after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to the interview I recorded with Jon Stewart last month, at the 92nd Street Y in New York. Here's another question that was given to me by the audience.

Someday the "Daily Show" will end. This sounds very portentous...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Who said this? Is this what's, where - is this how it happens? Is it...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Am I being fired?

GROSS: Do you have any...

Mr. STEWART: The president of the network. He stands up. That's right Stewart. It's over.

GROSS: Do have any idea - and any is underscored - do you have any idea of what comes next for you?

Mr. STEWART: No. You know I think about it a lot, because it is exhausting at times. It's invigorating. I feel that this show uses every part of me and is the best iteration of what I can do in terms of this. But I also think at a certain point you don't like every part of you being used. And you want to have parts of yourself back that you can use for other purposes. And I think that will ultimately happen.

GROSS: Like sleep?

Mr. STEWART: Sleep is nice. You don't want to get wound up - I mean I'm - this is not a complaint about like, you don't understand what it's like in the mines. You know, we're, I mean I'm a turd miner. It's not like, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: But we, you know, so there will be a certain limit to it. I have other thoughts about what I'd like to do, things I'd like to go back and just, I'd like to, but the main thing I'd like is when my kids get a little older I'd just like a little more flexibility.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. STEWART: You know, it's, at a certain point it's quite to be three o'clock and one of them is going to have let's say, karate match. Sure.

GROSS: Two people want to know if you actually read the books of the guests that you have on.

Mr. STEWART: I read the book's both, back front cover.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: It depends on, you know, some weeks we have four books and they can be big ones and, you know, historical nonfiction. But I read pretty quickly, and I try and read as much of the books as I possibly can. and I have a pretty good ability of getting through it, retaining a good deal of its information, for a four to six hour period.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: And then having it disappear from my brain for the rest...

GROSS: God, do I know that feeling. I so know that feeling.

Mr. STEWART: Oh, it has like a radio active half-life.

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. STEWART: I take it in and suddenly I'm an expert on the construction of the Pentagon and then by a clock that night I'm like, I didn't know there was a building with five flights, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: You know, it's, you take it in and then it's gone, so I cram, you know?

GROSS: So just one more thing: Do you have like, an experience on "The Daily Show," or as a comic, where you say, this is my peak experience; this is as good as it gets - like, this is so great?

Mr. STEWART: There was a congressional bill where they were going to get money for first responders for 9/11, for chronic health issues. And I mean, it's a no-brainer. The people that went into the towers that - or were down there searching, to have their health bills taken care of...

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEWART: ...and legislative maneuvering - the Democrats wouldn't bring an up or down vote, because if they did that, the Republicans would be allowed to insert amendments. And one of the amendments that they could insert was that you couldn't give any of the money to illegal aliens.

And so the Democrats were afraid that they would have a commercial that would be made that would say, you voted to give money to - so rather than standing up and being moral for the people that risked everything for us down there, they decided to try a legislative maneuver that made it so that two-thirds had to pass the bill, so that no amendments could be put in it. Well, the Republicans obviously, you know, shot it down - their own moral failing.

So we did a segment on the show called "I Give Up."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: And the ability to articulate our sense of just absolute sadness, but through a prism of comedy - like, we came in, in that morning just really despairing as we watched this go down. And we walked out that night, feeling like we had yelled and felt, you know, we had a - we put it through the prism and the synthesis and the digestive process that we put it through, and we made ourselves feel better.

And we didn't make ourselves feel better by ignoring it, by dismissing it, by not dealing with it. We made ourselves feel better by expressing our utter rage at the ineptness and lack of courage from our legislators. And we walked out of there that night feeling like, you know, what, (bleep) good day's work. That was it.

(Soundbite of applause)

GROSS: I would love to talk to you for hours, and I have a feeling our audience would love to listen to you for hours, but I am...

(Soundbite of applause)

GROSS: I am - sadly - required to end it about now.

Mr. STEWART: (Singing) Sunrise. Sunset.

(Soundbite of laughter) (Soundbite of applause)

GROSS: My interview with Jon Stewart was recorded September 29th on stage at the 92nd Street Y in New York. The occasion for our interview was the publication of the new "Daily Show" book, "A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race."

Our thanks to Susan Engel at the Y the Y's technical crew, as well as Steven Barclay and Kyra McGrath. You'll find links to interviews with other people from "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" on our website, freshair.npr.org.

Monday on our show, we will hear from Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, who has a new autobiography. Here's one of the first songs he co-wrote with Mick Jagger that he thought was really right for the Stones.

(Soundbite of song, "The Last Time")

Sir MIC JAGGER (Singer, The Rolling Stones) (Singing) Well I told you once and I told you twice. But you never listen to my advice. You don't try very hard to please me. With what you know it should be easy. Well this could be the last time. This could be the last time. Maybe the last time. I don't know. Oh no. Oh no.

I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song, "The Last Time")

Sir JAGGER: (Singing) Guess I'll feel the same tomorrow. Well this could be the last time. This could be the last time. Maybe the last time. I don't know. Oh no. Oh no. Well I told you once and I told you twice. Well this could be the last time. This could be the last time. Maybe the last time. I don't know.

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