Jon Stewart: America's Ruling King Of Fake News In an interview with Terry Gross, taped in front of a live audience in New York City, the Daily Show host deconstructs his upcoming "Rally to Restore Sanity" on the National Mall and explains how The Daily Show comes up with material.
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Jon Stewart: America's Ruling King Of Fake News

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Jon Stewart: America's Ruling King Of Fake News

Jon Stewart: America's Ruling King Of Fake News

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

This week, we're featuring some of our most entertaining interviews of the year. So obviously, we're including the interview with Jon Stewart that we recorded onstage at the 92nd Street Y in New York before an audience of about 1,000 people.

The occasion for the interview was the publication of the book by Stewart and the writers of "The Daily Show," called "Earth: A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race." We recorded our interview in late September, a month before his Rally to Restore Sanity, which was held on the National Mall.

Stewart is the executive producer of "The Daily Show" and has been the host since 1999, when Craig Kilborn left.

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

Mr. JON STEWART (Executive Producer, Host, "The Daily Show"): 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 ("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 Stewart laughing)

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

(Soundbite of Stewart laughing)

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 is 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: Now, one of the things that "The Daily Show" is incredible for is what I've come to think of as the hypocrisy videos - most recently, like, the Boehner versus Boehner one, where you have John Boehner presenting the new ideas of the Republican Party, and you juxtaposed him saying exactly the same thing in - I think it was 1993, to what he'd said just a few days ago.

Mr. STEWART: That's right.

GROSS: And you did that, like, with Glenn Beck, for example. You had him saying, you know, the government should never tell us what to do. And then you had videos of Glenn Beck telling us what to do.

And you do that all the time with politicians, and the videos go back a long way. How do the people on your staff find those old videos?

Mr. STEWART: Well, you can search on LexisNexis if you have an idea of what you want. And, you know, if the idea is - when you see the pledge, so your obvious first thought is, okay, the pledge is the same as the Contract for America. So let's go back and look at the Contract for America.

It's all about just making connections and then looking into it and using search words. It's learning...

GROSS: It's journalism. It's called journalism.

Mr. STEWART: I don't think so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I don't know.

Mr. STEWART: I think it's called Googling. I think we Google. We tend to Google.

GROSS: No, but I often feel like how come I had to find out about this on your show, on a comedy show?

Mr. STEWART: That's funny because we often feel that way as well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: But it's not - the reason why I don't think it's journalism, the reason why I think it's analysis, is we don't do anything but make the connections. We're just going off our own instinct of what are the connections to this that might make sense?

And this really is true: We don't fact-check, and we don't look at context because of any journalistic criterion that we feel has to be met. We do that because jokes don't work when they're lies.

So we fact-check so that when we tell a joke, it hits you at sort of a guttural level, as opposed to - it's not because we have a journalistic integrity. Hopefully, we have a comedic integrity that we don't want to violate.

GROSS: 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.


(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)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEWART: I'll 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.

(Soundbite of applause)

GROSS: Now in terms of consequences...

(Soundbite of applause)

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

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Yeah. We - (Singing) 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.

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

(Soundbite of laughter)

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


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: It 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. It wasn't even another Woodstock - you know, it was that kind of thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Or that, you know, it was 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: Yeah, 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: Were listening back to the interview I recorded with Jon Stewart last September at the 92nd Street Y in New York. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

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

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 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 9 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. There are - someday they will be free, and we will all celebrate their freedom.

So the morning meeting is, it's typically what are the top stories, and how have they been covered? We have a 9 o'clock meeting and a 3 o'clock meeting.

The 9 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 the other elements of graphics and all those kinds of things, to put together.

GROSS: 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.

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, 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?


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 (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 work 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 you're...

Mr. STEWART: You'd be surprised how easily I turn 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 "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: We'll hear more of that interview with Jon Stewart in the second half of the show as we continue our series featuring some of our most entertaining interviews of the year.

My interview with Jon Stewart was recorded September 29th 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. This week we're featuring a series of some of our most entertaining interviews of the year. Let's get back to my interview with Jon Stewart, the host and executive producer of "The Daily Show." We spoke in September on stage at the 92nd Street Y in New York.

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?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Let me focus the question for you.

Mr. STEWART: That it forms my...

GROSS: 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 don't, 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)

Mr. STEWART: 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 thick 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 can 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: My interview with Jon Stewart was recorded on stage at the 92nd Street Y in New York on September 29th.

One postscript about his sadness and rage watching Congress' inability to pass a bill providing health care for 9/11 first responders. Now Stewart is being credited with helping end the Republican filibuster of that bill through a program he did on December 16th with a panel of four firefighters who were first responders on 9/11 and are now very sick as a result of toxins they were exposed to but they can afford adequate health care. The First Responders Bill passed December 22nd. Last Sunday and article in The New York Times asked: Does this make Jon Stewart the modern day equivalent of Edward R. Morrow?

Coming up, we continue our series featuring the most entertaining interviews of the year with comic Aziz Ansari.

This is FRESH AIR.

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