Today, Nov. 28, is just the second time Jon Stewart will celebrate his birthday away from his former “Daily Show” hosting job.
As journalist Chris Smith’s new book, The Daily Show: An Oral History, reveals through interviews with Stewart, his co-workers and other associates, the host was exceptionally close with his staff over the period he worked on the show.
For his 50th birthday, the staff gave him an endearing gift ― “The same exact outfit that he wears every day,” as executive producer Jen Flanz recalled in the book. She continued, “Khakis, gray T-shirt, and the boots, the whole thing. I call it his cartoon character outfit, because in a cartoon, the character wears the same thing every single day.”
But among the book’s numerous recollections ― both positive and negative ― from Stewart and those connected to him, perhaps the most clear through-line is how much Stewart’s co-workers respected his work ethic.
“You’d show up at 9:30 in the morning and his car was already in the garage, and you’d be sitting there at 10:30 at night doing an edit, and he’s walking down the hall to get in his car,” recalled Dan Bakkedahl, who was a correspondent from 2005 to 2007. “The guy gave his life to that job.”
Stewart briefly hosted another show, “The Jon Stewart Show,” on MTV in the mid-’90s, but the cancellation of that program seemingly motivated him to give “The Daily Show” everything he had.
“There was a drive to Jon on ‘The Daily Show’ that he didn’t have on his old MTV show,” said Stewart Bailey, who was a co-executive producer for “The Daily Show” until 2005 and also worked as a segment producer on Stewart’s MTV show. “His attitude was, ‘I’m going for it on this one. I’m going to leave it all on the table.’ And Jon would come early, he would stay late. We would work on weekends. There wasn’t any half-assing. He wouldn’t let you off the hook.”
Despite the grueling day-to-day schedule, Stewart would make sure to be far more prepared for his shows than you might expect from a satirical news anchor on Comedy Central. “Jon always read the books,” said Hillary Kun, another co-executive producer, referring to the books a lot of guests would come on the show to promote. “He’s a freakishly fast reader.”
Keeping “The Daily Show” to the level of quality viewers enjoyed was a real sacrifice for Stewart. Chris Regan, a writer on the show from 1999 to 2006, remembered a conversation he had with Stewart in which the longtime host opened up about the toll this job took.
“I went to Jon and I told him I was burned out, and he said to me, ‘You’re burned out? Walk in my shoes one of these days,’” recalled Regan in the book. “It was the most candid he’s ever been with me, just going on about how he’s up all night, looking online, trying to find a new angle.”
Stewart was far from a one-man show, a point Smith’s book fully illustrates with the accounts from both famous and behind-the-scenes staff members. There are many unsung heroes who made “The Daily Show” into what it became.
But, from reading The Daily Show: An Oral History, it’s obvious that none of this happened without years and years of hard work. Stewart’s 54th year wouldn’t be the same if he hadn’t given up so many before.