Jon Stewart has a tough act to follow at the University of Buffalo on Saturday night. He's doing his show seven months after his buddy Stephen Colbert wowed a UB audience in Alumni Arena.
"He told me it was great, that's why I did the gig," said Stewart in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I sent Colbert out there like a scout. He comes back and said this is 'all right.'"
Stewart, the host of "The Daily Show," Comedy Central's satirical take on the news, said his plan for Saturday's appearance is simple:
"I think it will be some election, some (President) Bush wrap-up," he said. "You know, trying to get our hands around what bag of sadness we place that eight-year period in. A general sense of the world, where we're at. And then, of course, it will end with a 45-minute lecture. This is a college, right?"
In an interview with the 45-year-old Stewart that had both serious and humorous moments, Stewart discussed a wide range of topics, including Bush, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the state of cable news and the state of comedy in the coming Barack Obama presidency.
Bush certainly has given the 45-year-old Stewart and "The Daily Show" enough ammunition in eight years to help land the host five individual Emmys, and the program six straight Emmys for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy series. Stewart took over the show in 1999, about two years before President Bush took office.
"We hired him in 2000, we weren't sure how he would work out," said Stewart. "He has done great. He has generated a ton of material. And we couldn't be happier."
Still, he won't miss the Bush presidency for the humor it provided.
"No, he's not that humorous," said Stewart. "I'm not worried about filling 22 minutes of comedy a night. I don't need a guy starting wars just so I can get an extra five minutes of the show."
He doesn't expect that humor will end with the Bush presidency. Stewart and Colbert had some fun with that suggestion near the end of the "Indecision 2008" telecast, when a skit had the performers on the election night show wondering what they will do now after the two-year presidential campaign ended with Obama's election.
"It turns out that you can still do a show when you are happy," said Stewart. "We had no idea that you didn't have to just drink from a cup of sadness, that you could actually do comedy while feeling a sense of joy and hope."
"Basically, we're just reacting to events, whether or not they are positive or negative. We don't exist to torment the Bush administration or to despair. We just react to whatever comedy we can find in the world.
"Somehow people have gotten this idea that a post-Obama world will be humor-free or event-free. I'm not quite sure where that came from ... Will humor end?"
He said that in this Tuesday's show he planned to premiere a segment poking fun at the president-elect. It's called, "Greatness Watch: The Road to Rushmore." Stewart hopes it will become a recurring bit.
>About Sarah Palin
For years, Stewart has had a recurring distaste for the argumentative state of cable news. He thought there were more high points this time around, but he wasn't a fan of CNN's election night venture into "Star Wars" territory.
"Why would you have someone in a hologram when you have a perfectly good satellite field is beyond me," said Stewart, adding that his first thought was: "Why are they doing this? Why not just give two pundits light sabers and have them go at it?"
Which two pundits would he pick? "Let's have a round robin," he cracked.
Stewart, who said recently on his show that he would have voted for Sen. John McCain in 2000 if he had been the Republican facing Al Gore instead of Bush, found one positive in McCain's 2008 campaign against Obama.
"I was excited that he didn't curse," cracked Stewart, adding the circumstances were not in McCain's favor. "So he ran a fear campaign. I think when you don't have something positive on your side, you don't have much of a choice. I thought it was interesting that during the primaries he ran to the middle and during the general election he ran to his base. Kind of the opposite what you would expect most people to do if they wanted to win. Establishing fear against Obama might have seemed like a good idea at the time. I think he would have better off trying to establish himself more moderately. But once he made the choice of Palin that was it."
Did Stewart view anything in his political lifetime scarier than the prospect of Gov. Palin being a heartbeat away from the presidency?
"Yes, her being the president," said Stewart. "I don't think I've ever seen anyone on a national stage who seemed so wholly unprepared on just a general basic civics level."
He believed the vice presidential choice became more of an issue because of Sen. McCain's age.
"At a certain point, it looked like Anna Nicole Smith and that oil man," cracked Stewart. "Under normal circumstances, I don't think it would have loomed as large. Nobody has accused every vice president of being overly qualified."
After burying Gov. Palin, the media now appears to be starting her rehabilitation. On Tuesday morning, "Today" anchor Matt Lauer was in her Alaska kitchen asking her soft questions and eating a fish dish she prepared for her family.
"I think that in general the news media is weak-kneed," said Stewart. "It is that passive aggression. They feel as though, 'Wait a minute, if we reported on her lack of knowledge don't we have to go back now and pretend now that she was unbelievably qualified.' It is their typical self-flagellation cycle."
"I really wish this would go away," he added. "What did she make?"
>Quick Stewart quips
Some more wisdom from Stewart on other topics:
On his impact on college students and young voters: "I think that you had a candidate for the first time in a long time that excited people in a generational way. It was similar to 1960. The difference was the candidates. Everybody wanted to know why Al Gore lost the presidency. Was it Ralph Nader? No, it was Al Gore. Why did Obama win? Because he's Barack Obama. He ran a very strong campaign. He was a better candidate than Al Gore or John Kerry. I was there for both of those guys. They're not president. If I was the deciding factor, George Bush wouldn't have been there for eight years."
On what Jon Stewart will be doing in 2012? "Probably starting my own space colony. By then, we'll be able to live in space, right?"
How about taking David Letterman's place on "The Late Show" if he ever retires? "Listen, I don't know what I'm going to be doing tomorrow... I'm a terrible long-range planner."
Asked another way, what would be more likely in 2012, Stewart in Letterman's job or Sarah Palin as presidential candidate?
"Sarah Palin as a presidential candidate. Sarah Palin already is a presidential candidate. The election is over and Matt Lauer is up there eating salmon casserole. He's not doing that because he thinks she is going to be a game show host... She is far and away the leading political figure for them."
Is that why he is thinking of going in space? "Gotta have options."
Will there be any humor aimed at Buffalo Saturday? "Hasn't Buffalo been through enough?... You never know. It is still a few days away."
Distinguished Speakers Series
Alumni Arena, University at Buffalo
8 p.m. Saturday
Fewer than 300 tickets were available Tuesday
price range $76 reserved; $34 for general admission