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The Stylistic Concerns of the Internet

Linguist Geoff Nunberg considers how we think bout the Internet and how that is reflected in the language we use to describe it.


Other segments from the episode on September 30, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 30, 2004: Interview with Jon Stewart; Commentary on the word "Internet."


DATE September 30, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Jon Stewart discusses politics and comedy

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.

My guest, Jon Stewart, isn't a real news anchor. He just plays one on TV, but
he's pretty good at it. In five years as host of "The Daily Show" on Comedy
Central, Stewart's quick wit, biting satire and political savvy have taken the
once obscure fake news show and turned it into an influential voice in
American politics. It's now one of the top stops for politicians and news
makers. John Kerry, President Clinton, Pat Buchanan and Richard Clarke have
all recently appeared on the show. The program won a Peabody Award for its
coverage of the 2000 presidential campaign and recently won two Emmys.
Stewart and "The Daily Show" writers have just published a new book called
"America: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction."

Jon Stewart started doing stand-up in the mid-'80s. He hosted a show on MTV,
did an HBO special and had small parts in several movies before joining "The
Daily Show" in 1999. Let's listen to a piece of "The Daily Show" newscast
from a couple of weeks ago. This is part of their coverage of the war in
Iraq, which they call `Mess-opotamia.'

(Soundbite from "The Daily Show")

Mr. JON STEWART (Comedian): This week Iraqi leader Ayad Allawi took a
welcome vacation from this...

(Soundbite of men shouting)

Mr. STEWART: enjoy a couple of days of this.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEWART: Yay! This morning Allawi spoke before a joint session of
Congress to give a progress report on his country, because who better to give
an objective assessment of Iraq than the man we hand-chose to lead it?

Prime Minister AYAD ALLAWI (Iraq): My friends, today we are better off, you
are better off, and the world is better off without Saddam Hussein.

Mr. STEWART: Allawi gave an optimistic picture of his country's future.

Prime Minister ALLAWI: I stand here today as the prime minister of a country
emerging finally from dark ages of violence, aggression, corruption and greed.

Mr. STEWART: Corruption and greed? Is Halliburton leaving?

DAVIES: Well, Jon Stewart, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. STEWART: Thank you very much.

DAVIES: Do you have as much fun doing that show as it looks like you're

Mr. STEWART: No. No. Let me explain something. Our entire day is focused
on taking the un-fun we have, making it and turning it into fun when it gets
on the air. Because we function, actually, very similarly probably to a news
show in that we have sort of an editorial meeting in the morning. It's a
really structured day. We actually do have a very good time doing it, but
it's sort of relentless, and it's a lot of--the structure of our day is a lot
more rigid, I think, than people would imagine.

DAVIES: You start by reading The New York Times, The Economist,
everything--watching a million news clips.

Mr. STEWART: Oh, no. We get more of our news from the tickers on the top of
cabs. So it starts from that. Our day usually starts with sports scores.

DAVIES: Building it from the ground up, right.

Mr. STEWART: Exactly. Yeah. No, we normally--you know, the papers are
not--it's not like we come in at 8:30 and start reading the paper and go, `Oh,
this story's interesting.' I mean, we're working--the beautiful thing about
faking a news show is the topicality is delayed, and the truth is, it helps us
more to have saturation of a news story, because then everybody's very
familiar with the parameters of it, so we generally are working a day or two

DAVIES: Yeah, you've got..

Mr. STEWART: At least at our best.

DAVIES: You got a chance to do the Howard Dean scream after everybody already
heard it.

Mr. STEWART: Yes, although we didn't do it, I think, as much as what you
would imagine the other news organizations--unfortunately for us, things that
are absurd--on its face value, things that are funny don't really help us as
much as--you know, Fabio on a roller coaster getting hit in the face with a
bird doesn't really help us as much as Allawi speaking to a joint session of
Congress, you know.

DAVIES: Telling us that corruption is leaving his country, right?

Mr. STEWART: Yes, exactly. So it's--things that are inherently amusing are
not as interesting to us.

DAVIES: How much of it do you write? How much do your writers come up with?

Mr. STEWART: I write the entire program. What I like to do is come in,
write the entire program and treat my staff to hot stone massages.

DAVIES: At that point.

Mr. STEWART: That's just how I like to work. I'll come in around 7, have
half a grapefruit, do some Jazzercize and then just get to writing.

DAVIES: God, you are as decent a man as we thought.

Mr. STEWART: Oh, it's absolutely unbelievable. No, we have an unbelievable
staff of writers, and Ben Karlin, the executive producer, D.J. Javerbaum,
who's the head writer, and then all the writers, the correspondents. I mean,
for me, I can literally show up at 5 pretty drunk, and as long as the show is
spelled out phonetically on the PrompTer, you know, I'll do OK. I just have
to face the right direction. I sort of function, in some respects, in the
same way you would imagine the anchor functions as a managing editor type.

DAVIES: Was there a point at which, you know, in recent years you suddenly
realized that all of the A-list celebrities and newsmakers wanted to be on
this show? I mean, you've had an incredible run of people coming onto this

Mr. STEWART: We find that the biggest stars, the most powerful people, want
desperately want to be on the most obscure cable channel they can find. It's
just something that they want. It gives them a sense of adventure. We're
like Outward Bound. You know, to find our show, you have to go past Spanish
people playing soccer.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. STEWART: It's not something that, you know, you just fall upon.

DAVIES: I want to talk a bit about the celebrity interview thing you've done.

Mr. STEWART: All right.

DAVIES: And we've got a clip here of a big, big celebrity. This was former
President Bill Clinton,. And I wondered if you were at all nervous about
meeting him, since you guys were so naturally kind of even-handed and tasteful
during the Lewinsky scandal.

Mr. STEWART: I was not in any way--you know, I actually got there pretty
much at the back end, if you pardon the expression, of the Lewinsky scandal,
so I was not as responsible for the prevalence of jokes.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. STEWART: But I mean, the truth is, at a certain point, I would imagine
he's kind of numb to sexual innuendo and everything else. So I don't
imagine--you know, if he were to avoid contact with all those who made
Lewinsky jokes, I don't imagine he would be going out very often.

DAVIES: Right. Well, let's hear this, and I'll just say for our audience
that this is the beginning of the Clinton interview, and it's followed a set
in which you've sort of had some fun with the Swift Boat Veterans attacking
John Kerry's war record. This was Jon Stewart interviewing former President
Bill Clinton.

(Soundbite from "The Daily Show")

Mr. STEWART: Thank you for coming. Nice to see you.

Former President BILL CLINTON: I'm glad to see you.

Mr. STEWART: Thank you so much for coming on the program.

Pres. CLINTON: I'm glad to be here, and I'm glad you did that riff on the
military attack on Kerry, too.

Mr. STEWART: That was a rough one, wasn't it?

Pres. CLINTON: Yeah, but, you know, they did the same thing to McCain in

Mr. STEWART: The same group, am I right?

Pres. CLINTON: It's the same group.

Mr. STEWART: Nice kids.

Pres. CLINTON: Yeah, in support of the same crowd, I might point out.

Mr. STEWART: Right, who--had nothing to do with it.

Pres. CLINTON: No. They also pointed out, though, they had a calling
operation in South Carolina in the primary in 2000, talking about how John
McCain had a black baby, and they didn't want the white voters to forget it.

Mr. STEWART: Right. They actually meant Strom Thurmond. They just had the
wrong name.

DAVIES: That's Jon Stewart speaking with Bill Clinton. You know that line is
still funny to me, and when I saw it live, I thought, `There's no way that he
got an ex-president to set him up for that line.'

Mr. STEWART: No. Bill and I actually called each other sort of that night
you know, and I said to him, `What are you going to wear?' And he said, `What
are you going to wear?' And then we sort of go over our riffs, kind of Abbott
and Costello-ey.

DAVIES: Yeah, well, you know, I mean, I think a lot of TV interview shows, I
mean, people do kind of--there's some planning go on between producers; `We'll
talk about this, you talk about that,' so you have a chance to prep.

Mr. STEWART: Right.

DAVIES: I mean, you just snapped that line off like--and it made me think of
the pressure of you there with four or five minutes with a celebrity, and, you
know, in most interview programs, there's a lot of ways to do a good
interview: The guest can say something new, they can say something revealing
about themselves, or they can be funny. But this is Comedy Central, and
you've got to give us a laugh every 45 seconds. Is that pressure?

Mr. STEWART: It would be pressure if that weren't the only thing I was good
at. You know, if the pressure was to come up with actually something
insightful and intellectually stimulating and emotionally honest, yeah, that
would be pressure. But if the concept is to come up with a wisecrack every 45
seconds, it's really the only thing that I've been trained for. So in some
respects, it's not pressure. The pressure is when the expectation is that
something other than that is going to occur, and that's probably when my lack
of professionalism shows more openly than during things like that, when I'm
doing wisecracks.

DAVIES: Well, I think you're selling yourself a little short there, and we're
going to get some...

Mr. STEWART: Hey, hey, hey, I'll do the short-selling here, young man.

DAVIES: All right. All right. Lowered expectations is part of the political

Mr. STEWART: That's exactly right.

DAVIES: But I guess the other thing that I wanted to ask is, you've got a new
baby at home, born in July. Congrat...

Mr. STEWART: What? Oh, my God. I've got to go. Wait, how often do you
have to feed those?

DAVIES: No, now you do have a wife, Tracy, and I imagine you have some


DAVIES: But are the times you come up...

Mr. STEWART: What else are you imagining about our lives? `I imagine you
have a fountain made of marble, and I imagine the walls are gilded in gold.'

DAVIES: Well, thinking like a little illegal immigrant there helping out
around the house or something. I don't know.

Mr. STEWART: Now why does it have to be illegal?

DAVIES: You're a celebrity.

Mr. STEWART: All right.

DAVIES: But I wonder if you come in sleep-deprived sometimes, and that makes
it a little tougher to--I don't know--to do what you do.

Mr. STEWART: I think doing what we do actually is enhanced by a certain
sleep deprivation, because it's the part of your brain that you're not really
in touch with until something's desperately wrong. So--but, yeah, you know,
it is relentless, but the nice part about working with a very talented group
of people is, you know, on a daily basis, not everybody's bringing their A
game every day, but there's always somebody there to sort of bring a little
bit of inspiration or a little bit of something else. I consider one of my
better talents to be recognizing a good idea when I hear it. One of the most
important things to be able to do in a show like this that is so relentless in
terms of its production schedule is to be able to recognize, you know, when
your idea isn't it and someone else has it, and be able to quickly run with

DAVIES: My guest is Jon Stewart. He is the host of "The Daily Show" on
Comedy Central, and he has a new book out, "America (The Book): A Citizen's
Guide to Democracy Inaction." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: We're back with Jon Stewart. He is the host of Comedy Central's
"Daily Show," and he has a new book out. He and the staff have done a history
of democracy, "America: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction."

There was recently the Columbia Journalism Review, one of the most respected
journalism publications in the country, had a Web site in which they asked
their readers to poll those who were doing the best at covering the
presidential campaign. You came in fourth, well above...

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: ...well above people in The New York Times and other, better known


DAVIES: Are you...

Mr. STEWART: Now that is either a terrible statement about the state of news
in our country or the state of comedy on our program. I'm not sure which.
Probably both.

DAVIES: All right. Well, I want to play a clip...

Mr. STEWART: All right.

DAVIES: ...that might give us a little insight into why someone might mistake
you for a journalist. Now this is you interviewing former Republican
Congressman Henry Bonilla, and I believe this was during the time of the
Democratic National Convention, and he was a part of the Republican's Rapid
Response Team.

Mr. STEWART: Yeah.

DAVIES: So let's listen to Jon Stewart interviewing former Republican
Congressman Henry Bonilla.

(Soundbite from "The Daily Show")

Mr. STEWART: And so I turn on the TV, and they say, `He's the first most
liberal. Senator John Edwards is the fourth most liberal senator.

Mr. HENRY BONILLA (Former Republican Congressman): Right.

Mr. STEWART: So the only thing--'cause I watch it at home, and I'm stupid.
How do they figure that?

Mr. BONILLA: We have votes and bills that we sponsor, and we track...

Mr. STEWART: I'm not retarded. I mean, how do they compile--who, like...

Mr. BONILLA: They list them. You take a list that...

Mr. STEWART: Well, who's they?

Mr. BONILLA: These groups that I told you about, the conserv...

Mr. STEWART: But which one is the one that said they're the first and the

Mr. BONILLA: Well, you take the trial lawyers or the people that follow the
union votes and the people who follow the small business votes or the
corporate votes, and they all go, `You're either with us 100 percent of the
time or 0 percent of the time.' And they kind of average them all together.


Mr. BONILLA: These groups do?

Mr. STEWART: But which one--how do you--when you say `first most liberal and
fourth most liberal'...

Mr. BONILLA: You've got to ask that...

Mr. STEWART: ...what is the group and how is it--'cause I'm not...

Mr. BONILLA: No. I hope I'm explaining it clearly.

Mr. STEWART: I don't think so.


Mr. STEWART: I don't--it's coming.

Mr. BONILLA: I don't understand your question. Let's try again. Let's try

Mr. STEWART: I just wanted to know..

DAVIES: That's very funny stuff, but this was a real interrogation. I mean,
you were doing what journalists do there.

Mr. STEWART: No, actually I think I actually was doing what journalists
don't do. I mean, that's why ...(unintelligible). Isn't that the issue, that
journalists don't do that? They basically--when you're--and I'm not talking
about print, but isn't the issue that on television, those sorts of operatives
for both political parties go on the air and say, `John Kerry's the first most
liberal' or `The jobs created are $9,000 less,' and nobody ever says, `I'm
sorry. I don't mean to stop you, but what? What was that? Where do you come
up with these numbers?'

DAVIES: Right. But, I mean, do you feel yourself getting pulled into doing
the job that journalists ought to be doing? I mean...



Mr. STEWART: I don't, because I feel myself being pulled into areas that
strike me as of interest to me, and that strikes me as an area of interest
that so many of these, you know--these political parties--it's very
interesting, but, you know, they are basically dedicated to figuring out how
to game the system, and they have found, I think the real vulnerability in our
media, and they are exploiting that loophole.

And the vulnerability is twofold. One is the pace at which the 24-hour
networks have, so it's sort of their deadline pressure. And the other is that
the anchors are not versed in an expertise of news. They are TV people, and
so those two together form sort of a conspiracy of a non-aggression pact, if
you will. And it allows these talking-point robots, operatives from different
political parties, to go on these shows and basically lay it out there without
question, and it's done to influence people through repetition.

DAVIES: So deceptive content never gets challenged. Nobody ever gets to the
bottom of it.

Mr. STEWART: I wouldn't say never, but the prevailing sense is that if it is
challenged, it's in print and a week later, when information is available, and
if I know it, it's clearly available, because I'm not exactly--you know, I not
like one of the old guys with a metal detector on the beach, searching
for--like, it's there on my computer pretty much when I boot it up.

DAVIES: Right. But I guess what a producer of a talk show or "Crossfire"
might say is, `But you know, in the great marketplace of ideas, our solution
is to provide competition. The other side is always there, and if one side
has phony talking points, the other side's right there.' Doesn't that work?

Mr. STEWART: Doesn't seem to be. I mean, but that's not--in the marketplace
of ideas, from what I understand, there aren't only two products available.
So that's like saying, you know, fair competition is soda machines with only
Coke and Pepsi in them. It's not the case that it is a free marketplace of
ideas. And the other side of it is, what is the expertise of the anchor?
What is your role then? That's like saying the referee for a football game is
just there to make sure no one dies. You know, there are--should be--you
know, truths, actual truths, and someone should be there to help arbitrate
that, and it seems to be that media should be the forum for that.

For instance, on "Crossfire," I'm not sure what those guys are doing there
other than egging their own side on, and if anything, I think that puts out
misinformation or disinformation, because it vouches for deception. By
allowing it on television, you are vouching for it. You're saying these
people--we've done a background check. They're OK. It's like the Swift Boat
Veteran guys. They go right on TV.

DAVIES: With--they're granted credibility of wide access, right.

Mr. STEWART: Absolutely. They're granted the credibility of--and it's not
enough to bring someone on from the Democratic side, which--and say, `Well,
actually this isn't true.' Someone has to earn some credibility here, don't
they? Isn't that the role of the anchor, or is the anchor just a tool?

DAVIES: Well, you know, somebody I know, after seeing you eviscerate the
Swift Boat Veterans in one of the pieces that you did on "The Daily Show,"
yelled at the television, `The Kerry campaign ought to buy this stuff.' They
ought to put on--that's what they ought to be using. Are you selling?

Mr. STEWART: Sorry?

DAVIES: I said are you selling? I mean, would you give it--how about--I
mean, how would you feel about your material being used for a partisan
purpose? I mean...

Mr. STEWART: I think, good luck to you. If you feel like comedy program
bits are your best effort as far as selling your candidate, good luck to you.
You know, I think that the difficulty here is, they're doing the same
thing. Our role is to make it as funny and smart as we can possibly make it,
and--but base it upon something that is frustrating for us to watch. And it's
frustrating for me. You know, I watch these 24-hour news networks all day
long. You know, it's--because I night-manage at Bennigan's and I just happen
to have it on. But a--the...

DAVIES: Oh, God. What a life you lead.

Mr. STEWART: No, it's really quite incredible. But in general, you know, I
think it's--they have abdicated their role. You know, politicians are
doing--of course, they're doing what they do. They're trying to get away with
as much as they can get away. But what I'm saying is political parties are
working seven days a week, 24 hours a day to find the loopholes and
vulnerabilities in the media system, and the media has to be better. The
problem is, the media isn't monolithic. We sort of keep talking about the
media, and unfortunately, it's a series of these fiefdoms. And they have
figured out how to play these fiefdoms off against each other. It's that

If you question us on our talking points--here's an example. I was watching
during the Republican convention Dick Cheney's daughter, and not the one that
they hide; the other one--was on--I think it was Anderson Cooper's show. And
she was doing the Republican talking points about John Kerry and the thing,
and Anderson Cooper, to his credit, stopped her and said, `Well, you know, to
be fair, you're sort of taking that out of context,' and literally, he
interrupted twice, and she said, very angrily, `What are you? A surrogate?'
And I thought, `Wow, is that where we've gotten?' We've gotten to the point
where if an anchor interrupts a talking point, you accuse them of being an
operative, which, by the way, is also a strategy, to discredit the person that
disagrees with you.

The other example was Zell Miller went on "Hardball" after his relatively
insane rant that, if you listened to without the picture, reminded you very
much of Strom Thurmond's famous 1948 speech, but not in content so much as
delivery. But so, of course, Matthews questioned him on, `You really think
John Kerry would defend this country with spitballs?' And Zell Miller was so
upset at being questioned, he challenged Chris Matthews to a duel, which is
basically--you know, the idea is, `If the news media questions my talking
points, I will threaten to kill you.' I mean, that's--you know, these
politicians are so unaccustomed to interrupted spin that they literally lash

DAVIES: Jon Stewart, host of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. He'll be
back in the second half of the show.

I'd Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: Coming up, making David and Goliath jokes. We continue our
conversation with Jon Stewart, host of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central.
And Geoff Nunberg considers how we think about the Internet and the words we
use to describe it.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, filling in for Terry Gross.

My guest is comedian Jon Stewart, host of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central.
He and "The Daily Show" writers have a new book called "America: A Citizen's
Guide to Democracy Inaction."

It seems that a fair amount of what you do, I think, is being a watchdog on
the journalistic community. And there was one more clip I wanted to play.
This is of you taking on the conservative columnist Bob Novak. This is Jon
Stewart on "The Daily Show." Let's give this a listen.

(Soundbite of "The Daily Show")

Mr. STEWART: One of our favorite journalists in the country, in fact, that I
wanted to talk to you about. His name is Bob Novak. Novak, of course, most
well-known for heroically publishing the identity of an active CIA agent,
which I thought sent a clear message to the world saying, `If that's what
we'll do to our own spies, imagine, just imagine what we'll do to yours.'
That's right.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

Mr. STEWART: That's right. We'll out them, too, as we've seen. Well, our
man Novak is at it again. He has a little editorial in The Washington Post.
We talked a little yesterday about this new ad by a group called Swift Boat
Veterans for Truth that attempts to discredit or undercut or--What's the word
I'm looking for?--(censored) on John Kerry's actions in Vietnam. We had
implied that the ad was a low blow, perhaps produced by those angry at Kerry
for his postwar protest activities that they've never gotten over, and that in
the absence of any evidence, the only response necessary was delivered at the
Democratic convention when Kerry's swift boat mates stood with him on stage in
support. But Novak has shown me I'm wrong.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Yesterday's Washington Post featured an interesting editorial
by Novak saying maybe we're not giving this group a fair shake. "Unfit for
Command" sends a devastating message unless it is effectively refuted because
in this country, when a scurrilous charge is made against you by people,
you're guilty unless you prove otherwise. That's how it works. Kudos, Robert
Novak. You truly a douche bag of liberty.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

DAVIES: Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" talking about columnist Bob Novak.

You know, one of our...

Mr. STEWART: See, Bob Novak, you know, he shouldn't even be allowed on TV.
He should be in jail.

DAVIES: In jail?

Mr. STEWART: There's no reason why he should be on TV.

DAVIES: Why should he be in jail?

Mr. STEWART: For giving away the identity of a CIA--an active CIA agent
working on weapons of mass destruction and then, you know, hiding behind all
kinds of secretive and, you know, freedom-of-the-press issues.

DAVIES: You know, I guess we should note that we've played some clips here
which are pretty tough on conservatives and Republicans, but "The Daily Show"
certainly takes its whack at others. And you've been very funny about John
Kerry and his own unique style. And I didn't have a clip, but I thought maybe
you might just give us a riff on--what would John Kerry say about your book,

Mr. STEWART: Well, I--the thing about John Kerry that I think is important
for everybody to remember is that, you know, people have said that this
election is over, but if he focuses, if he really buckles down, he can defeat
Nixon and hopefully have our troops out of Vietnam by '74. (Imitating Kerry)
Bring it on!

I think the issue with Kerry is that the more he tries to have people like
him--I think what he doesn't understand is--and again, this is, I think, a
failing of politics in general, is there's a certain--when people are running
for president, they all of a sudden want to be us. There's this sense of,
`I'm just like you. I'm a regular Joe. I watch 12 hours of TV a day.' Like
you don't--what I wish a president would come out and say is this: `I'm
better than you. I'm much better than you. I'm much smarter than you. I've
studied for this my whole life. I understand how to fix this country.' I
don't want somebody like me. Why don't I be president, then?

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. STEWART: So I think his problem is that he has decided to turn against
what is clearly--I mean, that is if anyone has ever been raised in a
laboratory to become president, it's Kerry. I mean, he's--from day one, I'm
sure, you know, at three years old, he got his My First White House kit. You
know, he is a guy that is clearly--and now that he is finally in the race to
be president, he has decided that what it really is is a likable average Joe.
And it so clearly goes against his constitution.

DAVIES: My guest is Jon Stewart. He is the host of "The Daily Show" on
Comedy Central and the author, with his writers, of "America (The Book): A
Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction."

Mr. STEWART: You know, I wanted to ask you a little bit about that. You
know, people talk about--you know, there's a lot of fun made of the
Republicans. One of the things that, you know, you have to look at is who
controls everything, because that's really--when you're doing a show that's
based on current events, it's very hard--you know, there's been this--the
Republicans have the House, the Senate and the executive branch and, we
learned, the Supreme Court. Who else are you going to make fun of? It's
the--if you're a comedian, you know, there's a lot of Goliath jokes out
there, but...


Mr. STEWART: know, the David stuff never really went over.

DAVIES: Right. Tom Daschle's not a big enough target, huh?

Mr. STEWART: He's just not--it's not even that he's a big enough target.
It's that he's not there.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. STEWART: There is no `there' there. There isn't anything to make fun of.
You know, how much can you make fun of a guy who's just getting crushed, who
basically has to stoop to putting on a commercial with him hugging President
Bush? I mean, it'd be like Sammy Davis Jr. running an ad with him and Nixon.
You know, it doesn't make any sense.

DAVIES: Right. So, Democrats, be warned, your day is coming if you win.

Mr. STEWART: Well, they're not going to win until the Rapture. You know, the
interesting thing is, when the Rapture comes and all the believers are sucked
up into heaven, that's, I believe, when the Democrats will retake the House
and the Senate.

DAVIES: Wow, that's a long time to wait.

Mr. STEWART: But even then, they'll probably have a fight with the Green

DAVIES: Right. Having spent so much time watching these two candidates,
dissecting their ideas and style, what advice would you give them as they
approach their first debate?

Mr. STEWART: What advice would I give them?

DAVIES: Yeah, what?

Mr. STEWART: I think the advice that I would probably give is not so much to
the candidates, but to the moderators...


Mr. STEWART: ...which is: Do your best to make this a real event and not
just one more loyalty oath signed, staged campaign, photo op from inside the
bubble. Do your best to try and put yourself in the position of the American
public on the outside of the bubble, and try to get an answer. Try and get
them off. Try and get a human moment that will somehow reveal, you know, the
stagecraft or something behind what we're seeing. That would be my advice,
because to me that would be the only thing that would be worthwhile out of
these debates. I mean, the truth is the postscripts have already been written
unless something dramatic happens. It's already been written that `Kerry
seemed to have a grasp of the, you know, issues, but he did have trouble
defending his flip-floppery. But Bush, you know, he's just so eloquent and
he's simple. He's just the kind of guy you want to have a beer with, and he's
just one of those guys. It's just great. It's just great. And Kerry, for
all his knowledge and expertise, is too Hessian; he's too European.' You
know, so all the--but get them off their stupid talking points and their just
absolutely manicured, manufactured put-on personas.

DAVIES: You know, you've written this book.

Mr. STEWART: It's got pictures.

DAVIES: It's got..

Mr. STEWART: You've always gotta throw that in there.

DAVIES: It's got a lot of pictures...

Mr. STEWART: Right.

DAVIES: ...and a foreword by Thomas Jefferson.


DAVIES: And I think that's a measure of your stature.

Mr. STEWART: Yes. And by the way, man, did I have to edit that. Boy, talk
about long-winded.

DAVIES: No kidding.

Mr. STEWART: I was like, `T.J., it's the foreword. Ease up, buddy.'

DAVIES: You know, once you're a Founding Father, you think you can just go
and on.

Mr. STEWART: You know what? And here's the other thing. He wanted to call
it a preamble.

DAVIES: Oh, no.

Mr. STEWART: It's not a preamble. It's just not done anymore.

DAVIES: Yeah. Yeah. How do you want this...

Mr. STEWART: This is what I'm saying.

DAVIES: How do you want people to use this book? I mean, there's some
exercises in it for kids and the like.

Mr. STEWART: Yeah. I think what we want is for people to read it, to do the
exercises, to do the work. It's like Phil McGraw. You know, when he writes a
book, he wants you to do the exercises, to improve yourself. You know, this
is for people that are going to found a country, and we think that--you know,
and again, I think people need to realize that. Basically, there are no
frontier lands anymore. We basically have mapped and GPSed pretty much
everything there is to map and GPS.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. STEWART: But there are a lot of countries that are broken. And I think
you can go into countries that are already broken and still refound them. And
I think if you do all the exercises in the book, you will find that you are
qualified, to some extent, to found and lead that democracy. And I say this
with--you know, again, nobody's perfect. You could follow this instructions
in the book step by step and still end up with a country that, you know, is a

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. STEWART: You don't know. But I guarantee you, if you use the ideas in
the book, just smash them together randomly, you'll come out with something
better than North Korea.

DAVIES: What an inspiring thought. Gosh.

Mr. STEWART: Absolutely.

DAVIES: And you get a free poster of the upcoming battle in this election,
which you call, "The Thrilla in Vanilla."


DAVIES: ...George W. Bush and John Kerry without their shirts.

Mr. STEWART: Skull vs. Bones.

DAVIES: That's great. That's great.

Mr. STEWART: Yeah. Thank you. And the other side of that is the shadow
government, which teaches you about the government underground that actually
controls the things. And if you don't want to know about it, if you don't
want to have your mind blown, if you don't want to face reality, you don't
have to look at it. You don't have to look at the shadow government that
secretly controls all that you are.

DAVIES: It's all there, folks.

Mr. STEWART: Oh, it's there, baby. It's out there.

DAVIES: You know, this is not your--people will be surprised, though, this is
not your first book. You wrote a book, "Naked Pictures of Famous

Mr. STEWART: Yes. That is correct.

DAVIES: ...which it really wasn't. It was a series of sort of kind of
satiric essays.

Mr. STEWART: My favorite essay in the book is, I think, "Hitler on Larry
King," which was always one of my favorites.

DAVIES: Tell us a little about that.

Mr. STEWART: It's about Hitler and Larry King. It's about sort of the
culture of no matter what you do, no matter how poorly you perform, no matter
how you disappoint the public, no matter, you know, what crimes against
humanity you've committed, if you go on "Larry King" and say you're sorry, all
is forgiven and you're welcomed back into the community of man. So it's about
Hitler sort of coming to grips with his inner dictator and writing a book
called "Mein Comfortable Shoes," sort of about acceptance. And, you know,
the first thing is he comes onto "Larry King" and he's eating a bagel with a
schmear and he says, `First of all, I just want to say these are delicious.
I don't know what I was so afraid of.' And then it just sort goes on from
there, and it's as tasteless as it sounds.

DAVIES: All right.

My guest is Jon Stewart. He is the host of Comedy Central's "Daily Show."
And he and his crew have a new book out, "America (The Book): A Citizen's
Guide to Democracy Inaction." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Let's get back to our interview with comedian Jon Stewart. He is
host of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central.

You grew up in, I guess, Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

Mr. STEWART: That is correct.

DAVIES: Were you a class clown? Did you have this sort of persona that made
fun of everybody in a kind of playful and endearing way?

Mr. STEWART: (Laughs) Yes. I was very playful and endearing.

DAVIES: That was you.

Mr. STEWART: I was an imp. I was on the smallish side, and yet my head is
the size it is now. I looked like a Peanuts character is what I'm trying to
say, except with acne. You can imagine I was very popular with the ladies.

DAVIES: Yeah, must have been a great benefit.

Mr. STEWART: I was always very proud in high school. I was voted best sense
of humor and not class clown, and I always thought there was a very big
distinction there, even though I'm not quite sure what it is. But I think
that early on--yeah, people always say, you know, `When did you realize you
were funny?' And I think it's not that you realize you're funny; it's that
your brain works in a certain way. And I don't think that that's--I think in
some respects it's uncontrollable, and you can either accept it and deal with
it and hone it or you can try and fight it. And I was too weak to fight it,
and so I just sort of went with it. And the big thing to learn was how to
turn obnoxiousness into wit, and that was the hardest probably lesson.
Obnoxiousness is what gets your butt kicked, and wit is what makes people go,
`Oh, that's endearing.' And it's trying not to get your butt kicked...

DAVIES: What...

Mr. STEWART: ...while still having your brain work in a way that you're
comfortable with.

DAVIES: What do you mean by your brain works in a different way?

Mr. STEWART: It for some reason defaults to a joke. I don't know why it
does that. It certainly isn't helpful. It didn't help me keep any other job
other than this one. But for some reason, it always looks to mischief. For
instance, you know, I was in a--I didn't do any theater or anything like that
when I was younger, but we did do one--senior year in high school, we were in
a play called "The Pajama Game." And our first night performing it at the high
school in front of a full crowd--and everybody took it very seriously, and
rightfully so--my friends and I were in the chorus. We did "Steam Heat," you
know, a very powerful version, I might add. But there's one scene at a picnic
where the two lovers finally come together at the front of the stage, and
they're alone on stage, and it's in front of a backdrop of trees. And as they
were out there just about to begin this beautiful duet, I just--I wandered out
and put my back to the audience and pretended I was relieving myself on one of
the trees.

Now as you can imagine, the crowd found this somewhat amusing. The two actors
on stage, not so much. The director of the play, again, sided with the
actors, not so much. Me, I thought, `Oh, my God, I'm killing. This is
awesome! This play is going great.' And this is what I'm suggesting to you
is that it's learning when to use it, how to use it, but by God, there's
nothing else you can do. It's just some reason in any situation it occurs to
you that, `Wouldn't it be funny if...' And that's that.

DAVIES: Right. You went to college, William and Mary.

Mr. STEWART: Right.

DAVIES: And I read that you were 23 when you had a job with the state of New
Jersey and, you know...


DAVIES: ...looking forward to a reasonably happy life with a car and, you
know, making your way through the world. And you decided to go...

Mr. STEWART: Right.

DAVIES: New York and do stand-up, and at first just got brutalized, as
people do. And I'm wondering, you know, there are lots of people who are
funny, that make their friends laugh, make their family laugh, and then when
they get on stage...

Mr. STEWART: Right.

DAVIES: ...and try and make an audience laugh...

Mr. STEWART: Right.

DAVIES: just doesn't work. What...

Mr. STEWART: Yeah, that was me.

DAVIES: What is it--I mean, you were so funny. You had that brain working
that way. What was it you didn't know?

Mr. STEWART: What was it I didn't know about which...

DAVIES: About why didn't it work. Why is being funny with your friends not
the same thing as...

Mr. STEWART: Well, because it's a craft. You know, it isn't--there's a big
difference between having an analytical mind and being a good scientist.
There is a craft to learn. And that was the biggest lesson is that it
takes--again, it's that idea of turning obnoxiousness into wit or comedy. You
know, creating something from nothing is different from just being reactive at
a bar. And you have to create the atmospheric conditions for comedy. Comedy
is, oddly enough, very fragile and can be thrown off by, you know, a glass
breaking or somebody talking or--you know, there's a lot of different elements
to it that--and construction of a joke. You know, you have to create--one of
the things about being funny in life is the premise is already there.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. STEWART: Typically when you're with your friends, premises are coming up
left and right. But when you're on stage, you must create the premise. So
you have to create the premise, paint the picture, and then deliver the punch
line. You have to take them from their, you know, sitting--you know, their
lack of movement, you take them from zero to laughter, whereas in life, all
that inertia is already presented, and you're just deflecting it.
You're--being funny in life is a lot more like, you know, judo. It's using
the energy...

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. STEWART: ...that's coming at you to your advantage.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. STEWART: Doing stand-up comedy is in the middle of a traffic jam, getting
everybody moving again. You know, it's a totally different skill and
environment and one that is learned.

DAVIES: Right. Now it's been reported that Conan O'Brien's job is going to
open in 2009. I mean, this is a...


DAVIES: ...transition befitting a Stalinist-era dictatorship.

Mr. STEWART: Absolutely.

DAVIES: But you know, I mean, people who see you do what you do wonder--I
mean, you're inevitably headed for a big network show. What do you think?

Mr. STEWART: Oh, I think--yeah, I think in--I am scheduled to take over from
Ted Koppel in 2019.


Mr. STEWART: So that has been--we have talked about that. Actually, it's not
even going to be from Ted Koppel; it's going to be from the Ted Koppel 3000,
which is a Ted Koppel simulator that they've been developing in the basement
of Disney.

DAVIES: Like the HAL 9000, right.

Mr. STEWART: It's--that's exactly right. It's--right now it's just a head
and a couple of circuit boards. But they're working hard, and with the right
batteries and semiconductors, you know, fingers crossed, 2019, you'll see me.

DAVIES: That's your day. But tru...

Mr. STEWART: Either that, or I'll just bring back "Solid Gold." You know,
I've got a lot of plans. I've got a lot of things I want to try.

DAVIES: Well, Jon Stewart, thanks so much for spending some time with us.

Mr. STEWART: Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it.

DAVIES: Jon Stewart, host of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. Their new
book is called "America: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction." Tonight
"The Daily Show" features a live broadcast at 11:00 Eastern time following the
first presidential debate.

Coming up, Geoff Nunberg on the way we talk about the Web. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Commentary: Whether the word `Internet' should be capitalized

Should we capitalize the words `Internet' and `Web' or not? Maybe it's a
question only a linguist or a copy editor would ask. But as our own linguist,
Geoff Nunberg, reports, it's one that has a lot of techies worked up.


Most people didn't take much notice when Wired magazine announced recently
that they decided to drop the capital letter on `Internet' and `Web.' But the
news had the techies burning the midnight phosphor. Bloggers reacted
indignantly, and there were more than 800 comments posted on, the
site that serves geeks as a digital water cooler. Of course, you'd expect the
slashdot crowd to be a little anal about stylistic matters. That comes
with the job. Misplace a comma in an e-mail or an Op-Ed piece and you only
risk losing your readers' attention. Misplace a comma in a line of software
code and you risk losing everything on your hard disk.

Still, this wasn't just one of those meaningless stylebook niceties like
whether to capitalize the Y in `Your Eminence.' It has to do with how we
think about the Internet itself. Back in the 1920s, people sometimes
capitalized `the radio' and `the cinema,' but they stopped doing that when the
media receded into the cultural background. That's what led Wired to go to
the lower-case form of `internet.' As the editors put it, it was a way of
acknowledging that the Internet is simply another medium for delivering and
receiving information.

I wish Wired luck, but they're fighting an uphill battle. People seem
attached to the capitalized forms of `Internet' and `the Web,' not just in the
press, but on the Web itself and in the Internet discussion groups. And a lot
of newspapers were capitalizing `blogosphere' last week in the stories
about the role that bloggers have played in discrediting those CBS memos about
President Bush's National Guard service. People seem to think of these words
on the model of other common nouns that have been elevated to proper names,
like the Shire, the Channel or the Coast. They want to think of the Internet
as a place.

We've been talking about the Internet in a spatial way since the early days of
cyberspace, which was always depicted as an open expanse like an ocean, a
plain or a galaxy. And that spatial perception consisted even as settlers
started to stake out the territory and the geography acquired features more
typical of urban architecture like portals, gateways and sites. But whether
you picture the Internet on a model of the Great Plains or the Bowery, the
idea of it as a space is built into the language we use to talk about it.
`Visit,' `go to'--those aren't verbs we use when we're talking about reading a
newspaper article or tuning in the evening news.

The spatial picture of the Internet is one of those metaphorical frames that
makes the technology easier to comprehend. It's like the trash can icon on
the computer desktop, a useful analogy, so long as you don't think that the
sanitation guys are going to be clanging by on Tuesday morning to dump it out
for you. But there's a difference between saying something is a space and
saying it's a particular place. There's no reason why we shouldn't think of
the Internet as one of those ubiquitous presences like the atmosphere or the
cosmos, none of them phrases we're tempted to put in capital letters. Putting
a capital I on `Internet' implies something more than that. It turns the
Internet into a specific location, a city of bits where a single community is
taking shape.

You can hear that picture in the phrases that cybervisionaries like to toss
around when they're talking about the online community: `emerging
consciousness,' `social contract,' `netizens,' `collective mind.' Or as one
of them put it in a much publicized manifesto, `I come from cyberspace, the
new home of mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us
alone. You do not know us. You have not engaged in our great and gathering
conversation. You do not know our culture, our ethics or our unwritten
codes.' Listening to that, your first thought is apt to be, `What do you
mean, "we"?'

In fact, the Internet is no more a coherent community than the collection of
travelers who happen to find themselves at Kennedy Airport on a given Monday
afternoon on their way to or from Stuttgart, San Juan or St. Louis. If the
Internet permits the illusion of community, it's only because we don't
actually have to rub elbows with most of the other travelers there. We move
around it the way Donald Trump cruises around New York, alighting from the
limo only when we pull up at a destination full of people like us.

But it's a little delusional to talk about the group mind of a collectivity
that can't even reach a consensus on the correct spelling of `accommodate.'
Or if you need a further demonstration, log in to one of the sites called
voyeurs which throw up a random selection of queries as they come into the
search engines: Cape May hotels, Anna Kournikova, pro-death penalty, humping,
mapa de Caracas, Ashton Kutcher filmography, Bush deception, loans until
payday, fish jokes, Israel atrocities, Anna Kournikova, dogs getting it,
funeral prayers. Taken together, it makes for a strange kind of poesy
concrete. But if that's the product of a collective mind, it's a mighty
scattered one, all the more reason for writing `internet' with a lower-case I.
It reminds you that there really is no `out there' out there.

DAVIES: Geoff Nunberg is a Stanford linguist and author of "Going Nucular:
Language, Politics and Culture in Confrontational Times."


DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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