Hillary Clinton is a "little hawkish for me": 16 fascinating facts we learned from Jon Stewart

Stewart spoke to New York magazine about his upcoming movie "Rosewater" and the future of "The Daily Show"

By Sarah Gray
Published November 3, 2014 5:52PM (EST)
Jon Stewart                  (Comedy Central)
Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)

Jon Stewart has been hosting "The Daily Show" for 16 years -- nearly two decades of deftly satirizing the media and politics. He still maintains that what he does is not journalism, and is skeptical that "The Daily Show" can be a medium to deliver change (which is perhaps self-defeating).

Yet, satirical news has proliferated,"The Daily Show" remains as relevant as ever and alums including Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and soon Larry Wilmore have spun the genre out even further.

The comedian and director sat down with New York magazine's Chris Smith to discuss his directorial debut, "Rosewater," which is based on the true story of an imprisoned Irani man, Maziar Bahari, and stars Gael García Bernal.

Stewart has years of sitting in the interviewer's chair; this time we see him on the other side, to interesting effect. Though Stewart deflected many questions with sarcasm or jokes, the interview was nonetheless fascinating -- by virtue of what was and was not stated. Read the entire interview here. (Seriously, it's a great read.) Here are the 16 most interesting things we learned:

1) His feelings about Hillary Clinton as president:

"We need such a systemic overhaul that it’s very hard for me to look at any individual and be hopeful. I just feel like we’ve forgotten to invest in our own country, in the infrastructure here. I’m not talking about isolationism. But I do think we have this incredible political mechanism that can begin to churn more efficiently and make those changes. God knows we can’t figure out how to get out of our own fucking way now. Hillary strikes me as competent. She’s certainly very bright. But she’s a little hawkish for me."

2) Before writing the script for "Rosewater," Oscar-winning screenwriters were interested:

"It was weird. We were pitching an Iranian prison story on spec, and Oscar-­winning writers were not jumping at the chance. I figured there was some type of conspiracy. But it turns out they just didn’t want to work like hell on this thing and not make any money. Because there’s no money behind it. I may have done this at a loss, just from what we spent on hummus alone."

3) How Stewart chose to represent the physical torture Bahari endured:

"I wanted the violence to be more like the shark in Jaws. This type of torture, it’s not what we envision. We see these images of beheadings or vicious violence, but that’s not the norm. The norm is we remove you from your life, we isolate you from your surroundings, that’s how we break you down. Somebody with a German accent and a monocle and scar on his face doesn’t have to stand over you with electrodes to make people understand that there is an atrocious violence in isolation."

4) Stewart visited a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan:

"The other side of it is, I think we have a Sally Struthers vision of the downtrodden. These are middle-class doctors and lawyers and craftsmen, and now they are uprooted and living in a corrugated-metal shed in the middle of a desert in Jordan for maybe forever. And for what? Nobody can figure out for what. The level of violence that these children have seen is staggering, and the shock will carry through those cultures for decades. Rosewater is about witnessing things, and I just wanted to make sure—and I have no illusions that I’ve lived it or really saw the camp—that it was seen."

5) On whether "The Daily Show" could be a more effective "weapon" for change, the way comedy is wielded in Egypt:

"I think we use it to the best of its ability but recognizing its limitations. You know, satire isn’t journalism. That’s not to suggest that we’re not responsible for the content that we put out there. I stand behind the point of view. That being said, the tools we use are exaggeration, hyperbole, puns, imitation, ridicule. Sometimes they can cut through things in an easier way but generally in a more superficial way. It distills something to a more visceral element that does not generally present a grander picture."

He continues by saying the show is merely a mouthpiece:

"Nothing, as far as I can tell. As far as I can tell, politics has gotten worse. But this show was not designed to change our political system. It was designed as a mouthpiece for our point of view. It’s a relatively selfish pursuit. Maybe it is a weird form of sideline activism, if that’s even a thing. Of just pointing shit out and going, 'Hey, somebody should get over there! Come on, get somebody over there!' But we’re not doing the work. "

Stewart does however feel that he is part of a conversation:

"I do consider this show and this movie a conversation that we are having with a culture and with people. But it is definitely much more passive. It’s like when people say Bob Dylan changed the world in the ’60s. He wrote some good tunes, and some people who did actually end up changing the world probably hummed them a lot, but that’s not what changed the world."

6) What Stewart still thinks is missing from news networks and mainstream media:

"I still think there is room for the type of network that would be purely based on the functioning of government as opposed to the drama and the daily dalliances and story lines. Rooting out corruption could be a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week business. I think that could be interesting. It does not exist. That’s why we make fun of CNN, because they are an opportunity squandered. You just think, boy, what you could do with all those wonderful toys."

7) On turning down "Meet the Press":

"First of all, NBC didn’t offer anything. They were exploring it in the way of, 'Maybe it’s time to do something ridiculous.' There was definitely a meeting. I spent most of it telling them what a crazy idea I thought it was and kind of going through all of the different reasons why I did not think it was appropriate either for me or for them. That venue feels like an Establishment vehicle. They run on access. There’s a certain symbiosis with politicians. "

8) He believes Colbert will still be subversive on issues even on "The Late Show":

"Being on Viacom cable networks is really not that different a universe than CBS late night anymore. Your address matters much less now in the democratized world of Hulu or YouTube. No matter how it’s done, he will be as subversive in different ways."

9) His conscious decision to have a more diverse cast:

"I was defensive at first about our writing staff being all white and male, and then I had to examine what were the structural issues, and what’s my own ignorance of some of this .... Hopefully, I’ve grown and learned as I’ve gotten older. I’ve had some very frank conversations with women on the staff and minorities on the staff about the inherent difficulties, the fact that in their lives they have to make decisions and strategize in a way that I take for granted. I don’t think people recognize how exhausting it is sometimes to be black."

10) The controversial Redskins segment:

"I wouldn’t call it an ambush. We don’t lie to people and say we’re not The Daily Show or 'This won’t happen' or things like that. I even said on the show if we found out that these people had been intentionally misled, that segment wouldn’t have aired. That’s not the case. I’ll tell you where there was a real ­ambush—when the Native Americans went to the stadium and people said the most vile shit to them. The ugliness that arose was mind-numbing."

11) Ways we could actually change our system of government -- pass "smarter" laws:

"That’s in no way what I think. But I think we can pass smarter laws. Surely we can administer smarter laws. Like the Volcker Rule seemed like a very smart, easy thing that became 850 pages of bullshit that was infused by corporate lobbying. I think the fact that our lawmakers spend four to five hours a day raising money means governance is a part-time job. They are basically fund-raisers who also legislate."

12) Stewart's thoughts on Elizabeth Warren:

"I’ve been impressed by her. You can’t help but watch the evolution of somebody who comes on as an advocate and then becomes a politician and see the caution grow. It’s like watching an uninhibited free spirit ­suddenly have to look both ways before crossing the street wearing a suit."

13) Jon Stewart's feelings on Rand Paul:

"I think intriguing. I do think there is a genuine effort on his part to understand what’s going on. Unfortunately, I think he’s slightly disingenuous when it comes to claiming he really doesn’t understand. Does he listen to the Republican caucus? Has he heard the things they say? Has he seen the difference in how what happened in Ferguson and at this pumpkin festival25 are described? 'A bunch of kids got rowdy on the streets today' versus 'Animals rioted in ­Ferguson.' Paul seems genuinely perplexed, which I guess is refreshing. Better than Ted Cruz, who appears to have been bitten by a Machiavellian spider. That dude is distilled ambition. It’s all calculated."

14) And as a New Jersey guy, his thoughts on Chris Christie:

"Jersey! We haven’t had a guy since Wilson! You’ve got to throw us a bone. I have a little bit more experience with Christie’s policies. I don’t particularly appreciate the way he’s governed the state, so it’s very difficult for me to say I’d like to see him go national—'Shouldn’t everybody suffer from this?' Even when you agree with Christie, he adds this unnecessary edge that he wears as a badge of honor. A nurse you’re about to put in quarantine, you may not want to say, 'She’s wrong, and she’ll learn that. Once she stops shitting in a box in a cold tent, she’ll realize I’m right.'"

15) On President Obama being human:

"No. He’s actually a pretty human guy. I think that’s what makes it so difficult for him. I mean, I can’t say it for sure, it’s absolutely a projection, but I think he hates these fucking people. I really do. I just get the sense that he believes that he’s surrounded by idiots."

16) And finally the legacy of "The Daily Show":

"It’s very difficult to say we want the legacy to be 'It was the funniest show in television history,' but you want it to be appreciated for what I think it was: consistently funny, consistently smart over a long period of time. I felt like we never took the opportunity for granted. I think more than anything I would hope people would be like, 'Those guys fucking brought it every night.' They might not have hit it every night, and there have been some shows that tanked. But I feel like we bring it every night."

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

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Comedy John Oliver Jon Stewart Politics Rosewater Satirical News Stephen Colbert The Daily Show