Speaking candidly in an interview with Stephen Colbert at a film festival this weekend, Jon Stewart said that he almost quit The Daily Show soon after taking the job from previous host Craig Kilborn in 1999. The reason might just be a familiar one: “A lot of the people who worked there were assholes.” Welcome to the working world, Mr. Stewart.
Colbert and Stewart’s conversation took place as part of a fundraiser for the Montclair Film Festival, and it was their first significant one-on-one conversation in public. Their professional relationship stretches back 14 years, to Stewart’s first days at The Daily Show, where Colbert was already on staff.
Stewart said that before he took the job, he had spoken with the “powers that be” about taking the show in a new direction, essentially turning it into the satirical show that we know and love today. When he arrived to meet with his new writing staff, however, it became clear that this had already been discussed with them — and they weren’t happy.
“I walk in the door, into a room with the writers and producers, and the first thing they say is ‘this isn’t some MTV bullshit,’” Stewart said. “And then I was told not to change the jokes or improvise.”
His first reaction was that he wanted to quit. And who can blame him? He quickly called his agent and begged to be let out of the job because “these people are insane.” The agent talked him down from a “moderately high cliff,” and the rest is history. Within two and a half years, he says, the “natural winnowing process” left him with a totally supportive staff.
Of course, the Daily Show gig would go on to define Stewart’s career, transforming him from B-list actor to major cultural voice, heart-throb, and Oscar host. The lesson here: If at first you hate your job, take a deep breath before you let a bunch of meanies define your career.