The Sun sat down for an interview with Jon Stewart after his Cornell U. show Friday.
The Sun: How do you think your role as a political commentator has changed since the last time you were at Cornell?
Jon Stewart: How has it changed? I’m not sure it’s changed … I have. Because I am older and weaker. But no, the show is pretty much the same philosophically as it was when I started. Hopefully, we’re slightly better at executing it and having it reflect a better version of what I wanted it to be. But as far as my role in it, it’s the same as it was.
Sun: How do you feel you appeal especially to the college demographic?
J.S.: It’s clear: I think a gentleman in khakis is never appealing to a young crowd of go-getters, men and women. The V-neck sweater can’t be denied. It’s clear I could wear a hoodie if I wanted, but I didn’t. No, I honestly don’t know, and I think that college isn’t monolithic in any way and if there’s anything to it, it’s a time in your life when you might be able to be more focused on thinking about politics or media, and because you’re not as distracted by nine-to-five, that sort of thing. Maybe it’s the subject material that’s the key to it more than anything else.
Sun: Was there anything in your college experience that shaped where you are now?
J.S.: You know, it’s funny. Not really. And that’s not to say that that is in any measure a fault of my college, but the way I experienced it, that’s on me for not understanding the opportunity that it was or taking advantage of what it was. I learned a lot more in one week out of college than I did in, unfortunately, four years … and again, not my college’s fault — definitely my fault.
Sun: How important do you think it is to separate the politics and the comedy?
J.S.: I don’t think there is a separation. There are things to clarify here. The comedy is the way we express our ideas: That’s satire, you know, satire is just using comedy to express your commentary … so you can’t separate it from politics. But inferred in that question is, I think, this idea of activism, or that it’s a liberal versus conservative polarity — and that’s the thing where I think it gets confused. I don’t think we separate politics from comedy, but we’re not using the comedy to expressly advance a dogmatic political agenda … if that makes any sense. But it is inherently about politics, so it’s not separate from it, it’s infused in it — that’s the whole purpose of it, is to express our thoughts about the systems. What we think it is is comedy about corruption. But again, those are the types of things we don’t really think about. It’s more like “Oh shit, did you see this clip?” “Yeah, let’s do something on that.” You know, that’s mostly what it is … I should probably make that sound more scientific.
Sun: You had a whole joke tonight about Dick Cheney and your issues with him. When you sit down to interview someone like that with whom you disagree with so strongly, how do you prepare for it?
J.S.: Oh boy … It’s rare that that happens, but you prepare for it in the same way that you prepare really for any interview, which is: don’t squeeze it too tight, and make sure you’re listening. Because the key to an interview is not setting a trap and having somebody walk through it. The key to an interview is finding an alchemy that creates something in a moment rather than “here’s my prescribed path, I’m gonna walk down it, and I’m gonna drag this cat down the stairs however I want to.” It’s a conversation. And it may be heated, it may be pointed, it may be useless, it may be all those things, but hopefully it’s a conversation that lives in the moment — that it’s not predefined. And you try not to, obviously, punch him. That’s also … I guess hands down, would be the other part. So the first part, and then also hands down. No slapping. Except if it’s Desmond Tutu … and then obviously, it’s on. It’s just on.
Sun: I also wanted to ask about the idea of polarity. How did we get to such a polarized community, and how do we get out of that? Do we get out of that?
J.S.: Perspective wise, we are a polarized community. But, in 1860, we went to war with each other and a senator sat on the floor of the Senate and canned another senator so you know, again, are we split? I think if you really look at the divisions of it, it’s more minor than it isn’t, but the largest drivers of the conversation are networks that rely on conflict and sensationalism to gain viewership. So that’s going to be … the fuel that’s put into the atmosphere is mainly that. And so that’s naturally going to color the conversation, and you know, it’s the chicken and the egg — what came first? If you really do look at the two manifestations of that, it’s Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. Both are expressing a similar frustration with government, one in that they think it’s doing too much and one in that they think it’s doing too little. But I would say that the majority of people probably would view the real discomfort in the country as the symbiotic relationship between government and corporations and how corrupt that relationship has become. So again, you have to think … but the two [parties] that get the attention, I don’t think they are in the majority, but they are expressing a pure form of that upset.
Sun: Do you think Occupy Wall Street has staying power? I mean, the Tea Party’s been around for a few years, it’s elected candidates.
J.S.: Yeah, I mean it’s hard to say — certainly their frustration has staying power. The idea that income inequality has gotten more obscene I think is a powerful feeling. I feel like they’ve already done kind of an interesting thing, which is that they’ve changed the conversation somewhat from austerity to income inequality, which I think is … good that it’s out there.
Sun: Who are you rooting for in the Republican primary?
J.S.: Donald Trump. Can’t believe he dropped out. Very upset.