After years of tough breaks and missed opportunities, funnyman Jon Stewart scores an Emmy (and an ever-growing fan base) with ''The Daily Show''

By Bruce Fretts
October 24, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
Jon Stewart Photograph by Matthias Clamer

Its newscasts may be phony, but Comedy Central’s ”The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” made real headlines at this year’s Emmys. Two weeks before ”Daily”’s live broadcast after the California recall election, host Stewart accepted the award for best variety show, breaking ”Late Show With David Letterman”’s five-year streak. (The clincher, says Stewart: ”I think it was my interview with the girl from ‘Felicity.”’) His series, which airs against local news Mondays-Thursdays at 11 p.m., satirizes both Washington and the media with Stewart’s sit-down stand-up act, his correspondents’ bitingly funny reports, celebrity/newsmaker interviews (”The weakest part of the show, through no fault of anyone’s but mine,” admits Stewart), and a final, surrealist video clip dubbed the ”Moment of Zen” (e.g., footage of then-gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger air-jamming with Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider on ”We’re Not Gonna Take It”).

In a year of heartbreak (the war in Iraq) and the downright bizarre (Gary Coleman for governor!), ”The Daily Show” has defined itself as the most relevant comedy act around. (Take that, ”Weekend Update”!) At its center is Stewart, 40, the kind of guy who’s smarter than you, but doesn’t rub it in your face; the kind of guy who drops references to Wilford Brimley and ”The Breakfast Club” into conversation, yet talks intelligently with Henry Kissinger; and the kind of guy who’s become the media elite’s It Boy (take that, George Stephanopoulos!), but still identifies with ”Revenge of the Nerds.”