Jon Stewart

By Mark Harris
January 20, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST
Jon Stewart photograph by Gavin Bond

Jon Stewart made our 2004 Entertainers of the Year list

Sooner or later, in every telecast of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart gets cheered. Sometimes it’s for a perfectly turned line; sometimes it’s just for a look — a wide-eyed smear of astonishment, a head-in-the-hands epiphany of woe, a mobile eyebrow cocked at whatever C-SPAN-spawned fiasco he and his superb writing staff have unearthed. It’s a reaction about which he has mixed feelings. ”We would much prefer a laugh to a clap,” he says. ”None of us are looking for the nod and the blood-in-the-mouth applause that says ‘Yes! That is exactly my worldview!”’

In 2004, Jon Stewart more than earned both laughs and cheers across the board (at least, across most of the board — we doubt Dick Cheney watches, but John McCain might). Republicans tolerate him because they know that you never pick a fight with a winner; independents like him because he attacks sacred cows on both sides; Democrats adore him because he’s mastered the art of being funny and (spoiler alert!) partisan. In an era when ironic detachment is the norm in humor, Stewart pulls off something tougher — he offers actual earnestness wrapped in uproarious comedy, and in doing so, he represents the dismay, disgust, and (though he’d hate to hear it) hope of a passionately engaged audience.

Why is he our Entertainer of the Year? To start, his sterling stewardship — and a made-for-TV election year — brought The Daily Show to a new creative summit and helped earn its second consecutive Emmys for best comedy/variety program and best writing. His book America has topped the best-seller list for 12 weeks and counting. His blistering appearance on Crossfire, in which he trashed the yammering-puppet-head style of cable news (”I’m not going to be your monkey!” he snapped), wilted Tucker Carlson’s bow tie, and made Paul Begala even paler than usual. (His off-camera highlight was the July 3 birth of his first child, Nathan, co-produced by wife Tracey.) Most of all, in a year characterized by bluster and polarization, Stewart’s appetite for clarity felt like a battle cry, and his double-barreled mission — to point out the misbehavior of politicians and the slack-jawed sloth of those who cover them — came to seem like a beacon of light. But funnier.

Read an exclusive Q&A with Jon Stewart, Entertainment Weekly’s Entertainer of the Year.