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As The Daily Show‘s youngest-ever correspondent, Jessica Williams is at the helm of segments on race and gender politics in America that are not only insightful and hilarious, but increasingly relevant to a generation that has begun to place a bigger emphasis on social justice. It’s a skill she learned from host Jon Stewart, who has “personalized” the news for the masses, as former correspondent Olivia Munn previously told EW.
In her own chat with EW, Williams reflects on Stewart’s legacy as he prepares to make his final bow on The Daily Show on Thursday, and reveals that Stewart enjoys a “casual salsa” behind the scenes.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me about the first time you met Jon — not just at your audition, but also your impressions when you started working with him.
JESSICA WILLIAMS: Yeah, the first time I met him was at my audition. I was kind of like just running through my lines before the audition and he wasn’t downstairs yet, I was running it with some executive producers, and then I heard them say, “Okay. Jon’s ready to come down,” and I didn’t realize I would be nervous until maybe 20 seconds before he came downstairs. So I just felt my heart sink into my a–hole. It was pure adrenaline and my heart was beating super fast in my butt and all of a sudden I just hear singing and somebody’s like, “La-di-da,” and I’m like, “Who is that?” And then I like, turn around, and it’s Jon. Like, he was just sort of singing the way he normally does around the office which is what I would come to learn, but you know, that in itself made me feel super comfortable.
And then he sort of shook my hand and said that he already liked my audition tape and I didn’t have to worry about impressing him, I just have to be present with him for the audition, but he said that he already liked it. So he kind of just really made me feel very comfortable really quickly, and that meant a lot.
As a fan, was he different at all from what you might have expected?
Yeah, he was different. I’m very wary of bosses, but he was just super nice and always very thoughtful and really, really smart. What stood out is actually just how smart he is. Because I think on the show, you know, he’s very funny and he feels accessible, and that’s sort of his on-show persona, and he is accessible usually, but he’s just so … like, he can recall a lot of things in history really well that just sort of blows my mind.
What’s his personality like at work?
Well, he likes to sing a lot. That is abundantly clear. He likes to sing a lot, he likes to dance around the office, and he likes to joke when he’s dancing that he’s hurt his back. That’s something recurring that he likes to do. He likes to play the old man card, especially with me a lot, and I very much enjoy it.
What kind of singing?
He sings whatever he’s feeling for the day a lot of times. He makes up songs. A lot of times it’s just a “La-di-da” sort of thing, and then sometimes it’ll be the hits. He’s got a large catalog.
What’s his dancing style?
I would describe it as just crouched over kind of like he’s in pain a little bit. I don’t know if it’s intentional or not. But he’s having a really good time. And then usually he stops when he likes to joke that he’s hurt his back. And sometimes it’s a very casual salsa.
A casual salsa?
Yeah. Like it’s not super committed, but there’s definitely a salsa vibe happening — a solo salsa.
That’s awesome. Can you tell me anything else about Jon that other people might not know that you’ve learned throughout the years?
I can only speak to my experience with him, but he likes to make sure that I’m comfortable with what I’m saying, and that like, I have had a big input in the final product that I’m involved with. And that kind of really means a lot to me. It’s super collaborative and he’s always open to new ideas from me which means a lot, and new ideas from others. I just really enjoy that.
What kind of legacy do you think he’ll leave behind now that he’s leaving The Daily Show?
What I get a lot when I go out is people say, you know, “I watch you every night before bed, I watch you and Jon every night, me and my kids and my husband or my partner, every night.” So I think people feel like they have us in their living rooms and I think with Jon in particular they feel like they’ve found a friend who makes them laugh every night through times that can be difficult and complicated and sometimes just naturally hilarious and insane, and I think that you know, every night Jon kind of tries to show up for them whether it’s something complicated and dark or whether it’s just like a fart or a dick joke, you know? Every day. And I think that he’s going to leave behind a lot of people who have made him their friend.
A version of this story appeared in Entertainment Weekly issue #1375, available for immediate purchase here. For much, much more from Stewart’s former correspondents on his legacy, see below.