Josh Gad on Jon Stewart's Daily Show legacy, his audition, and more: Interview
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Though Josh Gad only made a handful of appearances on The Daily Show as a guest correspondent from 2009–2011, Jon Stewart initially had plans for him to take on the gig full-time. However, a “soul-crushing” moment following Gad’s successful audition had him coming to grips with the reality that — at that time in his life — he wouldn’t be able to relocate to New York from Los Angeles. Still, Stewart was so impressed by Gad’s audition that he had him commit to guesting as a correspondent whenever he was available.
Like many other of Stewart’s current and former correspondents, Gad is effusive in a chat with EW about the Daily Show host’s impact not just on the lives of his employees but on the course of satire in news media in general. (He also says that there are “more kernels of brilliance in the wads of spittle” in the gumballs Stewart would compulsively chew in the writer’s room “than most of us have, creatively, in a lifetime.”)
ENTERTAINMENY WEEKLY: Tell me about the first time you met Jon and what your impression of him was.
JOSH GAD: I got a call one day and, you know, my dream had always been to get Saturday Night Live, and apparently, their dream was to never put me on Saturday Night Live. So, I sort of gave up on that, and one day, I get this intriguing phone call from my agent saying that Jon Stewart is looking for new correspondents for his show.
And I was like, I have to go in for that. I mean, it’s a no-brainer. Like, this is The Daily Show. Having said that, I didn’t know the first thing about what the hell to do to prepare to audition for The Daily Show.
So I get a call from the casting director, and she basically walks me through what they’re looking for, and she tells me that I should essentially write my own material, and I should come in with three different sets of material that I should do, and that was it. That was as much as I was getting, and I went in there, and I totally was like, “I’m never going to get this job. So I’m just going to go for it and go all the way,” and I did it.
And in the room was Rory Albanese, one of the producers, and Allison Jones [the casting director], and one other person. So they see me, and they’re laughing their asses off, and I’m like, “Oh, great. This is such a nice group, but that’s going to be the end of it. I can say that I auditioned for The Daily Show, and they’re going to go back and tell Jon what an ass I made of myself, and at least Jon Stewart will have heard my name once in my life, and that’ll be the end of that.”
And lo and behold, I get a phone call saying that Jon Stewart would like to meet with me in New York, and so I go to New York, and I sit down with Jon, and I remember sitting outside the room for 10 minutes, and I had never in my life sweat so profusely and been more nauseous and more terrified working with somebody or meeting somebody.
And I go in, and he is singlehandedly both the smartest and one of the nicest individuals I have ever met. He made me feel so at ease. He was talking to me about my life and everything like that, and he essentially offers me the show, and like, what I want to do is scream at the top of my lungs, and what I do instead is say, “Oh … oh, that’s great,” you know, trying to downplay it a little bit.
And I leave, and the next thing that happens is sort of soul-crushing. I tell my wife I got The Daily Show, and she says to me, “Well, that’s amazing, but I don’t want to relocate to New York.” Our lives were in L.A. at the time, and it was sort of a huge commitment to up and leave everything.
And so I heartbreakingly had to call them up and say, “Despite the fact that you’ve offered me this dream opportunity, the likes of which I’ll never get again, I have to unfortunately turn it down,” and Jon called me back up and basically said to me that that is not an option. That he completely understands my predicament, and that I can be a guest correspondent that comes in and out whenever I’m available, and so began my relationship with The Daily Show.
It was the most incredibly humbling thing to have one of the smartest human beings to ever be in the comedy arena, and somebody who has changed the face of satire, and in many ways, changed the face of news media, somebody who will be studied I think for years and years to come in satire classes, say to me, “We want you badly enough that we will basically do away with our traditional contract and let you come in and out as you please,” and that was the most giving, most incredible experience to witness. It was amazing.
You said he’s changed the course of satire in news media. How would you describe Jon’s impact on news culture?
I know that traditionally, Jon says that he is not the news, and that, despite the fact that millions of people we now know actually get their news from The Daily Show, that he publicly says that that’s not what he’s after.
He knows very well the sort of social burden that his show has — the pinnacle that it’s reached. The fact that so many people inevitably do get the news from him, he doesn’t take that lightly. He knows it. He understands it, and he doubles down to make sure that he is being as informative as he can be while also doing the job that he needs to do, which is make people laugh and make people think.
Whatever room he’s in, inevitably, he’s the smartest guy in the room, and when you’re pitching something to him, he’ll always sit there like a Zen master chewing on a wad of gum. He’s got this big gumball machine. He’ll just sit there, and he’ll chew on the gum, and with every chew, he’s dissecting every single thing that you have pitched and every single thing that you’ve written.
Those wads of gum belong in the Smithsonian because I think that there’s more kernels of brilliance in the wads of spittle in that gum than most of us have creatively in a lifetime, and I think that Jon has changed the face of social commentary because he isn’t afraid to take on anybody.
I mean, whether it’s a conglomerate like Fox News or whether it’s a schmuck like Donald Trump, he’s the first guy who says, you know, “I’m going to take them to task,” and there’s no party line distinction for him. It’s about bringing everybody to task for their failures, and I think that, in many ways, the 24-hour news cycle has become a laughingstock. It’s become a joke, and I think that does keep him up to some extent.
I think that it is disconcerting, and as much as he’s trying to make people laugh, the bottom line is he’s trying to change how media’s processed, and he knows he can’t do it alone, and he knows that it probably won’t change. As long as he’s bringing attention to the stupidity, and the — for lack of a better word — binge of the way media’s being consumed, hopefully there will be enough water-cooler discussions that some change can possibly happen. I think that’s a reasonable hope.
You mentioned that you think people will be studying him in classes. What do you think his legacy will be? What will it look like?
It’s hard to say, but I think that if we were to just look at it today and look at what he’s accomplished over the last 10 years, I think in many ways, Jon Stewart is my generation’s Dan Rather. Jon Stewart is my generation’s Tom Brokaw. Jon Stewart is my generation’s Peter Jennings, and that says a lot about my generation, but it also says a lot about the world.
I think that Jon feeds on a disenfranchised culture. Things have gotten to a breaking point, and if we can’t make fun of that … that is the greatest weapon in our arsenal, and as a result of laughing at [the news media], he’s informing a lot of people who otherwise would have never been informed. That’s an amazing accomplishment.
I don’t know that there’s a paradigm for that. While Weekend Update and The Onion have been around for a long time, The Daily Show has sort of taken it to another level. What was given to him with the work that Craig Kilborn had done at the time and what had come before was something completely different.
It was pure entertainment, and Jon made it an actual form of broadcast journalism and legitimized in in many ways, despite the fact that it was all done through satire. It was how people started to consume news who had become disenfranchised with Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, et cetera.
I think that that will be his legacy. I think that, in many ways, we may see more and more events like that — more and more broadcasts that become the modern form of how we consume our information.
Now that he’s leaving, what would you love to see Jon Stewart do next?
I would love Jon to become the first Jewish President of the United States of America. I think that he could be what Kennedy did for the Catholics. I actually think that if Jon did run for president, he’d win, and that’s how unbelievable I think he is. But in all seriousness, I would love to just see Jon tackle something else with the same kind of brilliance and the same kind of enthusiasm which changed the landscape of media satire, and I can’t wait to see what that is. I can’t even begin to imagine what it will be, but I know that there is a third act, you know, after Jon Stewart, the stand-up, after Jon Stewart, the newsman, and I can’t wait to see what that third act is.
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.