The Daily Show aside, what makes you laugh?
You still go for that?
You know what I love is the fake you kick the door but you make it like you hurt your nose? I'm a sucker for that every time, I don't know why. Yeah, throwing something to a dog, always a winner. You know, poopee.
It all depends, to a certain extent, it's like jeez, when David Copperfield goes to see Doug Henning, it's, (mumbles) 'Alright I'm here,' there's a little of that once you've been in it for awhile.
What's the key then to making people laugh?
(Long pause) Boy, I don't. Boy, if I knew that one that would really help me (laughs). That's sad that you've actually brought up a question that I really need to know and I don't.
But you must on some level know from doing it?
No, not really, because people, unfortunately people aren't homogenous, laughter and humor are such a subjective and personal issue for people. I've had shows where I think 'man, I'm killing tonight,' you know, the crowd's going crazy, but you're looking and there's still that table of five people just sitting there, staring at you like you're the biggest asshole that ever walked the earth. It really is very particular to certain people. The key to it is not thinking about what's going to make them laugh, it's what you think might be funny, and that's, hopefully, other people will agree with you. I don't think it's a question of what makes them laugh as what do you think, and hopefully that'll work. I mean, the better comedians, I think, are the ones that stick to what they know and what they think. If you're attempting to, it's like trying to write a song you think other people will like rather than writing a song you like.
I've given you a terrible answer and I can tell you're disappointed.
No, no you haven't, I'm just trying to get deeper into it. That sounds like a starter's problem. People don't go to see you now if they don't think Jon Stewart was funny in the past.
That's not necessarily true, there are always people who, 'Oh, that party's not going to happen? Alright.' And even the ones that go and think you'll be funny don't necessarily, you know, they may watch you on this or read something or whatever and they go see you and say 'oh, that's not what I thought it would be.' You never win everybody.
But you couldn't win everyone in anything.
No. Have you been reading my diary? But the issue there is not to worry about it, the only time you ever really do that is on a corporate gig where you're literally there for the cholesterol convention, five minutes of cholesterol jokes. But even there you're writing about what you think is funny about that and they may look at you like you're an ass.
That's the thing, I think part of the charm in it is you just never know, that's part of the adrenaline of it, that there is no, it's not concrete, it's not objectified, it's not science, it's ether, you don't really know. There are some nights where the exact same jokes tank where, I'm in a business where literally Friday night at 8 o'clock you're the king and Friday at 10 o'clock you suck and it's the same stuff, you just don't know why but that's how it goes sometimes. You'll drive yourself insane if you think what would be the surefire thing that tickles these people. You develop a baseline of confidence about it, but it's never foolproof.
Has your confidence level gone up? In the beginning there must have been the rejection -
Well the rejection, but also the self-knowledge that you're just not good at it at all. I had it so vividly that the audience would also let me know, in a very helpful way, they'd say 'Hold on a second, by the way, in case you didn't notice, you are not good.'
But it's not so much confidence as I think if you work hard enough you develop a level of competency like a level of craftsmanship that hopefully is, you know, like bartending, like any new job, the first day you go (nervously) 'But where's the iced-tea and the white liquor and what's a kier and I'm going crazy!' And by day four, you know everybody's drinks and you're banging around. It's repetition and Rowe like any other sort of skill, in that sense.
So did that get you through the closing of The Jon Stewart Show?
Well that was more an example of what you fear the most in the business happening and realizing, you know, it was interesting to me that I always thought - I grew up on Dave Letterman and that show and I thought when I get to do that show I'll be taller or something, and I remember the next day it was a bit of a let down, not that the experience wasn't great and all but I still could see through the hole in the floor of my apartment into the basement, there were still cockroaches, my sink still didn't work, you know what I mean? It wasn't like that was the answer, the answer was just to get as good as you can at this and everything will take care of itself.
And then when I got canceled, it was just the reverse of that, it was 'Jeez, but I still know how to do this, but I still know how to write a joke, I still,' you know, whatever, the hole in the floor didn't get bigger, it's the same shit. So, that was more or less in perception more than reality, and the reality of it is, like any business, ups and downs, just try and be as good as you can at it and hope that the rest of it turns out. You always need fortunate breaks and all that stuff but that was a lesson, I think that was probably, the biggest, oddly enough, being canceled was the greatest relief, not in the sense of doing something that I loved doing and now I couldn't do anymore because that sucked and that was a disappointment but the relief was that I wasn't different, the next day I wasn't completely useless.