How Jon Stewart went from Jersey kid to one of the most influential comics of all time

On August 6, Jon Stewart will end an amazing 16-year run on “The Daily Show” that had a tremendous impact on both comedy and political discourse.

It was a long road for Stewart to get to the top. 

After a tumultuous childhood, a few directionless years, and a few failed TV projects, Stewart finally got the job as “The Daily Show” host and steered the show in a new direction.

While doing that, he also launched a lot of other comedian’s hugely successful careers.

Check out Jon Stewart’s incredible path from bartender to stand-up comedian to “The Daily Show” stardom.

Stewart and his family eventually moved to New Jersey. He grew up in Lawrence.

Stewart wanders around a New Jersey neighbourhood with Jerry Seinfeld in an episode of 'Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee.'

His childhood in Jersey eventually become a huge part of his identity. Stewart revisited his home state in an episode of 'Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee' with Jerry Seinfeld.

Stewart attended College of William and Mary in Virginia. He graduated in 1984 with a degree in psychology. While in college, Stewart said he felt directionless. 'My college career was waking up late, memorising someone else's notes, doing bong hits, and going to soccer practice.'

William & Mary
Stewart delivered the 2004 Commencement Address at William & Mary.

Source: New York Magazine

Stewart became a regular at New York's famed Comedy Cellar, located just down the street from The Bitter End. There, he became a regular and honed his craft. Recently, he returned for the first time in 20 years for a surprise set.

Instagram Embed:

Width: 658px

In 1991, Stewart landed his first job at Comedy Central as co-host of 'Short Attention Span Theatre.'

Just For Laughs
Jon Stewart doing stand up at Just For Laughs in 1992.

Stewart claims he never felt like he made it until 1993, when he appeared on 'Late Night with David Letterman.' 'When I walked onstage, I blanked,' Stewart told NY Magazine. 'The audience is dark, and there's just a little red light. At that moment you'd realise, it'll be really quiet here if I don't talk.'

NBC via YouTube
Stewart sitting down with Letterman on 'Late Night' again in 1994.

Source: New York Magazine

Later that year, Stewart got his own talk show on MTV. 'The Jon Stewart Show' lasted for from 1993 to 1995. Fittingly, Letterman was the show's last guest ever.

MTV via YouTube

Soon after, Stewart began acting in movies. He landed minor roles in '90s films 'Wishful Thinking,' 'The Faculty,' and 'Half Baked.'

Universal via YouTube
Jon Stewart appeared in one scene in 'Half Baked.'

While on 'The Daily Show,' he also starred in 1999's 'Big Daddy' and 2002's 'Death to Smoochy.'

Even without a talk show, Stewart still ended up being a host in some way. From 1996 to 1998, Stewart wrote for HBO's 'The Larry Sanders Show.' He also frequently appeared on the show as a late-night host.

HBO via YouTube

One day, Stewart was having a conversation with his friend Madeleine Smithberg, the co-creator of 'The Daily Show.' She asked him whether or not she should stay or leave. As she described the job, Stewart liked what he heard.

Paley Center for Media
Madeleine Smithberg and Jon Stewart

Source: The New York Times

On January 11, 1999, Jon Stewart hosted his first ever episode of 'The Daily Show,' taking over from previous host Craig Kilborn.

Daily Show/Comedy Central

His first guest ever was Michael J. Fox. It wasn't until Stewart took over that the show began to focus on political satire.

It took Stewart a while to find his voice, but his sharp political perspective started to come across during the 2000 presidential election, which they called 'Indecision 2000.' This won the show its first Emmy.

The Daily Show/Comedy Central

'That's what put 'The Daily Show' on the map. People didn't know how to process what was happening. What the hell are hanging chads? The whole thing was so crazy. It was just perfect for satire. Jon found his rhythm in that moment. You could tell he had a lot to say, and a lot of opinions,' former 'Daily Show' executive producer Rory Albanese told The New York Times.

Source: The New York Times

Stewart's political influence only strengthened in the years to follow. In 2004, he appeared on the CNN show 'Crossfire' and criticised the hosts. 'Crossfire' was cancelled soon afterward.

Stewart directed the film 'Rosewater,' which came out in 2014. It tells the story of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian journalist who was imprisoned and accused of being a spy by the Iranian government after doing an interview with 'Daily Show' correspondent Jason Jones.

Laith Majali/Open Road Films
Stewart on the set of 'Rosewater.'

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.