Johnny Carson invited his best guests to sit on the couch. Jon Stewart invites his best guests for extended interviews to “throw online.”
I tweeted this thought a month ago. But Twitter is like a great trash compactor for complicated thoughts: It compresses them, it grinds them into something you can flush away, and it gets rid of them. Blogs are better for digestion.
It’s true about Carson, isn’t it? It was a gesture that every American understood to be a mark of greatness, like winning an Oscar. If Johnny Carson liked your comedy, he anointed you the Next Big Thing by inviting you to come chat, as a come-down, on his couch. He put David Letterman, Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, and Drew Carey into overtime.
Jon Stewart has been called the Carson of our day for his versatility, affability, popularity with guests, and most of all, his cultural influence. But he doesn’t have a couch to invite his favorite guests to. He doesn’t even have time. Wheres Johnny had 60 and sometimes 90 minutes to play with, Jon has less than 30, and only one slice of his show is for guests.
So how does Stewart invite his guests into overtime? Buy granting them literal overtime. His favorite guests, and the ones with the most absorbing and complex stories to tell (or the ones that show off Stewart’s curiosity and/or incisiveness), are awarded another few minutes of interviewing time that are excised from the broadcast version but uploaded on The Daily Show website. In fact, it’s in those non-broadcast minutes that Stewart most often holds controversial guests’ feet to the fire.
To whom has Stewart bestowed this honor recently? Newt Gingrich, Bill Kristol, Donald Rumsfeld, and Jim Cramer. Like Carson’s choices for further intimacy, they all reflect Stewart’s tastes. Stewart selectively invites comedians for extended interviews, the way he did with his Iranian counterpart satirists Kambiz Hosseini and Saman Arbabi. Usually, they’ve got to be as trenchant as Stewart himself.
It was once a badge to get clubby with Johnny on the upholstery. Now, the sure sign that you’re fascinating is that your bon mots are available only to the devotées who go to the online clubhouse.
Of course, I didn’t have to tell you that the Web is the new couch. You sit here all day.