Who the hell is Jon Stewart?

Shining a light on this year’s Oscar compere

So Jon Stewart is hosting this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. You might be asking yourself who he is. If you are, you’re not alone. Stewart isn’t exactly well known in the UK – at least outside of those few who watch The Daily Show – a satirical rundown of the day’s major news events, focusing heavily on the latest escapades of George Bush - or who read about his on-screen skewering of the Dubya regime. In the USA, he’s now a national comedy icon, despite his show airing on a cable network and garnering tiny ratings compared to the behemoth US broadcasters.

Stewart got his start in 1986 on the New York comedy circuit, where he befriended the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Tonight Show host Jay Leno. From there, he hopped from job to job, including a stint as host of US cable network Comedy Central’s Short Attention Span Theater in 1993 and a brief, unsuccessful run of his own The Jon Stewart Show on MTV in 1994-95.

Then, in 1999, Comedy Central came calling again. Craig Kilborn, host of The Daily Show was leaving, and Stewart was asked to replace him. In its earliest incarnation, the show was a sprawling, celebrity-obsessed knockabout, but Stewart and his writing team set about forging the show into something new and by the time the 2000 election rolled around, the Daily Show had switched its focus to current affairs.

The team’s coverage of the 2004 Presidential election – dubbed “Indecision 2004” - rocketed the show and its host to nationwide acclaim in the US, with Stewart perfecting a smart-mouthed style that’s best described as a less-surreal version of our own The Day Today. Or, if you want, he’s the modern-day equivalent of Network’s Howard Beale: mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Except instead of encouraging us to howl out of our windows, he wants us to laugh – and question our governments. No one and nothing is safe: politicians from the right, the left and around the world have their egos pricked and their actions questioned.

But while he’s found success on TV, hosting the Oscars is about as close as he’s going to get to the ceremony. A self-professed non-actor, he’s appeared in a few films, including Playing By Heart, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back and Death To Smoochy, hardly outstanding entries for his acting CV.

Still, at least he has hosting experience, including the Grammys. Despite a dodgy start at the 2001 awards he was invited back for the 2002 show, where he was a resounding success.  He’s a great choice – with any luck, he’ll be a memorable Academy Awards host…