Jon Stewart Explains Why The Daily Show Is 'Better' under Trevor Noah, Talks Workplace Diversity
After the comedian stepped down as host of the Comedy Central show in 2015, Trevor Noah took over
During a Wednesday appearance on SiriusXM's The Howard Stern Show to discuss his new movie Irresistible, the former host of Comedy Central's satirical news program had high praise for his successor Trevor Noah, stressing that he's elevated the show.
"It's not meant as a denigration of me," said Stewart, 57. "The evolution of show was also about opening our eyes to some of the realities of business around us."
The Daily Show premiered in 1996 with Craig Kilborn as host. Stewart took over from 1999 to 2015, when he handed the reigns to Noah. Reflecting on the show's early years, Stewart said "it was — like pretty much everything in late-night comedy — that sort of Harvard Lampoon school of pasty white guys sitting in a room."
"Evolving the show past that took a really long time," he admitted. "It was a lot of work and often times it came with defensiveness."
As Stewart noted, inclusivity is necessary to truly alter the system.
"The radio and television business is run by rich people from Westchester. And the reason that it is is because when you hire people from this business, you generally hire from the interns that you formerly had on the show," he said. "But any intern that could afford to take three months off from college and spend that time polishing your grapes is going to come from a wealthy background, so all the people you were hiring were all socioeconomically at a very high level."
"So it took us a long time to fix a lot of those tributaries," he continued. "By paying the interns, suddenly you're getting a much more diverse group of people that are coming in."
Stewart acknowledged that for a long time, their initiatives were just "diversity for diversity's sake."
"It was, 'We don't have enough women writers, let's hire a woman. We don't have enough black writers, let's hire a black person,'" he said. "But what we realized is we weren't changing the system, we were just granting access to a club everybody should have had access to in the first place."
"Also, it put those women and people of color in a very awkward position," he added. "Because now, they feel the responsibility to represent, and so that created tensions and pressures for them."
In an interview with Charlamagne tha God on his radio show The Breakfast Club, Stewart further discussed his tenure, addressing a 2010 Jezebel article that criticized the show for having a predominantly white, male writers' room.
"I remember going back into the writers' room and being like, 'Do you believe this s---? Kevin? Steve? Mike? Bob? Donald?' Oh. Uh oh," he said.
Stewart admitted the show wasn't doing enough to adequately address issues of workplace diversity.
"We still kept just hiring white dudes. White dudes from a certain background," he said. "What we realized is the river that we were getting the material from, the tributary was also polluted by the same inertia. And you had to say to them, send me women, send me black people. And all of a sudden, women got funny. It just kind of happened. But they'd been funny all along. We just hadn't actively done enough to mine that."
On The Howard Stern Show, Stewart said "it took 16 years to change it at a glacial pace."
"Because that kind of mindset, to me, because I didn't grow up in it ... it's not a part of me," he continued. "For Trevor, it's a part of him. It flows from him naturally. You don't do it because necessarily it's the right thing to do — it makes it better. The show is better."
Despite his harrowing upbringing, the comedian told PEOPLE in 2017 he's grateful for the life lessons that his parents taught him.
"My mother and father taught me that the labels we put on a relationship define a relationship less than the relationship itself," he said. "And that's what I find fascinating about their story, is that I came to learn that love can truly surmount any obstacle."