​Jon Stewart on politics, family and "Rosewater"


The "Daily Show" host talks to Mo Rocca about Iranian justice, bad interviews, and future job prospects.

CBS News

Jon Stewart blends the funny with the serious in a late-night TV mix that is all his own. So it should come as no surprise that he continues to do just that in the talk he had with Mo Rocca for this Sunday Profile:

"Is that really a sun decal on your notes?" said Stewart. "I'm hoping that's from the hotel and not from the Mo Rocca collection."

"No, it's the CBS 'Sunday Morning' logo," our correspondent explained, "and my name is at the bottom."

"Oh, is that true? What, the logo is the sun? I knew that, because I watch!" he laughed. "I'm up all the time. It's right on the screen."

"This piece will end with, like, a decorative sun," said Rocca.

"Is that true? And do all pieces end with a decorative sun?"

"Yes, people send in the suns!"

Jon Stewart can be forgiven for not getting up early on Sunday mornings. For 15 years, he's hosted Comedy Central's nightly news satire, "The Daily Show."

Full disclosure: Our humble correspondent used to be one of his correspondents.

Stewart doesn't just host the show; he runs the show, and it's a daily grind. So naturally, last summer he kicked back by directing his first movie, which he also wrote.

Gael García Bernal as imprisoned journalist Maziar Bahari in the film "Rosewater." Open Road

"Rosewater" is an Iranian prison drama based on the memoir of Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari.

"I could have made a satire," Stewart said. "We could have heightened the absurdity, and made the characters more farcical. I think it would have absolutely diminished the reality of how ridiculous what happened to Maziar was."

"Ridiculous" is right. One piece of "evidence" used against Bahari was a scene right out of "The Daily Show" -- literally. Bahari had sat for a mock interview in a Teheran café with "Daily Show" correspondent Jason Jones, who pretended to be a spy.

Iranian authorities were unamused.

When asked what he thought upon learning that "The Daily Show" piece had been used as evidence in the interrogation room, Stewart replied, "Law school there must not be necessarily as difficult to get through as it is here."

An international outcry eventually freed Bahari after 118 days.

If you're surprised that 51-year-old Stewart chose such a serious subject, well, then you probably haven't been watching "The Daily Show." When then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius came on the show to pitch Obamacare, it made headlines . . . and not the kind she wanted.

SEBELIUS: "Hundreds of thousands of accounts created. We have --"
STEWART: "So hundreds of thousands of people have signed up?"
SEBELIUS: "Of accounts created, which means that then they're gonna go shopping. Jon, this is like a kayak site where you might check out what plane you want to get on."

"Her answers, I felt, were so beyond understanding," Stewart laughed. "Like, what are you talking about?"

And then there's the interview with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Stewart believe she let Rumsfeld off way too easy in this exchange about the 2003 invasion of Iraq:

STEWART: "So the White House and the Defense Department and the State Department had to coordinate a pretty extraordinary effort to gather information and convince America that this was in our best interests to do so. And would it be fair to consider that in the effort that it took to sell us this . . . "
RUMSFELD: "That's a little strong."
STEWART: "'Sell'? Let me back up: In the effort it took the administration to . . . present?"

Stewart recalled the exchange with Rumsfeld: "You were selling it. You presented the positives. You didn't present the negatives. You present -- "

"'Presented our case.'

"'Okay, fine.' And then I moved on. I should have just stayed there. I lost a lot of sleep on that one. He didn't!"

But Rumsfeld's former boss is one big name who hasn't appeared.

Rocca asked, "If we had a magical device where you could jump from this interview . . . and ask him anything?" Stewart replied, "'Tell me about umber and how it helps you when painting cats.' I think it would be that. I think I would just stick with the painting stuff!

Jon Stewart on the corrupting force of money in politics

"Jimmy Carter's, like, 108, he's out in Africa, like, pulling Guinea worms out of children's feet trying to cure them. Bush is at home: 'Ah, bring me my fruit bowl, I'm doin' a still life. Heh heh heh'"

"Do you like interviewing politicians?"

"No. I despise it," said Stewart. "As most sentient creatures, I think, would. Imagine having to interview salespeople. They're salespeople! They live in a world of denial and conjuring. It's very strange, it's very strange to talk to people who have lost their awareness that that's what they're doing. At least with a salesperson, they'll every now and again, they go, 'Look, I shouldn't be tellin' you this. This is a piece of crap.'"