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Book review: <i>Naked Pictures Of Famous People</i> by Jon Stewart

If this was a sandwich, it would be some delicious overpriced kosher thing from a snazzy New York deli that goes down like a greased oyster but won’t spoil your appetite.


Four black & white, passport-style photos of Jon’s face, plus that fantastic title.


Essays, short fiction and assorted humour pieces from Jon Stewart, actor, comedian, one-time Oscar host, co-author of the genuinely hilarious America: The Book, and anchorman for the fantastic TV news parody The Daily Show.

The good

It’s funny. Which is primarily what it’s supposed to be. Which is good. It’s also intelligent and imaginative, ditto. The first chapter is an epistolary account of a young Jew’s holiday with the Kennedy clan (in happier, but somewhat less racially sensitive times). The second chapter is a series of Christmas letters from the mother of the Hansons. Martha Stewart offers advice on stylish yet functional vagina treatments. Jon daydreams about his potential as a cult leader (“Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King were great men, and persuading soldiers to buckle down in World War II or convincing a bunch of people to walk a few blocks with you on a sunny day in Alabama are indeed feats of note. Getting strangers to castrate or kill themselves on the basis of something you saw in a dream once, though, that is true power.”)

It’s written mainly in a gently cynical, low-key prose which’ll be familiar to anyone who’s read America: The Book (READ IT FOOLS), and they both effectively employ this style to lull one into swallowing sweet micro-moments of real humanity and somewhat tangier Mum-jokes. If you see what I mean. I did find myself occasionally listening for Stewart’s “voice” (ie the one from the TV) but either he’s made an effort to conceal it, or is just one of those people who’s writing patterns are different to his speech. On the other hand, the same sense of humour is definitely at work – one only needs to witness his ability to use a phrase like “delicious brisket” as a comedic rawl-plug from which to hang a well-framed thought to realise that.

Stewart is a funny guy, undoubtedly, but a lot of what makes him great stems from his intense likeability, which may explain why he’s a much better interviewer, observer and soliloquiser than he is a comedic actor. Or maybe it doesn’t. The book’s good though, and this very likeability is tested but never banished during some of the edgier, ie potentially more offensive, pieces it contains.

The bad

It’s really thin. Barely thick enough to qualify as a short story collection, in fact. Admittedly, this does chime with the length and lightness of the pieces inside, as though a thicker book would give the lie to the ease of the writing. Put it this way – either Stewart is an extremely talented but not very prolific writer, or he and his editor have standards high enough to potentially harm sales (the difference between a thin book and a thick book on the ‘humour’ shelf is more immediately pronounced than in other parts of the bookshop).

It’s pretty…um…Jewish. Well IT IS! Not in an irreparably clichéd Billy-Crystal-imitates-his-mother kind of a way, but not as subtle as something like Dr. Katz, either. Stewart makes no bones about this, certainly – there’s a pretty funny chapter on the future of Judaism as a cultural force – but if this flavour of humour turns you off, or your name is Mel Gibson, then don’t say you weren’t warned.

What I learnt

Not much. Which is OK. Oh, that Jon is definitely Jewish, I guess. (Well sure, it was a pretty strong likelihood, but you must admit his name doesn’t give much away.)

In short

Title: Naked Pictures Of Famous People
Author: Jon Stewart
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
ISBN: 0688171621
Year published: 1999
Pages: 176
Genre(s): Essay, Humour, Short Stories

This review was written by Tom Vaughan. Tom has his own website, which contains many other reviews and strips and art and other fun stuff here.

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