On Monday night, Jon Stewart pretended to fall in love with a Barbie doll for charity. He'd auctioned off his services for the "After-School Special"–themed benefit for Story Pirates, a nonprofit that brings improv pros into New York public schools to act out kids' stories and encourage them to stay involved in the arts. In the winning play, written by 8-year-old Bella Raoli, Stewart played a man who wins the heart of a Barbie doll through his un-Ken-like attributes, like flexibility and luscious, movable brown hair. (Stewart showed off his armpits, since his hair is still brown there.) After the show, the Daily Show host said that as much as he supports the charity, he was mostly there for the ego boost of performing for an audience that hadn't discovered sarcasm yet: "You won't get somebody who's like, 'Yeah, that was ... great.' It's all just exuberant and they're happy that you're there."
John Oliver, one of Stewart's TV correspondents as well as the night's emcee, said kids are often a comedian's most constructive critics. "They do heckle and they're just brutal in a way," he said. "I did a stand-up show for kids in Scotland and I'm halfway through some story, and some kid puts up his hand and says, 'When does this get good?' That's not arrogance from a 6-year-old. That's just an honest question. He just wants to know, 'Does this get good, and when?' I like them for that."
Both men said they’d had their formative moments of discovering comedy when they were around the same age as the kids at the benefit. “Listen, when you’re little and you need to get out of situations, you either learn that you’re fast or you’re funny. Unfortunately, I was not particularly fast,” said Stewart. Oliver said his moment of clarity came while being punished. “I guess there’s a time in school where you think of something funny and you know you’re going to get in trouble for saying it, but you want to say it anyway,” he said. “I’d be in detention at school thinking, ‘I care more about making people laugh than I do about getting out 45 minutes early.' That’s the sad truth: I like making people laugh.”
As Stewart left the event, Barbie-less, he tossed out his own idea for an After-School Special. “It can’t be something happy. I would know a secret about a pep rally gone awry,” he said. “It would probably be called Under the Bleachers. Meredith Baxter-Birney would do her best to comfort me, but to no avail.” But what would the secret be? “Well, you’ll have to watch the special,” Stewart said, cagily. “It has to do with the mascot.”