PW: America is laid out like a textbook. Why did you decide to organize it in this manner?
Jon Stewart: You know, it just seemed like taking a bunch of cocktail napkins and putting them in a binder would have been extremely messy. Actually, so much of what's out there is polemical, and we wanted to do something that would give people a broader perspective on the entire system. The problem was, we didn't realize that parodying a textbook takes an enormous amount of education.
How did you coordinate with the Daily Show writers to put this book together?
Everybody did a great deal of work at night and on the weekends. We organized it very similarly to how we do the show, with Ben Karlin and D.J. Javerbaum taking the lead in organizing the writers, me focusing more on the essays and the managing editing, and the writers providing all the fuel.
What motivated you to write America?
I really wanted to bring more stress into my life. I felt like doing a show every day didn't cause me enough discomfort.... Seriously, I think what spurred it in some respect is that so much of what we're hearing about now is nation building, so we thought it might be interesting to take a look back and give people a historical perspective on it. If you're going to build a nation, we've written a book where all you need to do is add people. You may not get a great country, but if you smash together some of the stuff you've learned in this book, you've got to do better than North Korea.
The book is critical of our political system, but you also include a section on how worse off the rest of the world is.
I guess the thing to take from this is that we are incredibly negative people. No, in some respects, I think the book is very idealistic. It's written with an eye towards reclaiming the glory, of giving an enema to the system, and I think we're just laying out our case for where the detritus is.
What would you like readers to take away from this book?
The [pull-out] poster. Definitely, the poster.
Besides the poster and the fact that they can now found their own country?
Come on, that's pretty strong. What do you get from most books? What does Sue Grafton give you other than another letter? We're giving you a certificate. You can go to Haiti tomorrow, and they would put you in charge.
So you think people who read this book will have a better understanding of what's going on in politics right now?
No. [laughs] Probably not. I'm hoping that people will find it incredibly entertaining. Honestly, the main thing we tried to do was put in as many jokes as we could, and as many different kinds of jokes—visuals, charts, etc. We wanted to have so many jokes that, ultimately, people would say, "I cannot believe how many jokes are in this book."
So if you were a bookseller, you would shelve this book in the humor section?
If I were a bookseller, I would not have it in my store. I would take a stand. It would be like Wal-Mart and the sexual content covers. I would say, "I do not want my customers being exposed to this kind of piddle."
What do you think of the final product?
We're all really proud of the way it came out. The one thing that I will say sincerely is that I was very impressed by the way everybody just rose to the occasion. It was a huge undertaking, and we're hoping that people will like it on many different levels, from the college kid putting the poster up in his dorm room and giggling to people using it as an actual textbook.