Jon Stewart, Bill O’Reilly plan pay-per-view debate
Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly are taking their status as BFFs — best frenemies forever — to the next level early next month when they square off in a 90-minute, pay per-view event in the nation’s capital.
Dubbed “The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium,” the face-to-face meeting Oct. 6 will be moderated by CNN anchor E.D. Hill and will be modeled after a mock presidential debate: 60 minutes of conversation between the host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and Fox’s top-rated “The O’Reilly Factor,” then 30 minutes of audience questions.
The trash-talking between the pundits, who sparred frequently and appeared on each other’s program, has already begun.
“I told him we’ll pick up all the hair mousse he needs,” O’Reilly said in a telephone interview. “There’s not an area on earth where I’m not stronger or more compelling than him.”
Asked what area might prove to be O’Reilly’s biggest weakness, Stewart replied, “Obviously, I think the biggest vulnerability will be his thoughts and ideas — the things he thinks in his brain.”
The curious can watch the live-streamed debate for $4.95. “We kept [the price] low. We wanted everybody to get in the tent,” said O’Reilly.
So far, interest appears high: Tickets to the live show at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, which seats about 1,500, sold out almost as soon as they went on sale Tuesday, despite costing $100 a pop.
O’Reilly and Stewart say their goal is not to enlighten or edify but merely to entertain — and raise money for charity in the process. Half of the net proceeds from “The Rumble” will go to a number of causes selected by Stewart and O’Reilly.
Stewart characterizes the debate as “sports for two guys that don’t play sports anymore,” while O’Reilly predicts “there will be some serious points, but it’s going to be mostly for entertainment value.”
Stewart says the idea for “The Rumble” came from O’Reilly, who didn’t give him much say in whether he’d be involved. “It was a direct order,” he said. “There was not a lot of courtship. I was expecting candy, flowers.”
The decision to broadcast the debate online only is not so curious given the broad appeal of the participants. The pay-per-view model was inspired by comedians Louis C.K. and Jim Gaffigan, explained Stewart, both of whom have turned to the Internet to deliver their material directly to fans.
It’s also a tidy way to avoid competing corporate interests. “A guy who belongs to Viacom and a guy who belongs to News Corp. would have been kind of a nightmare,” Stewart added.
Stewart and O’Reilly have a history of butting heads. In its ongoing role as media watchdog, “The Daily Show” frequently skewers right-leaning pundits, including O’Reilly.
Nevertheless, O’Reilly has appeared on “The Daily Show” numerous times over the last decade, displaying far more willingness to engage with Stewart than his current and former Fox News colleagues, including Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.
Stewart has returned the favor with repeated visits to “The O’Reilly Factor” over the years. In his earliest appearance, at the height of the contentious 2004 election, Stewart kept things light. But in a sign of his increasingly blurry role as a comedian-slash-pundit, Stewart has used his subsequent appearances on O’Reilly’s show to make sincere points about the state of contemporary political discourse.
Though the two hosts have developed a kind of begrudging respect, their relationship is not without tension. In 2010, Stewart sat for a heavily hyped interview with O’Reilly in which he slammed Fox News as a “cyclonic perpetual motion machine” bent on drumming up fears over President Obama. Stewart’s fans, hopeful their idol would deliver a death blow that never quite arrived, complained that O’Reilly’s producers had edited his sharpest moments from the interview.
“He’s got a lot of tricks up his short sleeve,” said O’Reilly of the upcoming confrontation. “So I’ve got to be on my guard.”
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