NEW YORK — If Borders and Barnes & Noble want to be considered entertainment centers, “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart is the ideal headliner.
While touting “America the Book: A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction,” Stewart bypassed any traditional book tour.
But the funnyman drew more than 600 people to a Borders signing at New York’s Time Warner Center. Hundreds more turned out for a panel discussion by Stewart and a dozen “Daily Show” writers at Union Square Barnes & Noble.
Instead of touring, Stewart — chained to his mock anchor desk in Gotham — did a TV blitz on high-profile shows from “Today” and “Charlie Rose.”
He did go out of town on one notable occasion.
After appearing at Washington, D.C.’s, Politics and Prose bookstore in October, he guested on CNN’s “Crossfire,” resulting in his verbal smackdown of conservative commentator Tucker Carlson. That incident was followed by a “60 Minutes” profile and goosed national news coverage by cultural crix including the New York Times Frank Rich.
The book “America,” by the “Daily Show” staff and released in September, has sold 1.5 million copies for Warner Books, largely outpacing “Daily Show’s” own viewership. (Comedy Central says the show usually draws 1.1 million viewers, down from its election-mania peak of 2 million.)
With about 2 million copies in print, the book’s numbers are especially impressive because Wal-Mart would not carry “America.”
“There was definitely a ‘perfect storm’ thing here,” observes Publishers Weekly’s Steve Zeitchik. “As Jon Stewart was peaking in exposure, these Frank Rich pieces (in the New York Times) kept coming, perfectly spaced. It all would keep getting Stewart out there, and suddenly this weird textbook landed in our laps. His exposure had a lot to do with it.”
Though Stewart and his show rode a wave of attention tied to the election, it’s still riding high on bestseller lists.
“It’s not a book that’s topical,” says Dan Strone, CEO of Trident Media Group, which reps Stewart as a lit client, with the funnyman’s manager James Dixon. “A year from now, it will be funny. This is a book that’s going to backlist incredibly well.”
Traditional Hollywood memoirs are still largely considered a tough sell. “But I see a trend back to Hollywood books,” Strone says.
“A lot of people think that you write a memoir when your career is over. But the wrong thing is to wait too long. There’s a moment when you should do it, and it doesn’t mean you are closing the door on your career.”
Strone — who also reps books ranging from Rex Pickett’s novel “Sideways” to Paris Hilton’s “Confessions of an Heiress” — was riding a major comedic bio boom in the 1990s when he inked Paul Reiser to write “Couplehood” and Jerry Seinfeld to pen “Seinlanguage.” Those are quasi-memoirs, but the market contracted after some not-as-popular titles.
Warner Books senior VP-publisher Jamie Raab says there is an “America” calendar in the works, but not any sequel. Stewart has joked the next installment will be “South America: The Book.”