Over the last seven years, Jon Stewart's laser-sharp political humor has moved him from journeyman comic to acclaimed host of cable TV's "The Daily Show."
Now, he will embrace the role of master of ceremonies on the biggest night in showbiz -- the Oscars. Stewart still will enjoy an audience 20 times bigger than for his Comedy Central show, even if the Oscars hits a modern ratings low.
"I will say this," Stewart said. "This will probably be the most controversial Oscars ever in the history. And I wouldn't be surprised to see, I don't want to say, street violence, afterward -- but certainly unrest. I don't want to use the word coup, but it could get pretty ugly. And that's just not a cynical ploy to get people to watch, because I will have six minutes up there."
Stewart hopes he can enjoy what may be the biggest night of his career so far.
"I really hope I'm able to enjoy this," Stewart said. "'Cause you know, you never know if it will happen again. And the idea that you're allowed to do something that Steve Martin and [David] Letterman and Carson did is, for me, you know, you just want to honor that tradition."
Whether Stewart gets asked to host next year's Oscars will be a strong indication of how well he does Sunday night. Bob Hope hosted the Oscars on radio and TV 16 times. Johnny Carson took five turns. And Billy Crystal has done eight. But Crystal is busy with his one-man off-Broadway show this year, a fact that producer Gil Cates acknowledged when he announced his choice of Stewart.
Chris Rock, who hosted last year, was asked back -- and declined -- even though he ruffled a few feathers with jokes like, "Who is Jude Law and why is he in every movie I have seen the last four years?"
"Chris Rock did it sort of as an outsider, as a standup comedian," said Dalton Ross, senior editor at "Entertainment Weekly." "He didn't have that joy or love for the movies that some other hosts had."
As an entertainer, Stewart falls somewhere between purebred television hosts like Carson and Letterman, and actors like Martin and Crystal. He's done a dozen movies, but the co-star of "Death to Smoochy," shows little inclination to pursue more serious roles.
"I know the difference between people who can really act and people in movies," Stewart said. "I've been in movies. These people can act. It's a whole different world, you know, which is one of the reasons why I'm hosting and not sitting in the audience, waiting for my name to be called."
"Let me put it this way," he added. "They can do the 'Jon Stewart Story' and I'm not sure I would be cast."
Stewart will spend Sunday with a galaxy of stars, but it will be a rare night out for a guy who says his idea of a good time is doing crossword puzzles with his wife, Tracey McShane.
"I was never allowed into those parties earlier in my career," he said. "Now it turns out, at just the time I'm allowed into them, I'm 43 and no longer interested."
The joker admitted he was a little nervous to host Oscar night, saying he felt like he "could be in for a good, old-fashioned, show-business a--kicking."
So, does he have a pre-game ritual?
"Yeah, I kill a chicken," he said. "I have a chicken brought to me, and I do an incantation and then I kill it. And then I stand over it and taunt it. And then when that is done, I put on my overalls and I walk right out."