“The Daily Show” without Jon Stewart? That almost happened, the program’s star revealed during an interview with fellow Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert at the Montclair Film Festival in New Jersey on Friday.

And it almost happened because, according to Stewart, he had some pretty horrible co-workers.

Stewart, who took over “The Daily Show” hosting duties from Craig Kilborn in 1999, said he almost backed out of the gig because “what I did not realize is, a lot of the people who worked there were assholes.”

He continued: “I had, before taking [the job], some conversations with the powers that be there about the direction I thought we could move the show…. I wanted it to be satirical in the classic sense of the word, not the Spy magazine sense of the word where you just add adjectives like ‘pepperpot.’ ”

Stewart’s vision was met with resistance by the writers, who told him when they were first introduced that “this isn’t some MTV bullshit.” The Comedy Central host also said he felt as though staffers had discussed him ahead of time and that they did not share his enthusiasm for changing the show’s format.

Eventually, he phoned his agent and asked him to “get me the fuck out of this. These people are insane.”

Asked by Colbert how close he really was to quitting the program, Stewart responded, “I had to be talked down from a moderately high cliff.” He added that it took him about two and a half years to get a fully supportive staff at the show.

Stewart certainly has many fans who are glad that the satirist stayed.

Third Beat has more interesting tidbits from the night:

Stewart and Colbert’s first meeting was at the press conference announcing Stewart as the new host of the Daily Show, where Colbert was already a correspondent. (Watch them tell that story on a recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live.) The same night, Stewart had his first book release party for “Naked Pictures of Famous People.” Colbert picked up a copy, and Stewart signed it “To Stephen, please don’t hurt me, Jon Stewart.” “It’s on my shelf to this day,” Colbert said.

In a 2001 episode of the Daily Show, Colbert took on the role of Al Sharpton when the real Sharpton was a no-show for his scheduled interview. Colbert – a massive Lord of the Rings fan – had scored a pass for that night’s New York premiere of “The Fellowship of the Ring.” He was on his way out (“my hand is literally on the door”) when he was called to the studio over the PA system. The instruction was simply, “Sharpton didn’t show up. Be Sharpton,” he said. Colbert assured the Wellmont audience that he was happy to stay behind and accept the task. “It was so fun,” he said.

During the audience question-and-answer portion, a man who had been in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, thanked Jon for the speech he made when the Daily Show returned and said how helpful it had been in his healing process. Stewart was gracious, but said, “I don’t think I’ll ever in my life be able to watch that again,” admitting that he gets choked up just thinking about it.

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— Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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