Who: The host of The Daily Show, Stewart is America's most popular fake news anchor.

Backstory: Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz grew up in New Jersey—his dad was a physicist—and attended college in Virginia, before taking a series of crummy jobs (bartender, busboy, construction worker, puppeteer) while trying to catch a break on the New York comedy circuit. His first TV job materialized in 1989 thanks to comedy club impresario Caroline Hirsch, who hired him as a writer for a show called Caroline's Comedy Hour. The gig didn't last long, but it led to stints hosting Short Attention Span Theatre on Comedy Central and MTV's You Wrote It, You Watch It, an early exercise in user-generated content. (Viewers sent in storylines and a sketch team that included Michael Ian Black and David Wain would then act them out.)

Stewart found himself on the cusp of late-night stardom in 1993: He was picked as a possible contender to replace David Letterman as the host of Late Night following Letterman's departure for CBS. Conan O'Brien got the job instead and Stewart signed on to host The Jon Stewart Show, which started out on MTV and went into syndication a year later. The quirky show connected with the college crowd and earned praise from critics, but it never generated a broader following and was canceled a year later. He occupied the next few years with stand-up appearances and parts in a handful of crappy movies like the 1998 romantic comedy Playing by Heart and the 1999 Adam Sandler vehicle Big Daddy. Stewart's big breakthrough came later in 1999, when he was tapped to replace Craig Kilborn on The Daily Show. Since then, Stewart has become a household name, a thorn in the side of politicians, and a hero to stoned college students everywhere.

Of note: Stewart's perch at Comedy Central has turned him into a cultural phenomenon and media darling: journalists, bloggers and left-leaning politicos discuss and debate his every move, and despite his relatively small audience, his disproportionate influence on the New York-Hollywood-Washington axis makes an invite to appear on the show one the most coveted tickets for pundits, politicians and authors. (Just how much of an impact he truly has on the political landscape, though, is unclear. The suggestion that he'd play a pivotal role in the 2004 election never quite panned out.)

Although it's been more than a decade since its debut, Stewart's show remains one of Comedy Central's most popular programs. It's also proven itself a launching pad for a handful of bright comedic talents. Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Ed Helms, and Rob Corrdry all became famous thanks to their stints on the program, and it was Stewart's production company Busboy Productions—a nod to one of the jobs he had before hitting it big—that spawned The Colbert Report. Busboy also produced the Comedy Central show Important Things with Demetri Martin.

Stewart signed a new contract with Comedy Central in 2010 which will keep him as host of The Daily Show through 2013. It's unclear how much the network pays his for his services. His previous contract earned him a reported $1.5 million a year.

AKA: He came up with the stage name "Jon Stewart" by dropping his last name and altering the spelling of his middle name from "Stuart" to "Stewart." He changed his name officially in 2001.

On the side: Stewart has published two books. His first, a 1998 essay collection Naked Pictures of Famous People, was a modest success. But he turned out a monster bestseller in 2004 when he teamed up with The Daily Show writing staff to publish the mock history textbook, America, right in time for the elections. (America also earned Stewart the rare distinction of having a book banned from the shelves of Wal-Mart: The retailer refused to stock the book due to the naked (fake) pics of the Supreme Court justices.) His most recent book is entitled Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race.

Personal: Stewart married longtime girlfriend Tracey McShane, a former veterinary technician, in November 2000. (He proposed to her with a crossword puzzle that he assembled with Will Shortz, the crossword editor at Times.) They have two kids, Nathan and Maggie. In 2005, Stewart sold his West 13th Street penthouse to fashion designer Michael Kors for $4 million, trading it in for a $5.8 million apartment in Tribeca. He and McShane also have a home in North Haven, NY, just around the corner from actress Edie Falco's home, along with a waterfront manse in Red Bank, NJ.

No joke: Stewart was once roommates with Anthony Weiner, who remains the only political candidate he's ever donated to.

Vital Stats

Birth Name: Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz
Date of Birth: 11/28/1962
Place of Birth: New York, NY
High School: Lawrence High School
Undergrad: College of William and Mary
Residence(s): New York, NY (Tribeca); North Haven, NY; Red Bank, NJ
Filed Under: Media, Television, Celebrity

[Photos via Getty Images]