Drawn by the promise of comedic brilliance and the beauty of free admission, thousands of students piled into Dillon Gym on Saturday night to experience the local humor of Jon Stewart.
In addition to the 2,100 students who watched the show, about 200 students were turned away from the door after waiting in a line extending beyond Patton Hall, according to Lee Vartan '00, the student event organizer.
The event — which was coordinated by all four classes — attracted far more students than expected, according to Nina Langsam, Class of 2003 social chair. "Before it happened, there was a lot of debate about whether we would even fill up the gym," she said. "We didn't publicize it that much."
As Stewart pointed out during his performance, the event was funded in part by the University Board of Trustees under the alcohol initiative.
The trustees provided a $20,000 grant — the largest given thus far under the initiative — to help cover the costs of the performance. In addition to the costs of setting up the gym for the show, Stewart was paid $25,000 for the appearance.
"Stewart was the best choice we could have made. He was a Princeton-specific performer and could talk about things that related to students," Vartan said.
Frederick Borsch '57, chair of the trustees' committee on health, life and athletics, said scheduling Stewart's performance was part of a larger effort to provide non-alcoholic alternative activities. "One of the most important parts of the alcohol initiative was to provide fun, healthy, interesting experiences, some of which would be without alcohol," he said.
The show was not completely dry, however. Public Safety officers confiscated beer from students both before and during the performance, according to Lt. Lloyd Best.
Nevertheless, assistant Dean of Undergraduate Students Thomas Dunne said he and other administrators viewed the event as a success. "There's no way the trustee initiative is ever going to be in the position to assure students don't drink," he said. "We don't want to hear students are drinking as a default because there is nothing to do."
Stewart's show was replete with social commentary — a favorite topic for the well-known comedian. "A lot of the stuff I did, I don't usually do at shows. I mean the Oppenheimer stuff doesn't usually go over well," Stewart said in an interview after the show, referring to one joke he included in the evening's act.
Stewart, who grew up in Lawrence Township, said the show struck a personal chord for him. He delved into Princeton topics — bashing Hoagie Haven, recalling memories as a townie and yelling at students to work on senior theses. "You have to understand, I view you guys as Einsteins," Stewart said.
"The only other way I could come back here is that I would have to visit my parents," he added.
Stewart commented repeatedly during his performance on the oppressive heat and giant stage. He also engaged in shouting matches with the crowd. "It was a tough crowd. They came in a little bit rowdy, probably because the show started late," Vartan said.
Nevertheless, Stewart said he was thrilled by the crowd, which was larger than he usually performs before. "It's called the power of free," he said.