LOS ANGELES - Jon Stewart is sitting in a cushy white chair in a small, windowless room known as Kodak Theatre's "Dressing Room 3." It's spare other than a laptop on a table and dozens of bottles of water atop a tiny fridge.
Wearing a black T-shirt over a white thermal and olive pants, Stewart is taking a brief break before going back to "the refinery," which is how he describes crafting material for the Academy Awards with his "Daily Show" writing team. He and seven others have been working furiously since the Writers Guild of America strike ended last week. Now they must create hours' worth of comedy in just one week for the world's most-watched entertainment show.
"It's not so much drill-sergeanting or putting people on some sort of caffeinated treadmill," he says. "You just have less time."
The 45-year-old faux pundit hosted the Oscars two years ago, so he knows what to expect. Still, it's "disorienting" to work in Los Angeles rather than in his native New York.
"In New York I have windows," he says. "It's an away game, and since I mostly play home games, it's unusual."
So why step out of the comfort zone of his Comedy Central hit, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," into Hollywood's fickle glare?
"This is an exercise in throwing yourself in to the coldest water you think you can handle," he says. "It's just having an incredibly different challenge."
The Associated Press gave Stewart another challenge Wednesday: a game of free-association. We offered bits from current events and the year's nominated films and asked the comedian for his quickest responses.
Here are the results:
— I drink your milkshake: "My prom."
— Javier Bardem's haircut in "No Country for Old Men": "You never expect a psychopath to have the Dorothy Hamill wedge."
— Unwed teen mother: "Everyone can dream."
— The Writers Guild of America: "Nothing like the writers guild of Argentina."
— British period drama: "British semicolon drama."
— Corrupt corporations: "Somebody's got to sign the check."
— George Clooney: "Dreamboat."
— The female Bob Dylan: "The male Joan Baez."
— The nation's first black president: "Is that including '24'?"
— The nation's first woman president: "Is that including Geena Davis?"
— The nation's 44th white-guy president: "Anybody can grow up to be president, but not really."
— Joan Rivers is not on the Oscar red carpet this year: "And yet she's made out of the same material."
— Nobody has seen this year's movies: "I have screeners."
— The transformative power of the mustache: "It's not just for '70s gay people anymore."
— Edith Piaf: "She's no Yma Sumac."
— Call it, friend-o: "Worst guy to play quarters with in the world."
— Three days until the Oscars: "What?! Why am I talking to you?!"