A sea of smiling faces, many of them carrying homemade signs with messages aiming for belly laughs, cheerfully flooded the U.S. capital on Saturday, heeding a call for civility from comedian Jon Stewart and a sardonic plea for excess rage from his fake nemesis, Stephen Colbert.
An estimated 200,000 people turned out at Washington D.C.’s National Mall Saturday afternoon for the much-hyped ‘Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear.’
Hosted by ‘the founding fathers of fake new,’ skits included appearances by Don Novello playing his “Saturday Night Live” character Father Guido Sarducci as well as Law and Order star Sam Waterston reading out a poem written by Colbert, which contained passages such as:
“That guy who just coughed down your neck, does he have an infection? That restaurant that you went to brunch, did it pass the restaurant inspection?” and “Someone’s robbing your house, I can see through your blouse. Your mother was right, you chose the wrong spouse.”
Mr. Stewart kicked off the rally like a rock star, shouting out to the festive throngs that stretched from Capitol Hill to the Washington Monument about 10 blocks away on the National Mall: “Are you ready to restore sanity?”
Stewart, a satirist who makes his living skewering the famous on the late-night cable TV satirical news program “The Daily Show,” decried the “extensive effort it takes to hate” and declared “we can have animus and not be enemies”.
Co-host Stephen Colbert, who poses as an ultraconservative on his Comedy Central cable TV show “The Colbert Report,” played the personification of fear at the rally.
He arrived on stage in a capsule like a rescued Chilean miner, from a supposed underground bunker. He pretended to distrust all Muslims until one of his heroes, basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who is Muslim, came on the stage.
Throughout the rally, Colbert and Stewart poked fun at American news organizations for their supposed sensationalist coverage of security, health and social issues.
There were also performances by The Roots, Tony Bennett, The O’Jays, John Legend, Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock, Jeff Tweedy and Mavis Staples, and a surprise performances by Yusuf — formerly known as Cat Stevens — who sung the first verse of “Peace Train” before Ozzy Osbourne crashed the stage to perform “Crazy Train”.
Stewart gave out “Medals of Reasonableness” to Detroit Tigers baseball player Armando Galarraga who kept his cool after an umpire made a bad call; wrestler Mick Foley who stood up for kids being bullied at school.
And also to Internet sensation Jacob Isom who stopped a Texan evangelist from burning a Quran; Velma Hart, the woman that told US President Obama she was “tired of defending” his administration at a town hall meeting.
Colbert presented a “Fear” award to news organizations ABC, CBS, AP, NPR and The New York Times for banning their reporters from attending the rally out of fear of appearing biased.
Just three days before the congressional mid-term elections, the rally was a rare infusion of goofy silliness into the U.S. capital, where angry rhetoric has characterized much of the political debate since the historic election of Barack Obama two years ago.
Mr. Stewart said the rally was aimed at the large silent majority who deplore the toxicity of political discourse in a country that remains deeply polarized.
Stewart closed the rally with a speech criticizing American cable news but ended on a positive note about the need for the country to work together.
“This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, activists or to look down on the heartland. We live, now, in hard times, not end times.” said Stewart.
“The country’s 24-hour political pundant, perpetual panic conflictor did not cause our problems but its existence made solving them that much harder. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”
He continued to say that labels such as “bigots,” “racists” and “terrorists” are thrown around too much and that it’s dangerous not being able to tell the difference between a Muslim and a terrorist.