Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” and Steven Colbert’s “Rally to Restore Fear” was hilarious, and heartbreaking.
The presentations were witty, and the signs were hilarious — many were explicit, but almost all of them earned a laugh.
The comedy, unfortunately, highlighted only the most negative stereotypes about today’s tea partiers, playing up the fringe elements and playing down rational concerns about size and scope of government.
That’s not to say that the rally attendants were entirely unsympathetic. Many held signs saying things like “DEBT,” or simply, “I don’t know.” But far more had stickers on supporting abortion and gay marriage. “You don’t have to hunt moose to be a real American,” said one sign. “Don’t Panic,” said another.
Both Stewart and Colbert maintained that the event was apolitical, as did Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington, who leased 200 buses from Manhattan to bring in supporters.
"It doesn't make any sense to be agnostic about sanity," Huffington told USA Today. "The rally is not political. It's not partisan.”
It would require some mental acrobatics to ignore the anti-Bush, anti-Beck, anti-conservative mood that was on display via political buttons, stickers, and of course, the comedic signage. The whole thing reeked of the 60’s, updated to reflect today’s modern hipsters.
The crowd was far from uniform, however. Multicolored hair and black eyeliner was as easy to find as a graying mop or baby stroller. Hundreds of thousands of people were in attendance; crowd estimates were hard to make, but it was clearly on the same level as the big tea party rallies like 8/28 or 9/12.
Stewart pulled off his typical blend of deadpan comedy and bad jokes in several segments, which were broken up with musical features. Ozzy had a sort of “battle of the bands” with Yusuf Islam (the former Cat Stevens), along with Mavis Staples, The Roots, John Legend. Steven Colbert, of course provided comedic backup.
“I love this country,” said Stewart, during one sililoquey.
“Then why don’t you marry it?” asked Colbert, in a grade-school retort that got everyone chuckling.
The two comedians then performed a duet called “The Greatest, Strongest, Country in the World,” featuring stanzas about everything from the founding fathers to toilet paper.
Stewart’s keynote address started by asking the crowd: "Ladies and gentlemen, what is reason?" Colbert quickly interrupted the speech and turned it into a debate session, “fear versus reason.”
It was somewhat hard to discern his argument given that he was wearing a white, red and blue Captain America costume.
“The American people can't come together on anything. They can't stand each other," Colbert said.