Two of the US’ most well known comedians entertained thousands at a “sanity” rally, poking fun at the nation’s ill-tempered politics, its fear-mongers and doomsayers, just three days before the congressional elections.
Part comedy show, part pep talk, the rally with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert blended laughs and activism, drawing together tens of thousands stretched across an expanse of the National Mall in Washington, a festive congregation of the goofy and the politically disenchanted.
People carried signs merrily protesting the existence of protest signs. Some dressed like bananas, wizards, Martians and Uncle Sam.
“We live now in hard times,” Stewart said at the end of the rally. “Not end times.”
Stewart, a satirist who makes his living skewering the famous on the late-night cable TV satirical news program The Daily Show, came to play nice.
He decried the “extensive effort it takes to hate” and declared “we can have animus and not be enemies.”
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.
“Maybe I need to be more discerning,” Colbert mused. “Your reasonableness is poisoning my fear.”
Screens showed a variety of pundits and politicians from the left and right, engaged in divisive rhetoric. Prominently shown: Fox News host Glenn Beck, whose conservative Restoring Honor rally in Washington in August was part of the motivation for the Stewart and Colbert event, called the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. It appeared to rival Beck’s rally in attendance.
As part of the comedic routine, Stewart and his associates asked some in the audience to identify themselves by category, eliciting answers such as “half-Mexican, half-white,” “American woman single” and “Asian-American from Taiwan.”
“It’s a perfect demographic sampling of the American people,” Stewart cracked to a crowd filled with mostly younger whites. “As you know, if you have too many white people at a rally, your cause is racist. If you have too many people of color, then you must be asking for something — special rights, like eating at restaurants or piggy back rides.”
With critical congressional elections looming tomorrow, Stewart and Colbert refrained from taking political sides on stage, even as many in the crowd wore T-shirts that read “Stewart-Colbert 2012” and left-leaning advocacy groups set up shop on the periphery, hoping to draw people to their causes of gay rights, marijuana legalization, abortion rights and more.
Organizing for America, US President Barack Obama’s political operation based at Democratic National Committee headquarters, was mounting a “Phone Bank for Sanity” to urge people to vote tomorrow.
Don Novello, who years ago played Father Guido Sarducci on the TV comedy Saturday Night Live, provided the opening benediction. He polled the crowd on their religious leanings, then gave thanks to God for allowing everyone to assign their various causes to him.
Egged on by the hosts, Ozzy Osbourne and Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, engaged in something of a battle of the bands, the heavy-metal rocker singing Crazy Train as he barged in on the folk-rocker’s Peace Train in a mock clash of music and cultures. Their standoff ended once the O’Jays came on stage to perform their soul hit Love Train.