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Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Reflect on Rally to Restore Sanity: We Did It! Now What?

by Nick Zaino, posted Oct 31st 2010 2:18PM
Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart at the post-Rally press conferenceIt took Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert nearly an hour-and-a half to travel the roughly ten blocks from the National Mall, where the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear had taken place, to the National Press Club for their post-rally wrap-up. No doubt they were fighting through the throngs of people who had attended the day's festivities -- the official permit for the event had been for 60,000 people, but Comedy Central's unofficial count for attendees was 250,000.

When Stewart and Colbert sat down to talk to the press, they seemed joyful more than a little relieved. They had just presided over a three-hour event that included their own comedy, both of them singing (Stewart had a bit of trouble recreating his performance from rehearsal on some high notes), comedian Father Guido Sarducci, actor Sam Waterson, and music guests like the Roots, Yusef, Ozzy Osbourne, and the O'Jays, Jeff Tweedy and Mavis Staples, Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock, and Tony Bennett.

And of course, there was the political aspect of the rally to grapple with -- the message that public discourse has gotten too heated, too disrespectful, and downright mean. Thus the call to ignore the extremes and restore sanity. But did the rally mean Stewart and Colbert were throwing their hats into the political ring? Not according to Stewart, answering a question about whether the rally made them "players in civil society."

"Our currency is not this town's currency," said Stewart. "We're not running for anything. We don't have a constituency. We do television shows for people who like them. And we just hope that people continue to like them so that Comedy Central can continue to sell beer to young people. As long as they do that, we're allowed to do our shows.

"I understand you guys have, it's all about who's winning and who's losing and the strategy of this and the players in that, but we have TV shows and we wanted to do a really good show for people that took the time to come out and see us. And I feel like we accomplished it. And I'm really happy with the hard work that both of our shows put in. And the musicians who took the time to come and see us and the crowd that was so wonderfully supportive of everything that happened."

"It was a theory six weeks ago," said Colbert. "The fact that it came together this quickly - the number of scripts that we generated, the number of ideas, the number of people we talked to have it all coalesce and to funnel through this three-hour window, and for it to happen, is just incredibly joy."

Stewart said the most difficult and the most satisfying part of the rally was puling together the logistics and still producing a joyful show. At one point, Stewart had Yusef (formerly Cat Stevens) singing "Peace Train," which Colbert interrupted to bring out Ozzy to sing "Crazy Train." It was a Train-off, settled only when the O'Jays took the stage to sing "Love Train."

Yusef was apparently brought in from Dubai, the O'Jays from Cleveland, and, Stewart noted, Ozzie from wherever it is he's from. "There was a moment when we were in the trailer with the Roots," said Stewart, "and I had Yusef to my left and Ozzie to my right and I was going, 'Okay, no, no, no,' and they were going between 'Peace Train' and I could just see on their faces, we all felt like twelve-year-olds, just playing in this little trailer. It was purely joy. That, to me, was the best and the hardest thing to pull off and put together."

Colbert was gleeful over the moment when the Mythbusters, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, got the crowd to all leap at once to try to cause an earthquake. "Right before I went onstage," said Colbert, "I saw the crowd all jump and this wave just cascade down toward the Washington Monument and I nearly levitated backstage with joy at how joyful and, on a certain level, kind of stupid it is to try and cause an earthquake. The audience so clearly were it-getters. They were there to have fun. They were there to play a game along with us."

Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart at the post-Rally press conferenceHow will the media report what happened? Stewart said he couldn't care less. Will it help anything, especially with elections coming up Tuesday? Impossible to know. "You know, it's very hard to get a sense of perspective on that from the outside," said Stewart. "We hope that it provides a certain clarity. That's a hard judgment to make. That's for others to decide. But in our mind, it does. But again, that's kind of a difficult one to suggest. Like, 'We're helping, not hurting!' Of course we feel that way. Everybody thinks they're sane. Hannibal Lecter I'm sure walks by a salad bar and goes, [makes a faux crazy expression] 'Carrots and tomatoes?' So it's hard to know."

At its essence, the show was entertainment for a huge audience, and was a remarkable success, judging by the crowd size and enthusiasm. But clearly Stewart hoped something a little deeper was at work, as well.

A lot of comedians, when asked about serious subject matter in their comedy, will fall back into claiming they are just comedians, just going for the laugh, warning audiences not to take anything they say too seriously. Stewart was unwilling to take that line.

"When people say, 'I'm a comedian,' for me that's not, 'I'm just a comedian,'" he said. "I'm really proud that I'm a comedian. I think it's hard. I think it's hard to distill your most valued thoughts into comedy and to let things that you feel strongly about be the subtext for what you create. But that's not a way of dismissing what you're saying. We stand by the subtext that is everything. I'll defend what we do on the show. And if it turns out to be something that we're wrong about, I'll correct it and say, we screwed up. But that's not a dodge. That's pride."

What do Stewart and Colbert do to follow up a live show in front of tens of thousands of people? "We have a show on Monday, and we've got to go write that," said Colbert. "And we have a live show on Tuesday. Normally that would be the hardest thing we do this year."

Check out the rest of TV Squad's Rally to Restore Sanity Coverage:

Keeping Things Moderately Reasonable on the Ground at the Rally to Restore Sanity (VIDEO)

20 Reasonably Funny Signs from the Rally to Restore Sanity

The Best Moments From the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear (VIDEO)

Who Attended the Rally to Restore Sanity?

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Comparing the two is unfair given that people came to this rally for different but valid reasons. Some came because they wanted to see Colbert/ Stewart. Some came for a free concert. Some came because it was the 'cool' thing to do. And some came because of the target demo and co-opted it for their own needs.

Unlike Beck's rally, the Colbert/Stewart rally had no real point (though Stewart made a good attempt to tie it all together at the end with a nicely thought out speech) so it appealed to a larger audience than Beck's.

November 01 2010 at 12:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to psv's comment

I couldn't disagree more. Anyone who follows Stewart knows what this rally was about. Ever since his appearance on Crossfire back in 2004, his motive has been very clear: reduce the noise in the 24 hour media and the amount of divisive rhetoric coming from politicians (on both sides). I am a Republican and agree with his position so I went to show support for the cause as did most of the people there.

Colbert and Stewart provide some of the best social commentary on a daily basis (even better than the Simpsons), and, sadly, they probably do a better job in breaking down & presenting news stories than CNN, FOX and MSNBC.

November 01 2010 at 6:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I can't wait to see the arial shots of the crowd. Since Comedy Centra is claiming a quarter of a million people showed up (or were bussed in by Zsa Zsa Huffington and the Union thugs), they are going to have a problem when in shows up as a smaller crowd than Glenn Beck's, which the mainstream media have previously ordained as being only 87,000.

October 31 2010 at 6:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Jim's comment

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