The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was, of all things, boring. From a Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rally I expected something more. I really didn’t know what — what is a rally to restore sanity anyway? What is a rally to keep fear alive? And what in the hell is a rally to do both? I think that nobody knows even now, including Stewart and Colbert. But given that the two of them were hosting the show, the least I expected was great comedy.
Instead we started off with an hour of music and party games. The band – Roots, joined at some point by John Legend — was good and funky, though not what I had traveled from New York City for. After them the hosts of the TV show Mythbusters took over and played around with having the absolutely giant crowd do the wave, then all jump at the same time – essentially some exercises to demonstrate that the crowd was absolutely giant. Sadly they threw in some kindergarten-level Simon Says-type exercises that just made me sad. They themselves said this was by far the largest audience they had ever had, yet the most creative they could get was to have everyone “laugh politely” or “cry” on cue. Dog obedience school is probably more stimulating.
All that took up a whole hour before we saw hide or hair of either of our hosts. And once Stewart and Colbert finally showed I sort of wished they hadn’t. I wanted to laugh for them instead of feel uncomfortable for them, but they did not make it easy. Colbert was no more than the court jester, a role far beneath both the man and the character. On the Colbert Report he doesn’t just act the clown – he makes incisive commentary, and he points out when the right gets something right. At the rally he just cavorted in silly costumes and played the fool. The tone was set when he made his entrance from beneath the stage in a painfully slow reenactment of the Chilean miners’ rescue. Not funny.
Stewart and Colbert tried so hard to so little effect that it was almost a relief when they brought on one musical act after another. I had no idea I was going to a concert, but it felt like there was more music than there was anything else, mostly by people I had never heard of. There was one great comedic musical moment, when Yusuf (formerly known as Cat Stevens, then as Yusuf Islam – and he was the musical representative of sanity) and Ozzy Osbourne (representing fear – somehow once the entire nation has witnessed him shuffling around in his bathrobe it’s hard to make that association) dueled with “Peace Train” and “Crazy Train.”
The funniest bit didn’t involve either Stewart or Colbert. It was Father Guido Sarducci who came to the rescue with a “benediction” that was more like a friendly, one-to-one tiff with God. He badgered God to give us all a sign which religion was right, with the apparent result that none of them is. It had nothing to do with sanity or fear and he didn’t have a band, so it was a refreshing break in addition to being really funny (look it up on YouTube – it must be there by now). Sam Waterston also scored with a dramatic recitation of a poem that Colbert claimed he wrote the night before. After that it was back downhill.
Only at the very end did Jon Stewart really attempt to explain the rally in a speech censuring political extremists and ripping the media a new one for abandoning its critical role of educating the public in a democracy. He got some good lines in and set the stage nicely for the rally. Too late.
(Kudos to the crowd on the fantastic signs, e.g. “The people behind this sign can’t see”; “Save Jon Stewart! He’s our most important Jew!”; “I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Voldemort”; and best of all, “Puppies Now, Puppies Tomorrow, Puppies Forever!,” which made as much sense as anything else.)
Stephen & Jon, I love you guys, but I want my train fare back.