For some while I’ve believed that the most revealing political show on television is, without a doubt, Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” on cable television’s Comedy Central. At first blush, this is an absurd statement to make. The Daily Show is, after all, a comedy show on a comedy channel hosted by a long running comedian. But Jon Stewart’s wit and intellect, coupled with the show’s ability to strip issues to their core and reveal the underlying truth (often through parody and exaggeration) is a one-of-a-kind gem. Though occasionally criticized – probably fairly – for leaning a bit left of center, the show owns no set allegiance and is quick to shine it’s revealing light on topics sensitive to political ideologues of either side. Case in point… his “Working Stiffed”skit poking hypocritical fun at a Union in Nevada.
Beyond commentary on daily political events, The Daily Show is also a serious production with serious guests covering a long string of serious topics. Republicans and Democrats alike wait in line to be interviewed by Jon, as well as major scientists, entertainers and authors. Heck, in a two-week period Jon featured lengthy and thoughtful one-on-one interviews with both Condolezza Rice and Barrack Obama.
Why does the show draw such political opposites? One reason only: it’s fair. In between his often hilarious side jaunts and quick witted friendly jabs and instant self-deprecation, Jon asks real questions and allows his guests the courtesy and time to give serious and developed answers. In a world where cable networks have joined sides, run to the fringe and focused on sound bites or hyperbole, The Daily Show is a small breath of fresh air; it tackles serious topics, allows for details and nuance, and wraps it all up in highly entertaining edgy irreverence.
So when Jon announced on a recent show that he was going to hold a Rally To Restore Sanity on the DC lawn, an obvious play on Glenn Beck’s Rally To Restore Honor that had taken place in the same location a few weeks earlier, I was searching airline prices within minutes. When his Comedy Central colleague Stephen Colbert, in his own show immediately following Jon’s, announced a simultaneous and competing “Rally To Keep Fear Alive” … I knew I had to go. This event immediately appeared to be this generation’s Woodstock for mildly disenchanted but fun-loving and optimistic middle of the road pacifists. How can you possibly say no to that?
So with that, my airline tickets were purchased and on the late afternoon of Friday, October 29th, I was on my way to DC for a rapid fire two-day trip to enjoy the Rally on the 30th. With a late arrival on the 29th I just grabbed a cheap hotel, but the following morning I got together with my friend and former Normanite, Allison Smith, her son, and her fiancée John. We started the day out at a great local breakfast Diner and then headed toward the Mall. This turned out to be a great place to have the advice of locals, because they knew where to catch a bus and roll right to the Lawn trouble-free. I heard many reports later of a completely jam-packed Metro system, and some of my friends had trouble even getting there.
Fortunately for us, we made it to the rally just in time and found…the biggest crowd I’ve ever been part of in my life! Size counts eventually put the crowd at 250,000 making it the largest DC rally this year by a factor of approximately 3. Clearly Jon and Stephen had struck a chord with this event. So, we tried our best to make it near the stage on 3rd street, or at least to the satellite stage on 5th street. 7th street was as far as I got, and I also got completely separated from Allison and John in the process!…something we all thought might happen. Fortunately we had a meetup plan for later.
Being four full blocks from the stage, you’d think there might be room for comfort.
Every once in a while I could move a half-step; most of the time I could not. It was truly a can of sardines. I could only catch an occasional glimpse of the video screen, and had to wonder about the people behind me – the crowd extended for another four full blocks. A few brave souls even took to tree climbing for a better view, which allowed me the opportunity to catch this wonderful video of some dude climbing a truly difficult tree. It was painful to watch. Catch the crowd with their impromptu “Yes You Can! Yes You Can!”. Awesome.
The rally itself was only three hours long and most of it was music and some silly skits between Jon and Stephen. The Roots gave a full half hour performance, and were followed by one of the stars of MythBusters who conducted several crowd experiments – the best of which was a “wave” of vocalized “wooooo’s”. But my favorite music performance of the day was a duel between Cat Stevens representing Jon, singing Peace Train, and Ozzy Osbourne representing Stephen, singing Crazy Train – ultimately resolved by the O’Jays with the song Love Train. Adding to the start studded cast were Cheryl Crow, Kid Rock, Tony Bennett, and even a guest appearance by Kareem Abdul Jabar.
After a solid two and a half hours of fun, Jon took the stage to make a more serious speech. Jon’s a comedian, and consequently is a pretty silly guy most of the time. But every so often he gets serious. One of the finest “serious moments” was his appearance on CNN’s Crossfire a few years ago. Recruited to come on the show, be funny, and talk about The Daily Show – he decided to do anything but. Instead he took the show to task HARD, and flipped in on it’s lid. (click here for a video link) One week later, in a classic television moment, the show was cancelled! Another time on The Daily Show he took liberal financial expert James Cramer to the carpet for his role in hyper-sensationalizing serious financial topics right up to the brink of the 2008 meltdown. So though it’s a rare occurrence, it’s not unheard of for Jon to show a serious side.
Jon’s speech lasted about 15 minutes, and had a few spectacular lines. My favorites… “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing”… and, “We live in hard times, not end times.” His point of it all seemed to be that times are tough, but people are good and resilient. The noise is just noise, no matter what cable news channels say, and the overwhelming majority of Americans are good people that work hard and together every day. (link to full video and transcript) Ultimately the crowd in attendance was plenty of proof of Jon’s point. After the speech a mood of happiness took over for the next several hours as the crowd hung out and slowly drifted away.
At this point I found Allison and John again and we just took in the atmosphere – taking lots of pictures, including tons and tons of rally signs. The photo gallery below contains my favorites, and here’s a precious video of Allison’s son learning how to dance to an impromptu trash can and bottle drummer.
So what was the point of the rally? I believe it was, more than anything, simply a demonstration that in a world that sometimes seems to have gone mad, things in reality are pretty normal. When 250,000 people of all ages, shapes, races, persuasions, and size decide to come together for a celebration of civility our national situation must not be as bad as the TV and radio seem to want us to believe. As for Jon himself, I’ve concluded that he’s a bit of Mark Twain character for our generation. A great author, funny man, and somewhat liberal observer of a mankind. I’m glad we have him around.
So it was a wonderful weekend. A nice Ethiopian meal and breakfast at the same Diner capped off the weekend and before I knew it I was flying home happy. Many thanks to Jon and his 250,000 friends, and to my two friends Allison and John for a great weekend that I’ll never forget.
Let’s finish up with a photo gallery!
Click any image for a larger view, and to enter a slide presentation format.
- I am Woman hear me … speak clearly and succinctly while also acknowledging your opposing point of view
Want even more signs from the rally?
Here’s many more at funnyordie.com