By Ken Tucker
Updated October 30, 2010 at 07:11 PM EDT
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Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert led their “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” from the National Mall to a crowd at what Stewart estimated as “over ten million people.” And if you believe that, you believe that John Legend does justice to Bill Withers music.

A gigantic-scale put-on laced with sincerity, the rally had something for almost everyone. This was typified by a “train” music medley: Cat Stevens/Yusuf’s “Peace Train,” Ozzie Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” and the O’Jays’ “Love Train.” (When it comes to art, the O’Jays won.)

The event was an assiduously shambling affair aimed more at the assembled throng than the TV and internet audience, which was as it should be, given a crowd that held up signs with sentiments such as “Don’t Be Mean” and “I Have A Really Big Sign.”

Some highlights:

• Sam Waterston read a rally-themed poem written by Colbert featuring the rhyme scheme of your average Dr. Seuss book.

• Among the medals bestowed by Stewart and Colbert, two excellent ones stood out: One, a Medal of Reasonableness to Velma Hart, who respectfully disagreed with the President recently, and one of Colbert’s Fear Awards (the “Fear-y,” he called it) to Anderson Cooper’s “tight black t-shirt,” a symbol of cable-news fear-mongering. (Funny, but a tad mean to Cooper, given his fear-mongering competition.)

• Father Guido Sarducci, delivering a benediction that included the praise, “Thank you, God, for dogs — especially dogs.”

Less successful moments:

• Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow (and T.I. via pre-recording) were energetic, earnest, and underwhelming.

• The Mythbusters guys leading the crowd in various forms of the wave nearly brought the proceedings to a dead halt early on.

• Most crucially, the “keynote address” by Stewart and Colbert, dubbed “Formidable Opponent” and consisting of back-and-forth gibes about sanity, fear, and prejudice, with cameos from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and R2D2, reserved its most withering criticism not for political issues or politicians, but (well, he is a media critic, isn’t he?) the media, with elaborate “video montages” of extreme comments by folks on Fox News, MSNBC, and other TV-news outlets. If they’d wheeled out a barrel, Stewart and Colbert could have shot fish in it. (But shooting fish, of course, would have been wrong.)

So what did it all come down to? Stewart’s closing remarks: “So. Here we are.” He said he wanted to conclude with “some sincerity” that might breach the “boundaries for a comedian/talker/pundit-guy.” Sincerity is always welcome. His message: “We live in hard times, not end-times. We can have animus and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of our main tools […] broke.” That would be the 24-hour news media, which in his view is the real for of sanity, and stoker of fear. “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing,” he said. “Americans don’t live on cable tv… most Americans don’t live their lives as Democrats or Republicans or liberals or conservatives. Most live their lives as people a little bit late for something they have to do… making little, reasonable compromises we all make… we have to work together to get from the darkness to the light.”

“The press is our immune system: If it over-reacts to everything, we get sicker, and maybe eczema.”

It was, in short, a variation on what Stewart does every night on The Daily Show, only with more music, cool D.C. breezes, and more slow spots.

The show concluded with Tony Bennett singing “America the Beautiful” and Mavis Staples singing “I’ll Take You There.”

Where did the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear take you?

Follow: @kentucker

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