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Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert host Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on Mall

The "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear," hosted by Comedy Central's pundits, draws people wearing costumes and carrying signs to the Mall.

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Showing up wasn't simple, in a weekend that was packed with activities related to Howard University's homecoming, the Marine Corps Marathon and Halloween. Many rally-goers encountered severe transportation delays. Metro's packed trains could not accommodate new passengers at stops approaching downtown. Red, Green, Orange and Yellow line trains all seemed at full capacity at 11:15 a.m. Rail riders arriving at stations at the end of Metro lines in Maryland and Virginia were confronted with unusually long lines.

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Those who did get to the Mall found large portions closed off by metal fencing, leading to frustration at many usual entry points. Along one stretch, between Third and Fourth streets NW, dozens of people scaled fences and portable toilets to get a better stage view.

Authorities would not estimate the crowd size, though the National Park Service decided to open an extra section of the Mall that was not included on the initial 60,000-person rally permit, according to Bill Line, spokesman for the Park Service. By 2 p.m., Metro ridership had already reached 330,000 people, comparable to an entire day's tally for a usual Saturday, according to Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates.

The rally began as a variety show of shtick and song. The two Comedy Central anchors arrived onstage Saturday afternoon to present bits that pitted Stewart's wry rationalism against Colbert's warped right-wing bravado.

Stewart took the stage first and immediately needled the media metrics of the rally's success, saying it would be judged by its "size and color." In a reference to some exaggerated estimates of attendance at Beck's rally, he said, "I can see we have over 10 million people." As for the diversity of the crowd - the lack of which was the source of much criticism of Beck's event - Stewart joked that it was absurd to read any motives of racism in a crowd's demographics. But despite "Daily Show" correspondents dispatched in the crowd to cheekily interview an ethnically diverse sample of rally-goers, the crowd appeared overwhelmingly white.

"It's very white," said Tahir Messam, a 25-year-old computer expert from Brooklyn, who is African American and came with Pakistani and Chinese friends. "But most of America is white."

Colbert appeared in a red, white and blue jumpsuit in the style of Evel Knievel, bellowing that he expected the gathered "minions" to do his "bidding."

On stage, the TV personalities welcomed cross-genre musical acts that sang in harmony - Kid Rock with Sheryl Crow, Jeff Tweedy and Mavis Staples - or in mock discord, as when mellow folkie Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) had an interruptive session with metalhead Ozzy Osbourne. Stewart bestowed "medals of reasonableness." The fake cleric Guido Sarducci, played by Don Novello, gave a benediction.

"I find it incredibly ironic," says Jim Neimeier, who drove to Washington from Wisconsin for the event, "that I had to come to a rally sponsored by a comedian to get at the truth."

"This is the most American thing I've ever done!" a young man screamed into a plastic megaphone, handed out by Comedy Central.

The event proved a mass demonstration of noncommittal cleverness, quirk and irony. Through signage, some rally-goers competed to be the most topical ("One man's socialism is another man's uninformed buzzword"), the most off-topical ("I love pineapples") and the most meta ("I am holding a sign").

Many Mall visitors toted signs with arch witticisms such as those identifying the carrier as a member of the "Decaf Party," or warning people "Don't Tread on Snakes," instead of "Don't Tread on Me." Plenty of gear from Obama's inauguration was exhumed from closets and worn again, and many posters borrowed Shepard Fairey's iconic "Hope" design from 2008 - but the visage staring out was of Stewart, not Obama.


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