This is the best explanation I’ve yet heard about what inspired Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and their staffs to conceive and organize a massive rally on the National Mall this Saturday:
Beck’s rally was the primary inspiration, but another motivation is also at work: comedic envy. Last summer, when Conan O’Brien’s “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour”came to Radio City, Stewart and Colbert took the stage for a “dance-off.”
“Conan’s tour was just spectacle,” Stewart said, sounding in awe months later. “Being a stand-up, you play theaters that have had Foghat or somebody like that, so there’s a soundboard and all this shit. And all you’ve got are a stool and a bottle of water, and you want people to sit there for an hour and a half. You wish you at least had a couple of smudge pots. The idea that Conan went out there and put on a SHOW! As a comedian, you’re like, ‘Wow!’”
That, right there, as much as anything, sells this show to me. It’s being called a rally because that fits with the way “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” play with politics, both the actual politicization of things and the way politics are driven and covered in this country. But as my wife pointed out, even if you take out the rally aspect, the timing (coming three days before the midterm elections in the nation’s capital) and everything else, it’s basically just a free chance to see Stewart and Colbert perform.
Conan’s tour stop in D.C. was a truly outstanding moment of spectacle, as Stewart put it. It was also wildly different from what Conan’s audience had gotten until that point: Conan on camera, Conan behind a desk, Conan hitting his mark and making jokes, Conan always on the other side of the glass. It’s why people go to sporting events instead of watching them on TV, why they go to concerts when they have the band’s album, why they go see stand-ups perform the same jokes they heard the last time they came. Things are different in person.
The frantic media attention being given to the Stewart/Colbert rally is unsurprising and already beyond overkill. Media members love nothing more than writing about themselves (ahem) and how they have become or will become or already are the story. The Stewart/Colbert shows get attention from the media because of how much attention they give the media. While, yes, both of the shows have political bents and obviously have some level of influence (debating the exact amount is impossible and quixotic), they are primarily entertainment outlets and this rally will be primarily a live show. I can understand why sending buses to bring people to the rally is a bit off (as well as being a naked attempt to piggyback on someone else’s media wave).
The notion that journalists shouldn’t be able to go is and remains absurd. The Post covers the Wizards and the Redskins, so are reporters who happen to be fans not allowed to go to the games and cheer for the team? (I mean reporters who don’t cover the teams, obviously.) Or do politics get a special shelf because it’s D.C., it’s the Post and the underlying fear of seeming slanted? We cover lots of different things and a lot of them have a real purchase and resonance in our everyday life. The only reason this particular rally is getting so much attention for whether or not journalists can/can’t/should/shouldn’t go is because there’s this pervasive, neverending fear among mainstream media outlets of looking like they are even incrementally inching away from precious, precious “balance.” Obviously political reporters shouldn’t go to this event and cheer if their subjects are mocked. Obviously a TV critic shouldn’t go to this event in a “Stewart/Colbert ’08” T-shirt and cheer for hours.
But it’s a show. There are going to be some jokes, some musical acts and a couple of hours of entertainment. To a lot of young people — a potentially shocking number of young people, if early predictions are correct — it’s also a moment, not unlike the one that drew a lot of people to D.C. for the inauguration in 2009. They aren’t the same, either in meaning nor in audience. They just happen to be things that speak to people at that particular time and for that particular cause. In that case, it was for the politics or the history. For this rally, it’s because they like these guys and think they’re funny and want to see them live, in addition to whatever political feelings come into play. I cannot fathom how that has gotten so lost amidst the endless, pointless debates about whether or not journalists should go, how political it will be, the impact it will have on the elections or what it means for Stewart’s “legacy.”
Me, I’m just hoping he can put on a show half as good as Conan’s.