Rally to Restore Sanity Flops

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's over-the-top political gathering wasn't even good TV

Was it funny? No.

Was it political? No.

Was it good television? Hell, no.

Civility might be good for the collective spirit, but it makes for lousy TV, as evidenced by Comedy Central’s live telecast of  Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington on Saturday.

Despite their good intentions, Stewart and Colbert were flatter than three-day-old champagne. At times, they were downright tedious, bordering on smug. For the snarkiest comedy tandem on TV to suddenly get all Gandhi  – Can’t we all get along and use our indoor voices? – felt disingenuous at best.

“Getting along,” as any cable news aficionado knows, doesn’t cut it. Conflict, preferably at the decibel level of a jackhammer, is the real stuff of drama. It sizzles. It swizzles. It pan-fries. It is habit-forming and morally bankrupt.

Stewart and Colbert didn’t exactly link arms and sing “Kumbaya” for three hours, but for all the energy they put out, they may as well have. Normally turbo-charged, their tanks were bone empty. Most of the skits bombed. Stewart’s serious “keynote address” came off as self-serving.

Fox News’ Glenn Beck, a frequent Stewart target, described the rally on his show last night as the equivalent of “a high school play. It was not good.”

As a die-hard Stewart fan – I would have his child, if I still had a uterus – I take no pleasure in ripping the rally. But the truth is, as a TV event, it didn’t come close to the level of satire and political insight produced night after night on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

Because it was neither political comedy nor comical politics, it failed at both.

Where it scored, and scored big, was with the music, which included performances by the Roots, John Legend, Yusuf Islam (the Artist Formerly Known as Cat Stevens), Ozzy Osbourne. The OJs, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, Mavis Staples, Jeff Tweedy, and Tony Bennett.

Islam and Ozzy on stage together in a musical “duel” of “Peace Train” vs. “Crazy Train?” Priceless.

The good news is that Stewart’s message has not gone totally unheeded. In the spirit of harmony and goodwill, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann announced on his show last night that he’s suspending his “Worst Person in the World” segment.

It was the best part of the show, but if it promotes a kinder, gentler Olbermann, what the hell?