After the final notes were played on the National Mall, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert went to the National Press Club to face the media, one of the biggest antagonists during the Rally to Restore Sanity. From the constant stream of “What will the political ramifications be for the Democrats?” coverage to the groups trying to opt the rally for their own political cause, the focus on the rally was viewed by many to have a decidedly political view. However, with Jon’s last statement at the rally, he all but nullified any question that this rally was about nothing but letting the politicians and media know that people are tired of the fear, of the insanity, of the extremism of the 24-hour news cycle and political process. And the press was given one last opportunity to ask Jon and Stephen to clarify their message for the rally.
The only problem is that it seemed that even with all that Jon had said and done during the rally, the press was bound and determined to draw some kind of political agenda out of Stewart. Jon, of course, was having none of that.
Beginning with the first question and continuing throughout the rally, Jon and Stephen set a very distinct tone for the answers that carried throughout the entire Q&A – Jon answering in very blunt, obvious (and often hysterical) views, with Stephen softening the answer a bit, or by making more lighthearted answers out of serious questions. Jon also very much led the answering part of the conference, with Stephen taking a similar sidekick role in the conference as he did at the rally. Refreshingly, Stephen was completely out of his blowhard “Stephen Colbert” persona which was featured during the rally and opened up on multiple occasions to show gratitude for the opportunity to perform in such a capacity. While both were obviously weary from the day’s events, they also both definitely seemed to be satisfied with both the turnout and the performances of the day.
The first question, asked by the Salt Lake Tribune, asked Jon and Stephen what they felt they had accomplished with the rally. Stewart answered “We were in the car, we are not sure what it accomplished, but we’ll know by tonight what it accomplished. Maybe in an hour?” Stephen countered with “I hope people had fun.” The second question, asked by Christiane Amanpour of ABC News asked about Jon and Stephen’s role as “players in our civil society”. Jon quickly reacted “We’ve always been members. But leaders?” Stephen responded, “We led this rally, that’s for sure, but beyond that, I don’t know. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” Jon also clarified his role as a leader by saying “Our currency is not this town’s currency. We are not running for anything, we don’t have a constituency. We do television shows for people who like them, and we just hope that people continue to like them so that Comedy Central can continue to sell beer to young people.”
CNN asked what the plans were from here, regarding planning more rallies. Jon responded with “Go hug my children”, with Stephen following with “We have a show on Monday. And we have a live show on Tuesday, which is normally the hardest thing we do all year. So we gotta go hump for two days. We have a Wednesday show too. And then a Thursday show, and then we keep going until Thanksgiving.”
The next question came from Alexis Ohanian of Reddit, asking about the role of the internet in planning the rally. After Jon’s slightly mocking “BLOOOOG-GER!” sing-song intro, Stephen leaped in thank Reddit for all that they’ve done to raise money for Donor’s Choose, and announced the $500K goal had been hit earlier in the week. Jon’s response to Alexis’s question, “it was kind of a nice thing that the Internet did, but we had been planning this, and the thought of this, for a few months prior”, was quickly followed by a slightly softer version of the same sentiment by Stephen Colbert: “It was really nice when we saw that people were urging us to do a rally … we had talked about doing it, but it was a really nice reinforcement of what we were thinking about attempting”.
The next question, asked by the National Journal, was asking Jon about when he had thought of what he was going to say at the end during his final thoughts. The question for some reason seemed to amuse Stephen, but Jon answered very simply, “Stayed up late last night, wrote until I was done. I wanted to speak from the heart.” Stephen’s response was much lighter – “I improvised everything I did – right off the top! Can I have a suggestion of a location and an occupation!”
The Associated Collegiate Press asked Jon about the boundaries issue which he had addressed in during the rally. Jon responded with his boundaries “are based on our own sense of human decency, not based on some pre-ordained category of people who are allowed to speak seriously, only speak in jokes, or only speak in rhymes.”
When Extra asked if Jon had spoken to Rick Sanchez since “the incident”, Jon said that yes, they had spoke. When asked how the conversation went, Jon said that it was “pretty anti-Semitic. Just vicious, just a lot of that. And I finally said, I get it.” He then clarified, he was kind, and it’s just human and he’s not a bad guy in any way. Stephen added “He has yet to call me.”
When the Wall Street Journal asked what was the most difficult part of the entire rally, Stephen quickly quipped “I think it was him hitting the high note.” Jon said that the Peace/Crazy/Love medley was the most difficult part for him. He then relayed this story about the behind-the-scenes process of the number:
One of the nicest things for me at the event was their joy in performing together. And in executing, sort of … there was a moment where we were in the trailer with The Roots, and I had Yusef to my left, and Ozzie to my right, and I was going, ‘Okay, no no no, Yusef’ and they were going between Peace Train and I could see on their faces, we all felt like 12-year olds just playing in this little trailer. And it was just purely joy. And that, to me, was the best and the hardest thing to pull off and put together.
Jon talked a few moments to the Chicago Tribune about the Obama interview, and how while he thought it could have gone better, he thinks that of all of his interviews. When the Tribune writer asked Stephen if he was jealous of Jon, Stephen deadpanned “Yes”.
Arianna Huffington was next to ask a question, but before she could even get a word out, Stephen asked “Did you drive any of the buses yourself?” When she answered no, he responded with, “I’m sorry, that’s all we have time for, let’s move on. Thank you, really, we have to be fair here.” I adored her initial response to Jon and Stephen – “I want to abandon my journalistic objectivity and neutrality and say that it was awesome!” She brought up the fact that many of the media may not mention their reactions due to neutrality and objectivity oaths they take as members of the media, to which Stephen quickly responded, “Really? An oath? Is there blood involved? Is there ritual scarification?” She asked if there were any specifics of where the flashlight should be pointed by the media, to which Stephen answered “I think we should put our flashlight under our chins because it makes us look spooky.” Jon responded by saying that objectivity does not mean not taking a stand.
The next round of questions went by quickly – Jon’s answer to ComedyCentral.com’s question of what was the message to people who couldn’t make it was that he hoped people were able to watch from home and enjoy it. Tony Fox took this time to mention that there were over four million streams of the show, to which Jon stated “I don’t know what that means.” When asked if people should vote, Jon responded with “they should do what moves them, it’s not my place to make that choice for them..” When asked if they thought their shows were contributing to the national dialogue in a productive way, Jon responded with stating that he hoped it provided a certain clarity, but it’s a hard judgment to make, and in their minds, it does.
Salon.com asked the question that was the elephant in the room, how do you think the media is going to treat the rally? To which Jon succinctly replied “I. Couldn’t. Care. …just don’t care. For us, the success of it was the execution of an idea and the intention. You can’t control people’s reaction to it.”
When Variety asked what surprised them the most about the rally, Stephen said, “That it happened.” Stephen then related a story about what brought him joy during the rally experience:
For me, one of the greatest surprises was the joy of seeing the audience out there. Like, how many people came. And when the Mythbusters got them to all jump at once to create an earthquake, that was right before I got stuffed in the capsule. And I stopped in to see that happen. We had been talking to Jaime and Adam about something they could do, and they had a bunch of really great ideas. We said oh, we’ll do what we can to help you, and we’ll have fun, we know what to do. We went out there, and right before I went on stage, I saw the crowd all jump, and this wave just cascade down to the Washington Monument. And I nearly levitated backstage with joy, at how joyful, and sort of how stupid it is to kind of try to create an earthquake. The audience were so clearly it-getters, they were there to have fun. They were there to play a game along with us, and we said, you know what, let’s go out there and try to play our game as hard as we can, and hopefully they enjoy our intentions.
For me, this story was, in a nutshell, what meant the most to me about the rally. I was there not to enact political change, or to accomplish anything. I was there to have fun, to play along, in a huge venue and on a national stage, and to be a part of the vision that Stephen had for the game. Period. And to see the smile on Stephen’s face, and the twinkle in Stephen’s eye as he told that story, was, as a fan, an amazing sight to see.
When asked why he thought that the blogosphere was the harshest of all of the critics of the rally, he said that they were “broken human beings.” Jon then went to talk about how, by being in the business of comedy, he has had to develop a pretty thick skin. Jon’s admittance of his past failures left a wide open door for Stephen to jump in:
- Jon Stewart: I have failed miserably in this business and I have succeeded …
Stephen Colbert: Yes you have.
Jon Stewart: Settle down.
Stephen Colbert: Short Attention Span Theater.
Jon Stewart: Settle down!
Stephen Colbert: The Faculty …
Jon Stewart: Alright!
Stephen Colbert:Death To Smoochy …
Jon Stewart: The list goes on! I know my resume!
I was sitting just on the other side of Jon and could see the look on Stephen’s face when he was gently, then not so gently ribbing Jon and his mischievous grin was hysterical.
The final question was from the TV Squad blog, asking about the scope of what had happened today and if it will affect the message of the rally. Stephen responded, “This is in keeping with what we always do.” Jon defended his line of work saying that he was not “just” a comedian, and he took great pride in his work.
Here’s a video of Stephen’s story about the audience jumping, and his commenting about how he nearly “levitated with joy”, courtesy of the Comedy Central Indecision blog. I would also recommend watch the conference in its entirety on the National Press Club site.