US & Canada

What was Jon Stewart's rally in Washington all about?

Media captionPeople at Jon Stewart's "sanity rally" explain why they are there

Tens of thousands have turned out to the rally held by US television comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert in Washington DC, but what was it all about?

Officially, it was the the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.

Image caption Jon Stewart presents the Daily Show, a satirical current affairs programme

But to the casual observer it seemed a lot like a rally to restore the balance after Fox News host Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally in August.

Many of those who packed into the eastern end of the National Mall, the opposite side to that occupied by Beck's rally, were adamant that the day was not about supporting any particular political grouping.

Tony P, from Maryland, had a banner that identified himself as Republican.

But he said: "This is about moderation, and less about right and left. There is too much hyperbole and not enough sanity."

Dressed in the kind of mock-Victorian outfit favoured by so-called "steampunks", Justin Cameron, from Washington DC, said: "We are big fans of civility."

"People are mean," his companion Caitlin Phillips intoned.

Rahul Kamath, from New York and wearing a jacket and hat adorned with dollar bills, said he was there to support "political moderation".

Where Beck asked people not to bring placards in August, this time there was no such injunction and there was a profusion of them, usually with an effort at humour to try to match that of the hosts.

Some were pithy like the one that said "Ruly Mob", or the one that satirised the controversial Westboro Baptist Church with "God Hates Flags".

Image caption Colbert's half of the rally was jokily promoting fear

Another played on the famous comments of Franklin Roosevelt - at the time of his inauguration - with the line: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself and spiders".

Beck's rally, despite the large numbers of Tea Party members in attendance, tried to avoid being seen as a Republican event. And similar efforts were made to avoid Stewart's rally appearing like a Democrat event.

But there was the occasional banner supporting President Obama. And there were plenty attacking the Tea Party. A mock presidential ticket of "Palin, Voldemort, 2012" left little doubt about its bearer's leanings.

Much derision was reserved for Fox News - a regular target for Stewart's satire on the Daily Show - by those at the rally.

One banner said: "We're Moms - Life is Insane Enough Without Fox News." Another claimed: "Fox keeps fear alive."

"It's nice to let foreigners know we aren't all like Glenn Beck," said rally attender Rachel Stock, from Ohio.

Perhaps the most popular political cause in evidence could hardly be said to be either Republican or Democrat.

Supporters of the legalisation of cannabis - looking forward to California's vote on a step towards that in Proposition 19 on Tuesday - were everywhere.

It being the night before Halloween there were scores of costumes.

The main emphasis in the signage was a series of attempts to be humorous, while at the same time emphasising the value of calmness.

Image caption The closeness to Halloween prompted much fancy dress

It seemed clear that turnout was at the top end of what was expected and thousands at the side of the Mall found themselves struggling to see or hear what was going on on the distant stage.

What was going on was effectively a mixture of a stand-up comedy gig and a one-day rock festival featuring Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Bennett, Sheryl Crow and others.

Stephen Colbert - who does his show as a mock-conservative pundit - arrived on stage in a pod a la Chile miners.

And both bantered in between the musical interludes, Colbert "promoting fear", Stewart "promoting sanity".

Stewart then asked for a chance to say something serious at the end of the rally.

Image caption Those at the rally said the message was about moderation

And he reflected the slightly nebulous political tone of the event, when he said: "Even if none of us are really quite sure why we are here, some of you may have seen today as a call for action."

Pleading for understanding, he said: "We live in hard times not end times." The comment prompted a loud cheer.

Much of his message was against the sensationalism and divisiveness of both the media and politicians generally.

"If we amplify everything, we hear nothing," he said.

"We hear every damned day about how fragile our community is - on the brink of catastrophe. We work together to get things done every damn day."

The latter comment prompted the loudest cheer of a day.