By Jill Colvin
WASHINGTON — Thousands of New Yorkers descended on Washington, D.C. Saturday for a rally led not by civil rights or anti-war leaders, but comedians.
Comedy Central stars Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert took to the stage on the National Mall in front of the Capitol for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, a cross between a political rally and comedy show that drew tens of thousands of fans.
"It’s crazy," said Christina Denaro, 32, who traveled from Washington Heights, as she stood in a crush of people trying to get a glimpse of the stage. She, like others from the city, boarded buses, trains and cars to make the 220-mile trip to Washington to be part of the event.
More than 200 buses were paid for by Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington to ferry people from New York to the event.
Thousands began to descend on the Capitol well before the rally began, many dawning early Halloween costumes and ironic mock political signs.
"We have over 10 million people!" Stewart, the host of the news satire "The Daily Show," joked as he made his first appearance just before 1 p.m and looked out across the crowd.
After praising its diversity, he asked them to repeat, "I’m concerned with the direction of the country. I’m open to a variety of ideas."
Then Colbert, the host of the faux-right-leaning spin-off "The Colbert Report," countered with his own chant: "If you’re here to keep fear alive, at the count of three, let’s say 'Ooh!'”
The two were joined by a host of musical guests, including The Roots, who opened the show, Cat Stevens, Kid Rock, Ozzy Osbourne and Sheryl Crow.
Denaro, who described herself as a die-hard "Daily Show" fan, said she envisioned the gathering more as a comedy festival than a political rally, despite its scheduling the weekend before Tuesday’s Election Day.
But Anna Saporito, 32, a doctor, who lives in the West Village, said she saw the rally as a demonstration against the growing Tea Party movement, which descended on Washington for Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in late August, prompting Saturday’s show.
Saporito said the uninsured patients she treats at a community health center had asked her to come to deliver a message for a better health care system.
"I’m here for sanity, for reasonability, to continue what we did in 2008, to get people to vote," she said.
Ruthann Grey, 65, a retired corporate executive from New Jersey who had never been to a rally before, said she feels that moderate voices have been drowned out on cable news shows and the political arena.
"We had to come. We had to demonstrate our support," she said, as she waved a sign that read, "Tea… The New Kool-Aid.”
Kathryn Sardinsky, 25, who works in Midtown and lives in Hoboken, said she was most impressed by the rally’s colorful signs.
"Drowning in a sea of wit," she Facebooked to her friends at home from the crowd.
But not everyone was impressed with what they found after the long trek from Manhattan.
Tony Martinez, 41, an architect who lives in Midtown, said he was hoping for Stewart to bring together the left and right for a civil conversation.
Instead, he said, he was forced to listen to music from the 1970s and a "pompous" Stewart perform a "three-hour shtick about his show."
"In the end, it was really a waste of time," a disappointed Martinez said, as he walked away from the Capitol.
"At the end of the day, it didn’t accomplish anything… On Tuesday, everything is the same."