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Rally To Restore Sanity's Roots: A Search For Calm From Day One

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While the upcoming Rally To Restore Sanity, and its opposing March To Keep Fear Alive, marks an exciting high point in the lives of "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report", respectively, the combined event can best be seen as something that deepens and extends a challenge that the two shows have long sought to meet -- that a debased and frantic public discourse needs to be confronted head-on by the cool reason of rational minds.

Comedy, which harvests laughs by juxtaposing the life we're left with against the ideal, is a genre that loves reason above all else, and the two hosts have plowed the field carefully. Jon Stewart, whose show has evolved into a meta-critique of media excess, is known as the man who told the hosts of CNN's "Crossfire" that their daily shout-fest was "hurting America." And Colbert has exposed the central witlessnes of our cable-news paranoiacs, by ably embodying a pundit-host so suffused with fear that his only response to the world is to batter it with trademarked truthiness.

They've done this work very diligently, and so we thought we'd celebrate the way they've stoked sanity by going back into their copious archives to show off the roots of these rallies. If you're a habitual "Daily Show" watcher, we invite you to share your memories. Please feel free to leave comments, or, if you like, hit me up via email and let me know what your favorite Moment of Sanity is.

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Back when Jon Stewart took over the reins of "The Daily Show" from its first host, Craig Kilborn, the show was just beginning the process of finding its stride again. Old vestiges of the Kilborn era remained in place -- such as the show's formal structure and its pop-culture emphasis. Critically, the show was still very much oriented toward making funny jokes about the news of the day, more in the style of Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update", as opposed to the deeper political and media critiques for which the show came to be known.

But on January 11, 1999, "The Daily Show" rebooted itself into the middle of one of the great political circuses of our time, the Clinton impeachment trial. And while the show's first steps were awkward ones, Stewart offered a hint that sanity was on his mind, saying, "The most important issue facing the United States Senate is how can it take a pointless, tawdry trial, whose outcome has already been decided, and make it last six hilarious, humiliating months." As we know from the historical record, they found a way, and they've been trying to outdo themselves ever since.

Also, yes, oh my God, he was so young back then! Staring headlong into the blinding light of irrationality will age you, too.

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