Washington (CNN) -- Assisted by a colorful cast of characters, Comedy Central funnymen Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert held a raucous rally on the National Mall Saturday in typical fashion before a cheering throng of supporters.
Amidst all the hilarity, however, the "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" carried a message about Americans turning their backs on hate and working together to make the world a better place.
Stewart and Colbert staged a mock battle, with Stewart supporting peace and sanity and Colbert promoting fear before a crowd that stretched nearly the length of the mall, most of the distance between the Capitol and the Washington Monument.
During the rally's opening, Colbert appeared on a video screen, saying he was trapped in his "fear bunker" and worried no one had shown up. Drawn by cheers, however, Colbert ascended to the stage in a device like that used to bring up the trapped Chilean miners earlier this month, wearing a superhero costume.
Former "Saturday Night Live" character Father Guido Sarducci -- played by comedian Don Novello -- provided a benediction, thanking God for "making it so easy to find parking spaces." And actor Sam Waterston of "Law and Order" fame read a poem entitled "Are You Sure?" about fears including "funnel clouds and hail/Anthrax in the mail ... someone's robbing your house/I can see through your blouse/Your mother was right, you chose the wrong spouse."
Cat Stevens, who now goes by Yusuf Islam, sang his song "Peace Train" as part of a duel with Ozzy Osbourne singing "Crazy Train." Stewart stopped Osbourne, rooting for Islam, as Colbert urged Osbourne on. The two compromised on the O'Jays, who showed up to sing their hit "Love Train."
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and "Star Wars" robot R2-D2 provided a lesson in tolerance and against stereotyping. "We're all on the same team," said Abdul-Jabbar, referencing Colbert and Stewart's discussion about Muslims.
There were some serious notes struck during the event, however. Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow performed a musical number about changing the world, including the lyrics, "The least that I can do is care."
"This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism, or to look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument, or to suggest that times are not difficult and we have nothing to fear," Stewart told the crowd as the rally drew to a close. "They are, and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies, but unfortunately one of our main tools in delineating the two broke."
He was speaking of what he called "the country's 24-hour politico pundit perpetual panic conflictinator." It did not cause the nation's problems, Stewart said, "but its existence makes solving them that much harder ... If we amplify everything, we hear nothing."
"There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned," Stewart said. "You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and tea partiers, or real bigots and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people, but to the racists themselves, who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate -- just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe, not more."
Most Americans, he said, don't live their lives solely as Republicans or Democrats, but as "people who are just a little bit late for something they have to do, often something they do not want to do. But they do it."
Some may paint the nation as fragile and torn by hate, he said, "but the truth is ... we work together to get things done every damn day."
"There will always be darkness, and sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn't the promised land," Stewart said. "Sometimes it's just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together."
After the rally, Stewart and Colbert deflected questions from reporters about whether they would attempt to parlay the rally into a sustained movement.
"We're not running for anything," Stewart said at the National Press Club.
"We don't have a constituency," he said. "We do television shows for people that like them and we hope that they continue to like them so that Comedy Central can continue to sell beer to young people."
"We wanted to do a really good show for people that wanted it," he said of the rally.
Asked what his next steps would be, Colbert said, "We have a show on Monday and we have to go write that and we have a live show Tuesday."
At the rally, Stewart awarded his "Medals of Reasonableness" to recipients including Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga, who lost a perfect game in June when an umpire mistakenly called what would have been the last batter safe at first base despite the fact replays showed he was clearly out. Galarraga, who lives in Venezuela, accepted via videotape, telling the audience the umpire is "a good man."
Another recipient was Velma Hart, chief financial officer for AMVETS, who challenged President Barack Obama at a town hall meeting in September; and comedian and wrestler Mick Foley; and Jacob Isom. A video of Isom telling how he swiped a kerosene-soaked Quran from would-be burners, telling them, "Dude, you have no Quran," went viral, and was set to a dance mix.
Colbert's "Medals of Fear" went to recipients including a 7-year-old girl who he said had more courage than the media organizations who did not send representatives to cover the rally out of fear they would appear biased, as well as to "Anderson Cooper's tight black T-shirt." Colbert said that when CNN's Cooper "shows up on your front yard, you know something terrible has happened in your community." A small black T-shirt was brought on stage on a hanger, and the medal hung on it.
Stewart and Colbert announced the rally in September, less than three weeks after conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck hosted a much-publicized "Restoring Honor" rally on the National Mall, urging large crowds to "turn back to God" and return America to the values on which it was founded.
CNN's Kate Bolduan and Ed Hornick contributed to this report.