Charlestonians drowning in Republican politics came up for a healing breath of laughter Friday at Stephen Colbert's "Rock Me Like a Herman Cain South Cain-olina Primary Rally."

More than 3,300 people packed the College of Charleston's Cistern Yard to hear Colbert, a Charleston native, and former GOP candidate Herman Cain. After officials closed the gates, the crowd continued to grow in the streets surrounding the Cistern.

People perched on fences, balconies and even a satellite dish to get a glimpse of the show, which was a strange but lively mix of politics, comedy and music sprinkled with odd inspirational messages.

Colbert said a lot of people asked him: "Why are we here? What is this about?"

It's simple, he said.

"We the people are still in charge."

Colbert said you don't have to be a billionaire to have your voice heard.

"You just have to know a billionaire."

He bemoaned having to give up his Super PAC, "Making a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow," when he started exploring a run for president. It was like giving up a baby, he said.

"Now imagine that baby had a whole lot of money. Imagine how much harder that would be," Colbert said.

A marching band, cheerleaders and a gospel choir shared the spotlight with Colbert and Cain. Portions of the event will air on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" at 11:30 p.m. Monday.

The rally charged the already electric atmosphere in Charleston on the eve of today's first-in-the-South Republican primary.

Colbert has said he's considering entering the race for president of the United States of South Carolina, but couldn't get on the South Carolina ballot because he missed the Nov. 1 filing deadline.

Cain -- who dropped out of the race in December -- remains on today's ballot but isn't seeking the Republican nomination. So Colbert was encouraging people to vote for Cain, likening a vote for Cain to a vote for Colbert.

"I share his beliefs," Colbert told the crowd. "You share my beliefs."

The transitive property then holds that you share his beliefs, Colbert said.

Cain said he wasn't offended that Colbert attached his name to Cain's image.

"America needs to lighten up," Cain said.

And Cain took advantage of his time in the spotlight to spread his message to students and others gathered at the event.

"Washington is broken," he told the crowd. "It's not going to change from the inside. You're going to have to change it from the outside."

He encouraged students to stay informed, involved and inspired.

College of Charleston junior Cayla Williams said she and her friends thought the rally was fantastic.

"It was a great satire on politics and pointed out the flaws in the political system," she said.

Although it was a comedy performance, she said, she's certain it will inspire students to get more involved in politics.

And it was a boon for the liberal arts college, she said. The event brought national attention to the college.

"It makes me take more pride in my school," Williams said.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491.