Mr. Colbert Goes to Washington
[This blog post has been updated with details of Colbert's testimony]
Comedy Central late night star Stephen Colbert did battle on the Hill Friday morning in a Frank Capra-esque appearance before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law's Hearing on: Protecting America's Harvest.
"I am happy to use my celebrity to draw attention to this important, complicated issue and I certainly hope that my star power can bump this hearing all the way up to C-Span 1," Colbert snarked, setting off tittering in the media-infested room.
"America's farms are presently far too dependent on immigrant labor to pick our fruits and vegetables. Now the obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating fruits and vegetables. And if you look at the recent obesity statistics, you'll see that many Americans have already started," Colbert riffed glibly while some committee members, clearly unhappy the Comedy Central late night star was in the room stealing the spotlight, silently seethed.
"I don't want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American. Then sliced by Guatemalan and served by a Venezuelan in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian."
"Because my great-grandfather did not travel across 4,000 miles of Atlantic ocean to see this country overrun by immigrants. He did it because he killed a man back in Ireland."
Later, as Colbert wrapped up his routine:
"I trust that following my testimony, both sides will work together on this issue in the best interest of the American people as you always do."
Tsunami of tittering by the army of cameramen, photographers, reporters, bloggers and other non-Congressional types.
"I'm now prepared to take your questions and/or pose for pictures with your grandchildren. I yield the balance of my time, USA -- No. 1!"
Things got particularly ripe when Colbert -- appearing before the committee along with United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez and others -- sparred with Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), who was having none of Colbert's levity.
Rodriguez was dubious about the day Colbert had spent working in a field in upstate New York while "The Colbert Report" camera followed him around. This field trip had been used for a segment on his show. Part 2 of "Stephen Colbert's Fallback Position: Migrant Worker" had run the previous night, showing Colbert learning how to pick beans and pack up corn, but mostly clown around.
Rep Smith: How many other workers were there with you that day?
Colbert: I didn't take a count. I'm not good with math. I would say 50.... about a hundred.
Rep. Smith: How many of those individuals were illegal and how many were legal?
Colbert: I didn't ask them for their papers, though I had a strong urge to.
Rep.Smith: Will you assume that if you don't know they were illegal there might well have been legal workers there.?
Colbert: I don't know. I have no idea.
Rep.Smith: Well, if you don't know, then it's hard to say that they were all illegal workers... if some of them were legal, and I presume they were, that does show that Americans are willing to do those jobs. Do you know how much those workers were paid?
Colbert: I don't know. Even if they were legal I don't know if they were American citizens.
Rep. Smith: Do you know how much they were paid by the hour?
Colbert: I didn't do a good enough job to get paid so I can't compare my salary to anyone. I was actually asked to leave.
Rep. Smith: Gosh, well, to me how much they get paid is a pretty serious subject... I know you're an expert comedian... but would you call yourself an expert witness when it comes to farm labor issues or not?
Colbert: I was invited here today by [subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.)] because I was one of the 16 people who took the United Farm Workers up on the experience of having migrant farm work for a single day. If there are some other members of the committee who did that, then I have no purpose being here.
Rep.Smith: Does one day in the field make you an expert witness?
Colbert: I believe one day of me studying anything makes me an expert.
Rep. Smith: Is that more work than you've ever done before?
The tension was so thick you could slice it with a knife and spread it on a ciabatta roll.
Like the climax of a Capra flick, toward the end of the morning's historic clash between Washington celebrities and "Hollywood," the pressure of staying in character proved too much for Colbert, when Rep. Judy Chu (R-Calif.) asked him: Why are you interested in this issue?
"I like talking about people who don't have any power," Colbert said quietly and seriously - and totally out of character.
"It seemed like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don't have any rights as a result," he continued while the room became pin-drop quiet.
"And yet we still invite them to come here and at the same time ask them to leave. That's an interesting contradiction to me. And whatever you do for the least of my brothers -- and these seem like the least of our brothers right now.." Colbert continued, trailing off.
"A lot of people are least brothers right now because the economy is so hard," he continued.
"I don't want to take anyone's hardship away from them or diminish anything like that. But migrant workers suffer and have no rights."
Earlier in the day, the room had trembled on media-mob-scene precipice as attendees awaited Colbert's arrival. Rep. Lofgren,chairman of the subcommittee, got out her ruler and rapped their knuckles just in case:
" I would like to remind all of the visitors in the audience that they should refrain from any manifestation of approval or disapproval of these proceedings or any other disruptive actions. If necessary, the capitol police are here to remove anyone who disrupts the hearing... we certainly hope that won't be necessary."
Then, she signaled to those same media members that she was ready for her close-up:
"People in the media spotlight have a special ability to focus public opinion on an issue. I'm happy that Stephen Colbert of 'The Colbert Report' has joined that group of celebrities who will use their media position to benefit others," she began.
"As you can see from Mr. Colbert's written testimony, he's taken the time to walk in the shoes of migrant farm workers and urges reform of our immigration laws. I'm happy the United Farm Workers helped introduce me to Mr. Colbert, who I had not met before, so we could spend a day on farm together, she simpered.
"His actions are a good example of how using both levity and fame, a media figure can bring attention to a critically important issue for the good of the nation."
Like a savvy TV producer, the subcommittee held Colbert for the end of the prepared remarks bit, in order to keep the press awake and at full attention.
Before the clambake got underway, C-Span had noted Colbert would be only the second person in history to appear before a congressional hearing "in character" - the first being Elmo who was exposed this week as a randy "Sesame Street" puppet who enjoys chasing pop singer/tart Katy Perry around her short, short skirt.
The media had been in an anticipatory frenzy when word got out he would appear Friday at the hearing. The Comedy Central late-night star had been his own opening act, devoting the top of his Thursday night show to warming up viewers and the press:
"Nation, I've said it before - the Democrats love to throw cash around. Now they've found a whole new form of wasteful government spending. Me. Because [Friday], I, Stephen Colbert, will testify before Congress - half spoken word, half dance number.
"Now, that made one of the friendly friends over at [Fox News Channel's] 'Fox & Friends', Gretchen Carlson, so incensed this morning that her hair nearly moved!" Colbert snarked.
"The idea that we're going to waste our taxpayer dollars for THIS guy to go up on Capital Hill, and we're supposed to sit here and take that?" said Taped Gretchen in a clip.
"No, you're supposed to sit there and blow it out of proportion - read your contract!" Stephen rebutted.
" I'm going to surprise you, folks. I agree with Gretchen. I am a HUGE waste of taxpayer dollars," Colbert said. "There's my hotel. My meals. And, of course, my mobile snow machine so I can cross country ski the entire way there. All of which I am paying for."
Congress, he said, is on the hook for all the water he can drink at the hearing, "plus the electricity powering my microphone for a full five minutes of talk time. God only knows how many hospitals won't be built because of me."
Lisa de Moraes
| September 24, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories: TV News
Save & Share: Previous: Katy Perry video yanked from PBS's "Sesame Street"
Next: CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein out, HLN topper Ken Jautz in
Posted by: screwjob21 | September 24, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: thanksforfish | September 24, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: bmschumacher | September 24, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: sarno | September 24, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: CTgirl3 | September 24, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: couwnt | September 24, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: sarahabc | September 24, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: CTgirl3 | September 24, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: screwjob21 | September 24, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: stacyh629 | September 24, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: CTgirl3 | September 24, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: mitlen | September 24, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: ScienceTim | September 24, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Illini | September 24, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: fran426 | September 24, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: JPRS | September 24, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: screwjob21 | September 24, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: joshlct | September 24, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: arbiterveritas | September 24, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jimibristol | September 24, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: peterg73 | September 24, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: kirby2 | September 24, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jprospero1 | September 24, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: crashinghero | September 24, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Dirtlawyer1 | September 24, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: toddimagines | September 24, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ged0386 | September 24, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Zcat | September 24, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Gidgmom | September 24, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: TriCorneredHead | September 24, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: peterg73 | September 24, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: SavingGrace | September 24, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: srm6571 | September 24, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jb1151 | September 24, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: crisp11 | September 24, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mattintx | September 24, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: JoeNCA | September 24, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: suffersfools | September 24, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Judy-in-TX | September 24, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mil1 | September 24, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: TriCorneredHead | September 24, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: waterfrontproperty | September 24, 2010 11:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: farfromdc | September 25, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: shaik1 | September 26, 2010 7:01 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: ocotilla | September 26, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: RespectingOthers | September 29, 2010 8:22 AM | Report abuse