Sunday, September 26, 2010

[wvns] Bringing down the House?

Stephen Colbert brings comedy act to Congress

Bringing down the House?
By Mike Zapler -

WASHINGTON -- The plight of migrant farmworkers isn't your typical grist for a comedy routine. But it was on Friday -- in the House of Representatives, of all places -- when San Jose Rep. Zoe Lofgren invited comedian Stephen Colbert to "testify" at a hearing on the topic.

But not everyone was amused, with some critics accusing Lofgren of making a mockery of Congress. Others said the star comedian, in his own unique way, helped to shine a spotlight on an important issue.
Colbert's appearance before a swarm of cameras and reporters came after he and Lofgren recently participated (if that's the word) in the United Farm Workers' "Take Our Jobs" campaign, challenging Americans to experience the hard menial work that immigrant farmworkers do.

Colbert, who plays a buffoonish arch-conservative TV host on his Comedy Central show "The Colbert Report," did not veer from character. He opened by saying that "I certainly hope that my star power can bump this hearing all the way to C-SPAN 1." (It aired on C-Span 3.)

"America's farms are presently far too dependent on immigrant labor to pick our fruits and vegetables," he continued in his trademark deadpan delivery. "Now, the obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating fruits and vegetables. And if you look at the recent obesity statistics, many Americans have already started."

Colbert also declared: "This is America. I don't want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan and served by a Venezuelan in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian."

Some observers thought this was not the place for a wisecracking comedian. Before Colbert spoke, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said the comedian should submit written testimony and leave. Colbert said he was invited by Lofgren and would go if she wanted him to. Conyers relented.

Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, of Utah, who has appeared twice on Colbert's show and lost "leg wrestling" matches to the comedian, also disapproved.

"I am on the subcommittee, but this was a joke," he posted on Twitter. "He is the best fake newscaster, so if Dems want a fake hearing, I guess he is the right guy."

And Daniel Sahagun, a Republican running an uphill campaign against Lofgren in the November election, said in a statement that inviting Colbert to Congress "demonstrates a serious lack of judgment and leadership."

Colbert did have one moment of genuine seriousness, responding to a lawmaker's question about why he chose to take up the plight of migrant farmworkers. "I like talking about people who don't have any power, and it seems 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 themselves," he said. "Migrant workers suffer and have no rights."

Lofgren, an immigration expert and advocate for migrant farmworkers, was interviewed by Colbert on his show this week at a farm in upstate New York. Colbert introduced the longtime South Bay congresswoman as a "notorious Mexican hugger" and later asked her, while nodding at the stack of hay behind them: "If I want to be a migrant farmworker, should we make an anchor baby?"

A spokesman for Lofgren dismissed criticism that she was trivializing the work of Congress, saying few reporters would have shown up at the hearing if Colbert hadn't been there. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, told reporters afterward that "of course I think it's appropriate" that Colbert testified. "He's an American, right? He comes before the committee, has a point of view, he can bring attention to an important issue like immigration."

Colbert's appearance marked the first time he has brought his comic act, which routinely mocks politicians, into official government proceedings.

He'll be back in Washington on Oct. 30 for his "March to Keep Fear Alive," which is scheduled to rival fellow Comedy Central host Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity."

Friday's hearing was on whether to give undocumented farmworkers the right to gain legal status by continuing to work in agriculture. It can be viewed at



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