Not everyone seemed to enjoy Stephen Colbert’s headline-grabbing performance at a Congressional subcommittee hearing on immigration reform today.
John Conyers, a Democrat and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, asked the Comedy Central host and faux conservative blowhard to leave the chamber even before Colbert had uttered his first words. Noting that Colbert had drawn as much media coverage as an impeachment proceeding, Conyers suggested that Colbert simply submit his statement for the record and allow the committee to get on with its work. Colbert refused, and deferred to the congresswoman who had invited him, Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who allowed Colbert to stay.
And as it turns out, the statement Colbert submitted for the record — the one to which Conyers was referring — was actually quite different from the one he read aloud.
Colbert’s prepared statement was actually a sober discussion of the issues involved in farm work and illegal immigration, according to a copy provided by the Judiciary Committee. At the invitation of United Farm Workers of America, Colbert spent a day picking beans and packing corn at a farm in upstate New York, as part of the labor union’s “Take Our Jobs” campaign. The program offers to train unemployed Americans in the often back-breaking work of agricultural labor, to demonstrate the hazards of the job and address the chronic shortage of American farm workers. When Colbert joined the effort, he was one of only four people to do so.
“As a comedian and satirist, the temptation of subjecting my character to manual labor proved impossible to resist,” Colbert wrote in his prepared statement.
Perhaps realizing that his blustery right-wing alter ego would have been unwelcome in the otherwise staid environs of the Rayburn House Office Building — and that he would probably have been disinvited had his statement come off as discourteous — Colbert earnestly recounted his one-day experience as a farm worker, and his reflections on the difficulty of agricultural work.
“I learned that many farms are closing, growers are planting less or switching to other crops, and the production of fresh foods and vegetables is moving abroad,” Colbert wrote in his prepared statement, which was heavy on statistics and old bromides about the state of American agriculture. “I am here today to share my experience as an entertainer turned migrant worker, and to shed light on what it means to truly take one of the millions of jobs filled by immigrant labor.”
He added: “They say that you truly know a man after you’ve walked a mile in his shoes, and while I have nowhere near the hardships of these struggling immigrants, I have been granted a sliver of insight.”
Colbert’s actual statement was, of course, much different. The comedian mocked Congress, exhorted Americans to stop eating fruits and vegetables, submitted a video of his colonoscopy for the Congressional record and revealed his newly discovered fear of salad bars. “Now, I’m not a fan of the government doing anything,” Colbert said. “But I’ve got to ask: Why isn’t the government doing anything? Maybe this ‘Ag jobs’ bill will help, I don’t know. Like most members of Congress, I haven’t read it.”
After Colbert finished his statement, Conyers, who had previously asked him to leave, noted the differences between his testimony and his prepared remarks. “I have to observe that Mr. Colbert’s submitted statement was considerably different from the one that he presented,” Conyers said.
In response, Colbert simply shrugged, and offered a knowing smile.