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The Daily Need

Colbert head-fakes Congress, Congress asks him to leave

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.

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  • Lostinnewark

    This guy is cool

  • Margaret

    I love Colbert!!!!

  • Cdterry426

    It must be nice to be able to vacillate between being a joke-boy and a serious debater about serious issues. While it may be entertaining to poke fun at law makers and politicians, in the final analysis, it does nothing to help society’s problems. When he is done, he can go back to his safe little show where 99% of those around him are on his side and there is no threat of counter arguments.

  • Dpatmon

    Some “funny people” . . . who have made sober comments about American society: Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert. Paraphrasing the late Art Linkletter: Adults say and do the damndest things. Humorists/comedians/satirists make their living “riffing” on these things. And while they are riffing and we are guffawing, they are also helping us cope with ourselves – by highlighting the MUSE in amusement. (sigh) But not everyone gets the joke – especially those “clowns” in Congress.

    Dexter L. Patmon
    Medford, Oregon

  • Anon

    Nearly 600 words and not a single link to the original statement? Would it have been that hard, Sal?

  • Sal Gentile

    Hi Anon,

    The statement wasn’t posted online by the Judiciary Committee until after this post was written. Here’s the link, and I’ve also added it to the post as well:


  • Nspin

    Stephen Colbert always seeks to educate his audience while amusing them. You didn’t fall asleep in the classes with the best class clown. At the least critics of his appearance before Congress should recognize that he brought thousands of first time visitors to C-Span to see his performance. Perhaps those Americans were able to see and learn something else while there.
    Not mentioned in this piece is that Stewart and Colbert often have non-fiction authors on promoting their latest books. This can be the only introduction that some have to a subject, such as the life of Lincoln or Freakonomics, but may encourage many to actually read the book. Recognizing and respecting an author’s hard earned expertise permeates the interviewing style of both shows – guests are actually listened and responded to – deferentially by Stewart and challenged by Colbert.