Commentary: Colbert's testimony proves Congress doesn't get it

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverOctober 1, 2010 

It must have been a dream come true for Stephen Colbert, the Comedy Channel talk show host, who is not really a talk show host but a comedian playing an eccentric talk show host who's sort of a Fox News commentator with a few extra I.Q. points.

He was invited to Congress (a House subcommittee on labor) to testify about the plight of farm workers, having been one of the celebrities invited by farm workers' organizations to spend a day as a laborer. That was enough to get him the invite to Capitol Hill, where members of the House and Senate just love to rub elbows with celebrities.

But they got more than they bargained for in Colbert, who's all about sarcasm and subtle wit and the occasional outrageously archconservative statement on his late-night show. Which he doesn't mean as archconservative, but rather to use to make fun of archconservatives. Sometimes, he has real-live politicians on, and asks them outrageous questions designed to embarrass the politicians, who actually try to give serious answers to the questions, and thus get themselves on tape looking stupid for eternity.

The combination in his testimony was fated from the start. A guy with a brilliant if offbeat sense of humor meets up with members of Congress, most of who take themselves so seriously that they've been left with no sense of humor at all. Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers, who has the personality of a 2-iron, actually asked Colbert to leave at one point. Presumably, an aide told Conyers to lighten up, lest he look like a conservative.

Among Colbert's statements were that he has "vast experience as a migrant worker," that a solution to the bad treatment of farm laborers would be for everyone to "stop eating fruits and vegetables" and that his doctor had argued against that because those things were good for you and that he, Colbert, wanted to submit his colonoscopy into the Congressional Record.

He observed as well that the Israelites had "built the first food pyramids" and that he could identify with immigrants because his great-grandfather came 4,000 miles across the ocean to America because he had "killed a man in Ireland."

And you'll be astonished to know that two things happened as result of Colbert's testimony: First, he's parlayed it into so much publicity that he'll probably be the next host of the "Tonight Show" and second ... now brace yourselves ... the members of Congress at the hearing didn't get it!

Republican and Democratic leaders alike both criticized Colbert and everyone was talking about how his testimony was inappropriate and undignified and all that. This from guys who have had among their own membership over the years one guy who had a scandalous fuss with a dancer who wound up leaping into the Tidal Basin and another who was fooling around with a secretary who couldn't type and another who was hanging out with pages and others who were world-class partiers who'd have been busted out of Animal House for wretched excess.

Inappropriate? Lose the smug mugs, guys. We thinks you doth protest too much.

Colbert isn't the only comedian these days who's making the pols nervous. Bill Maher, the acerbic professional cynic who has his own talk show, is currently torturing conservative Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, a Republican, who it turns out once said on "Politically Incorrect," Maher's previous show, that she had dabbled in witchcraft. Maher promises some more gems from her old appearances on a regular basis, that happening to coincide with her run for the United States Senate.

When will the star-struck office-holders and office-seekers learn? Show biz and politics provide a ridiculous risk for both sides. The Hollywood folks take a chance the world will find out they're all pretty ordinary people, and the politicians tempt the revelation that some of them are less than ordinary. Not that they are, of course. Noooooo ...

As the Colbert appearance proves, it's best for the members of Congress to stay down on the farm, and for TV stars to never go there.

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