"I certainly hope my star power can bump this hearing all the way up to C SPAN 1," Stephen Colbert quipped this morning as he joined with United Farm Workers officials to testify before a House Judiciary Subcommittee.
His five or so minutes of testimony was laced with humor, but, as my colleague Jon Weisman points out, it was a bit uncomfortable. He actually got his message across, but I wonder if some of the Democrats on the committee are miffed about the joke about them losing their jobs after Nov. 2 as well as a few other digs. And he also declared that he endorses "all Republican policies" without question --- and a reminder that he was still in character.
That didn't seem to matter to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who took the opportunity to highlight the GOP Pledge to America provision that all lawmakers read the entirety of legislation proposed. He seemed to take Colbert seriously when the Comedy Central host agreed with him.
Colbert's irony will be on full display on Oct. 30 when he leads a rally on the National Mall. But his speaking before Congress is a first for him, after previous efforts to step into politics have been rebuffed. An effort to get on the ballot for South Carolina's presidential primary in 2008 was rejected.
His appearance before the subcommittee came at the invite of Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).
"This is America," Colbert said. "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."
The point of his testimony was to share his experiences of working in the fields for the day, part of the UFW's "Take Our Jobs" campaign. After that day, Colbert said, "I don't even want to watch 'Green Acres' anymore."
One of the bigger laughs came when he said, "I trust that after hearing my testimony, both sides will work in the best interests of the American people on this issue as you always do."
Lawmakers on the subcommittee, however, were not amused. At the start, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) even asked that he "leave the committee room completely" and just submit his statement. But Lofgren insisted that he stay.
Colbert slipped in and out of sincerity and satire, to the point where it would be difficult for the uninitiated to tell which is which. Some Democrats were wary of the invite, but many are scared of their own shadow these days, and how different is this really from any other celebrity figure who parades a cause before Congress? The UFW got more attention on this than they could have imagined, even if it probably had no impact in swaying lawmakers one way or another.
Most absurdist moment: Colbert defending the fact that he was "packing corn" when he spent his day as a laborer. "I know that term is offensive to some people, because I know that 'corn packer' is a derogatory term for a gay Iowan."
Update: Some reaction: Jonathan Allen of Politico writes, "Amid a high stakes struggle to connect with voters, House Democrats turned Friday to celebrity comedian Stephen Colbert to highlight the plight of migrant farm workers. He promptly returned the favor by turning Congress — specifically a Judiciary subcommittee — into his personal comedy club." A Democratic strategist tells him, "No doubt we just locked up the Comedy Channel vote. My opinion, we should forget social satirists. Given Congress' low approval, maybe we should invite the Glee cast to perform next."
Time's Katy Steinmetz: "When you're suffering from lack of attention—be you a speed skater in full-body Lycra, a soldier in an unpopular war or a union leader in an uphill battle—there's one man you definitely want coming to your aid: Stephen Colbert, the newsman-satirist of Comedy Central's “The Colbert Report.”"
Nancy Pelosi: "Of course I think it’s appropriate. He's an American, right? He came before the committee. He has a point of view. He can bring attention to an important issue like immigration. I think it's great.”
John Conyers: "I thought he was pretty profound."
One more thought: Who got skewered more: Congress, or celebrity activists?