In his first testimony before Congress, comedian Stephen Colbert submitted written remarks that were brief and serious. But when he took the stand before a House immigration subcommittee, Colbert delivered a routine in line with the goofy Bill O’Reilly-like character he takes on for his show, the Colbert Report.
Colbert ruthlessly mocked congressional procedure, Congress itself and anti-illegal immigration conservatives.
“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,” Colbert said.
But Colbert’s satire drew scrutiny, with critics alleging his presence was trivializing a serious issue.
Even a top Democrat was antagonistic to Colbert testifying.
Rep. John Conyers, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the full Judiciary Committee, asked Colbert to leave early in the hearing.
The awkward request led to a brief standoff between Conyers and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, chairwoman of the immigration subcommittee in which the hearing was taking place. Conyers eventually withdrew his request.
The Daily Caller first reported that Colbert would be testifying in character, though information was sparse until Colbert finally took the stand one hour into the otherwise boring hearing.
When he did, it was a no-holds-barred performance entirely unique for wonky Washington.
“I am happy to use my celebrity to draw attention to this important, complicated issue, and I certainly hope that my star power can bump this hearing all the way up to CSPAN 1,” Colbert said near the beginning of his remarks.
Colbert suggested that one solution to illegal immigrants taking farm jobs would be “for all of us to stop eating fruits and vegetables.” Unfortunately, Colbert said, his “gastroenterologist” told him that would not be a good idea.
“As evidence, I would like to insert a video of my colonoscopy into the congressional record,” Colbert said.
Colbert railed on illegal immigration in a playful mockery of anti-illegal immigration advocates like the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who had delivered a fiery real-life version of that view only moments earlier.
“My great grandfather did not travel across 4,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean to see this country overrun by immigrants. He did it because he killed a man back in Ireland. I don’t know if that’s true, I’d like to have that stricken from the record,” Colbert said.
Though he kept up his humorous demeanor throughout his prepared remarks, Colbert’s testimony ultimately did have a point, even if its arguments were purposefully illogical. Colbert called on Congress to reform immigration.
“I’m not in favor of the government doing anything,” Colbert said in his satiric conservative character, “But I’ve got to wonder, why isn’t the government doing anything?”
Colbert also touched on his day working in the growing fields, part of a “Take Our Jobs” initiative that aims to show Americans don’t want to take the jobs occupied by illegal immigrants in the agriculture sector.
“After working with these men and women, picking beans, packing corn, for hours on end, side-by-side, in the unforgiving sun, I have to say, and I do mean this sincerely: Please don’t make me do this again. It is really, really, hard,” Colbert said, feigning tears.
“For one thing, when you’re picking beans you have to spend all day bending over. It turns out — and I did not know this — most soil is at ground level. If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we make the earth waist high? Come on? Where is the funding?”
At another notable point in the hearing, King suggested Colbert may not have accurately described the work he had done on the farm, Colbert insisted he had, indeed, performed the work of a “corn packer,” though he said some may find the term offensive because it is a derogatory term for “Gay Iowan.”
Most members of Congress who had a chance to question Colbert or the other three witnesses chose not to spar with Colbert.
In regards to Americans looking for work, Colbert touched on a particularly sensitive matter for the members of Congress in the room.
“I participated in the UFW’s Take Our Jobs campaign, one of only 16 people in America to take up the challenge, though that number may increase in the near future, as I understand many Democrats may be looking for work come November,” Colbert said.