Just days after announcing a rally to “Keep Fear Alive,” comedian Stephen Colbert took his act straight to Congress; this time tackling the issue of illegal farm workers.
The Comedy Central host testified in character before a House hearing on illegal farm workers. Colbert was fresh off a challenge by a pro-immigrant labor group to work for a day as a migrant worker. He submitted a written statement to the committee, but true-to-character went off script when he delivered remarks in person.
As the immigration subcommittee hearing began, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers praised Colbert for drawing a roomful of
onlookers and photographers. Then he asked the comedian to leave the room -- and to leave the job of testifying to the expert witnesses, including Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez.
"You run your show, we run the committee,'' said Conyers, D-Mich.
There was some grumbling from lawmakers about Colbert testifying in character. It's not unusual for actors to appear at hearings,
but they're normally speaking as themselves. Congress has heard testimony from the Sesame Street puppet Elmo, however.
Politico's Marin Cogan reported some responses from Republicans at the hearing, including Iowa Rep. Steve King, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) also bristled at Colbert's testimony.
An equal-opportunity offender, Colbert has irritated progressives, also. On Facebook and Twitter, some organizers have questioned the wisdom of hosting a liberally oriented political rally on the weekend before the election -- when many Democratic operatives would rather see attendees canvassing for Democratic candidates.
Observers from all political tendencies said that Colbert had made a mockery of Congress, Patrick Gavin reported at Politico.
Colbert said he was there at the invitation of subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. And Conyers later gave him the
go-ahead, apparently hoping Colbert's performance would counter the testimony of a political science professor who said illegal
immigrants were competing with black and Hispanic citizens for jobs.
Colbert used what he called his "vast knowledge on the subject after spending a day on a vegetable farm in New York." He described his "ordeal" of stopping to pick beans as being "really, really hard," adding, "It turns out, and I did not know this, most soil is at ground level."
Colbert claimed to be one of 16 people to take up the challenge of being a migrant worker for a day, but added, “that number may increase in the near future as I understand many Democrats may be looking for work come November.”
The comedian argued that in the free market, more than 84,000 acres of production and more than 22,000 farm jobs have been shipped to Mexico because of a lack of available domestic labor.
"I don't want a tomato picked by a Mexican," he said. "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.
“I’m a free market guy. Normally, I would leave this to the invisible hand of the market,” he added. But in this case he argues, “Apparently even the invisible hand doesn’t want to pick beans.”
Concluding his argument, Colbert pleaded with Congress to do something about illegal workers.
“I’m not going back out there ... I don’t even want to watch ‘Green Acres’ again,” he quipped.
Satire aside, Colbert said his experience gave him understanding why Americans don’t seek jobs mostly held by migrant workers.
“I like talking about people who don’t have any power, and it seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don’t have any rights,” he said.