Stephen Colbert’s appearance before a House committee hearing on migrant workers got off to a weird start this morning. Right off the bat, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., tried to kick Colbert out of the hearing, but Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., insisted he stay.
His opening statement featured the same absurd leaps in logic and clever wordplay he employs night after night on his show, and had some very funny lines. (For example: “My great-grandfather did not travel across 4,000 miles of Atlantic ocean to see this country overrun by immigrants. He did it because he killed a man back in Ireland.”) At times he seemed to be waiting for laughter that never came, which felt slightly awkward.
But the most bizarre exchange came when an obviously unamused Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, challenged Colbert’s self-proclaimed experience as a corn packer. Colbert stood firm, but drew some nervous titters when he said, “I know that term is offensive to some people because corn packer is a derogatory term for a gay Iowan.” (And in what is — I hope — a Capitol Hill first, Colbert offered to introduce his colonoscopy as evidence after singing the praises of roughage.)
Although Colbert was witty as he sparred with the stuffy lawmakers, I still think his appearance was a mistake. His paraphrasing of the Biblical passage about doing unto the least of your brothers was heartfelt and the one serious spot in his appearance, but it’s dangerous for a court jester to dip his toes into activism. Lofgren compared Colbert to Bono, for crying out loud, and that’s never a good place for someone who’s built a career on puncturing others’ pomposity.
Colbert’s opening statement is below, and video excerpts from his questioning can be found at this link. Video of the “corn packer” exchange is after the jump.