Stephen Colbert's congressional testimony was anything but funny, Republicans say

WASHINGTON — Comedian Stephen Colbert’s satirical testimony before a House subcommittee last week was “an embarrassment” that should not have happened, the second-ranking House Democrat said Sunday.

“I think his testimony was not appropriate,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said on “Fox News Sunday.” ”What he had to say was not the way it should have been said.”

Hoyer’s position contrasted with that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who said the opposite Friday after Colbert testified before a judiciary subcommittee on immigration.

“Of course I think it’s appropriate,” Pelosi told reporters on Friday “He’s an American, right? He comes before the committee, has a point of view, he can bring attention to an important issue like immigration.”

“I think it’s great,” Pelosi added.

Colbert, who parodies a generic self-important right wing talk show host for his nightly show on Comedy Central, “The Colbert Report,” testified in character, doling out the same sort of acerbic barbs that drew both praise and criticism when he eviscerated the news media and President George W. Bush at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner. His comedy often comes at the expense of Republicans, as does that of his Comedy Central partner, Jon Stewart.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., the subcommittee chairwoman, had asked Colbert to testify after they spent a day together picking beans and packing corn as part of the United Farm Workers’ Take Our Jobs campaign, which invites Americans to try their hand at field work. The comedian turned it into a bit that aired on his show last week.

“His actions are a good example of how using both levity and fame, a media figure can bring attention to a critically important issue for the good of the nation,” Lofgren said as she opened the hearing into a bill that would legalize undocumented field workers.

When it came time for his testimony, Colbert offered to submit a video of his colonoscopy into the congressional record as evidence that produce is “a necessary source of roughage.”

As for the labor pool, “this is America,” the comedian 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. Because my great-grandfather did not travel across 4,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean to see this country overrun by immigrants.”

Still, “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,” Colbert added. “It is really, really hard.”

“Maybe this AgJobs bill would help,” he concluded. “I don’t know. Like most members of Congress, I haven’t read it.”

Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., who chairs the Full Judiciary Committee, was not happy about Colbert’s appearance, asking him during Friday’s hearing to “leave the committee room completely and submit your statement instead.”

Republicans also were not amused, saying the performance was particularly inappropriate at a time of 10 percent unemployment and widespread economic pain. Subcommittee member Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R- Utah, called Colbert’s appearance “sad” and “unfortunate.”

Hoyer said Colbert’s testimony was an embarrassment for Mr. Colbert more than the House.

KEN DELANIAN / The Associated Press