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Colbert testifies before House

September 30th, 2010

Comedian Stephen Colbert prepares to testify on Capitol Hill on Sept. 24 before the House Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law subcommittee hearing on Protecting America’s Harvest.

Comedian Steven Colbert appeared before a congressional hearing Friday Sept. 25, to speak to a judiciary subcommittee on the issue of farm workers and immigration.

Specifically, the hearing was on whether to grant undocumented farm workers the right to gain legal status by continuing to work in agricultural settings.

While his submitted testimony contained serious points, Colbert slipped into character as a satirical conservative to make his points in front of cameras and reporters.

Colbert, who parodies a generic right-wing talk show host for his Comedy Central show, “The Colbert Report,” was invited to the hearing by San Jose Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

The invitation came after the comedian and Lofgren spent a day together packing corn and picking beans for the United Farm Workers’ “Take Our Jobs” campaign, which allows Americans to take part in field work similar to that of immigrant farm workers.

When it came time to speak at the hearing, embodying his television persona, Colbert made his points about the labor the men and women do.

“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. ”

Referencing his day picking vegetables in an upstate New York farm, it seemed Colbert had taken a serious turn for a moment before the congressional members. “I’ll admit, I started my day with a preconceived notion of immigrant labor,” he said.

However, the mood changed as he pretended to choke up. “I have to say, and I do mean this sincerely– please do not make me do this again. It is really, really hard.”

On the bill dealing with immigrant workers, Colbert joked, “Maybe this AgJobs bill would help, I don’t know. But like most members of Congress, I haven’t read it.”

Some observers in the hearing felt  Colbert’s presence was unnecessary.

According to the Mercury News, a spokesman for Lofgren rejected criticism that she was making a joke of the work of Congress, and said that few reporters would have shown up at the hearing had Colbert not been there.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), had said Colbert should have submitted the written testimony and left. Republican Daniel Sahagun, who is running against Lofgren in November, said in a statement that Colbert’s attendance in Congress “demonstrates a serious lack of judgment and leadership.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had a contrasting viewpoint to Colbert’s presence, calling it “great.”

“Of course I think it’s appropriate,” Pelosi said.  “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.”

Overall, Republicans were not amused with Colbert’s sardonic statements at the hearing and have argued his written testimony will be a joke.

Still, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said Colbert’s testimony was more of an embarrassment for Colbert than for the House.

Colbert will return to Washington on Oct. 30 for his “March to Keep Fear Alive,” which will rival Comedy Central host Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity.”