Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What did they think he’d say?

Perhaps it is only appropriate that a one-time member of the comedy troupe at Second City managed to get Congress all worked up into a frenzy with his recent appearance before a House of Representatives committee studying issues related to migrant laborers.

The last time that a Chicago-connected person managed to get a committee all worked up was probably back when Sammy Sosa said he didn’t speak English well enough to answer their questions about steroids use.

IF ONLY STEPHEN Colbert had taken the same silent treatment, nobody would be upset. Instead, Colbert showed us what a big mouth he has, and how he at heart is an entertainer – even when testifying before Congress.

Colbert, of course, is the guy whose career has peaked with the persona he plays on television – that of a parody of a conservative ideologue television talk show host who spouts off all kinds of stupid remarks that only a nitwit could agree with.

It is his schtick, just like his Comedy Central partner, Jon Stewart, plays the part of a television news anchorman as the forum for his own jokes.

So when I learn that Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., is seriously upset by Colbert’s appearance last week before a House committee (calling his comments “inappropriate”), I have to wonder what Steny is thinking.

GET A CLUE, Steny. Colbert did exactly what one should have expected of him. He played his part of a Republican blowhard who is willing to back anything that has the GOP label attached to it, and if it plays to the segment of the population that wants to think of migrant labor issues in terms of being “foreigners stealing jobs from real people,”

Anybody who thought that Colbert was going to give serious responses to questions put forth by the committee is ignoring two factors.

One is that he is the star of The Colbert Report, in which he plays a character. That character is what was brought before Congress. Two is that, what would Colbert know about migrant workers?

Even if he wanted to be seriously, he doesn’t have anything real to say.

IT MEANS THAT the real disgust on this “issue” ought to be directed (if anywhere) at the person who invited Colbert to appear before the committee, which he used as a chance to further his public persona.

For the record, that person was Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who chairs the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee that Colbert allegedly defiled with his physical presence.

The Christian Science Monitor newspaper reported that Lofgren had hopes that bringing in Colbert would create enough buzz that people would pay attention to the subcommittee, and perhaps even give some thought to the issues confronting migrant farm workers.

Instead, what will be remembered is the sight of Colbert testifying, under oath, that, “I endorse all Republican policy without question.” Which actually is something that would come from the mouths of those right-wing cable television blowhards who defile the airwaves every night much more than Colbert did for one afternoon last week in Washington.

NOT THAT LOFGREN has anything to worry about in terms of political backlash. She is liked in her congressional district, and faces only token opposition. She is returning to Washington following the Nov. 2 elections.

Of course, that goes to show how various members of Congress who are politically safe differ from each other.

People such as our own Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., do things such as file motions that could allow the DREAM Act (the measure relevant to the children of immigrant parents who don’t have a valid visa) to have a chance to come up for a vote some time this year.

Whereas Lofgren goes for the laugh, and lets the one-time Second City understudy to Steve Carell (remember “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”?) mock the Congress on its own turf.

POLITICALLY-INSPIRED COMEDY has come a long way from the days of Rich Little and Vaughn Meader, both of whom were impressionists whose routines were meant to get a chuckle (envision Meader as J.F.K. running through a list of bathroom toys for the first children, ultimately declaring that the inflatable rubber swan belongs to him).

Now, we get actual cracks on the policy questions and the ineptitude in which our elected officials conduct themselves.

What hasn’t changed is that the primary goal of a Little (who did so many impersonations of Ronald Reagan that I know find that schtick annoying) or a Colbert is that their primary goal is a laugh. They’re trying to entertain us.

Only instead of standing in front of a brick wall with a spotlight on himself while telling jokes, Colbert plays the part of a talk-show host who acts like a blowhard. Which is fine. It serves a purpose. But it also is why anyone who thinks they get their “news” from The Daily Show or Colbert Report is almost as big a fool as the members of Congress who thought Colbert was being serious last week.

I CAN’T HELP but think that the political people who are continuing to talk about this and rant and rage about how Colbert “embarrassed America” are going out of their way to grab sufficient lengths of rope by which to hang themselves.

Because you know Colbert, if not Stewart also, will take those snippets, edit them accordingly, and play them over and over for the cheap laugh that they’re worth.


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