WASHINGTON — At 9:37 a.m. Friday, a man in a navy suit bounded into a packed committee room in the Rayburn House Office Building wearing the wide grin of a politician. Surrounded by a scrum of clicking photographers, he marched over to the witness table, plunked himself down on a leather chair and smoothed back his hair.
Stephen Colbert was ready to testify.
Colbert's role as a witness on migrant farm labor before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law marked a new permutation of the brand of humor that he and Jon Stewart have honed. No longer content with just parodying politicians, they are increasingly extending the joke into the very halls of government that they mock.
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.
"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, perhaps anticipating the pummeling from critics who later said his presence trivialized the proceedings.
Colbert, who was joined on the witness panel by UFW president Arturo Rodriguez, Virginia apple farmer Phil Glaize and Vanderbilt University law professor Carol M. Swain, spent most of time listening intently to the debate over a bill that would legalize undocumented field workers.
"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 ag jobs bill would help," he concluded. "I don't know. Like most members of Congress, I haven't read it."