Stephen Colbert to Testify Before Congress on Immigration

Will the comedian be in character when he appears before the House committee on immigration?


Comedy Central anchor Stephen Colbert is slated to appear before a House subcommittee Friday to testify about migrant farm workers.

No, seriously.

Colbert had Arturo Rodriguez, the head of the United Farm Workers, on his show over the summer. The farm workers group has launched a "Take Our Jobs" campaign aimed at dispelling the notion that immigrants are taking jobs that American citizens are willing to do. The idea is that the immigrants will happily give up their jobs toiling in the fields to any Americans who want them. According to HuffPo, all of seven people have taken the union up on its offer.

For a segment on his show, Colbert took a turn in the fields, and also interviewed California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren about immigration and migrant workers. The Lofgren interview (in which he proposes making "anchor babies" with her) ran Wednesday night, and the bit about Colbert in the field runs tonight.

Apparently the Lofgren interview gave rise to the notion of Colbert testifying tomorrow. She chairs the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law Membership, before which Colbert will be appearing.

[See a slide show of celebrities who have testified to Congress]

Here's where things get interesting: A GOP source told The Daily Caller that Colbert will be testifying "in character," presumably conveying his signature caricature of right wing views. Apparently some GOP members are none too pleased with the idea, as immigration is, you know, actually a serious matter. I dare say some Democrats probably hold the same view.

(I sent an E-mail to Colbert's publicist asking if he would indeed be in character. Her reply: "All I can tell you is that Stephen Colbert is confirmed to testify.")

Of course celebrities using their star power to shine a light on an issue is nothing new, but it's the celebrity, not a character they're playing speaking out. When Kevin Costner testified before Congress about the BP oil pill last month, for example, it was not as "Mariner," his character from Waterworld.

In a humorous sense, if Colbert the character shows up on Friday, it could set a precedent opening up whole new avenues for political theater. Imagine the main characters of Glee testifying (in song!) about education reform, or Christian Bale, decked out in cape and cowl, testifying about crime fighting. Or William Shatner talking about the dangers of hostile illegal aliens, like Klingons. (Shatner could be represented by superlawyer Denny Crane, as played by ... Shatner.) In a pinch if the real Barack Obama refuses to come testify about something perhaps SNL's Fred Armisen could be summoned to channel him.

But on a more serious note, Colbert-in-character testifying would raise legitimate questions about time, place, propriety, and what obligations citizens have when giving testimony before Congress. Participatory democracy is actually serious work and while satire is a brilliant tool for conveying a message, people giving testimony are obliged to speak their mind directly, not through the filter of an entertainment character.

We'll see how it plays out. It'll be entertaining in any case.

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