In a surreal act of political theater, Stephen Colbert testified in character before a House hearing on immigrant farm workers Friday morning. The Comedy Central host had spent a day picking produce on a farm on behest of the United Farm Workers, who have been running a cheeky "Take Our Jobs" campaign that invited native-born Americans to apply for jobs typically taken by illegal immigrant workers. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Ca.), chairwoman of a House Judiciary subcommitee, invited him to testify before Congress based on that experience. There's really no way to summarize Colbert's testimony, so here's the video of his statement from the hearing:
Colbert's live testimony almost didn't happen. Before the witnesses spoke, House Judiciary Committee chair Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) described himself as a big fan of Colbert—praising the rally that he and Jon Stewart planned for next month—but said he'd "would recommend that we've got all this attention, you could excuse yourself." Colbert ultimately ended up staying, but Conyers' remarks reflected anxieties among some Democrats who thought the publicity stunt would ultimately trivialize the issues at hand and humiliate them. (Colbert isn't the first fictional character to appear before Congress: as Rep. Judy Chu (D-Ca.) pointed out, Republicans once invited Elmo to speak about music education before a House committee. (They also invited Loretta Swit, who played "Hot Lips" on the TV show M.A.S.H.)
House Republicans took their shots in the hearing. "Maybe we should spend less time watching Comedy Central and more time looking for the jobs that are out there," said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), the ranking Republican on the subcommittee. Later on, King even accused Colbert of not actually doing typical farm work during his one-day stint with the UFW, claiming that the comedian was packing corn into a box in an unusual manner. Colbert responded in full deadpan with his own zinger: "I was a corn packer. I know that term is offensive to some people, because corn packer is a derogatory term for a gay Iowan."
Colbert did take an earnest turn at the end of the hearing. When Chu asked him why he was interested in migrant farm workers above other issues, he said immigrant workers were seen, particularly during a recession, as "the least of our brothers." While he "didn't want to take any of their hardship away from them," Colbert concluded, breaking character, that "migrant workers suffer, and have no rights."