Stephen Colbert’s Surreal Congressional Testimony (VIDEO)

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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.”

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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