Now that Steven Colbert’s congressional “testimony” has had its fifteen minutes I think it’s time for someone to say his whole shtick has run its course. I don’t want to discuss if it was appropriate for a comedian to be at a congressional hearing. If it weren’t Al Franken could just have his check direct deposited and show up to vote once in awhile. Come to think of it that is just about what happens. Mr. Colbert is an acceptable sketch comedy actor who has taken a character he developed for John Stewart’s “Daily Show” and parlayed it into his own low-rated show. I don’t begrudge him his success, in fact I say well done! I think it is a tribute to the greatness of our country that a guy with one joke with some help of his friends and a simpatico entertainment industry can become a multimillionaire. In the words of Max Bialystok, “Flaunt it, baby!”
Calling his recent appearance before the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration “comedy” may leave Mr. Colbert open to legal action for lying to Congress. There were also several points in his testimony that were of questionable, as he would say, “truthiness.” Political comedy in sketch form is tricky but as stand-up it is a balancing act that requires great skill. To my mind there are two rules: first you must, as my friend Will Durst says, be an equal opportunity smart ass. Unless you are willing to slap at both sides of the aisle or only work highly partisan events you lose at least fifty percent of the audience from the first joke. The second is that no matter who or what you are attacking it must be funny. Mr. Colbert’s stand-up or sit down in the case of his Congressional gig, fails on both counts. Mr. Colbert’s one dimensional highly partisan act has run its course. We get it, Steve; any sincere conservative is a dim witted, xenophobic, racist, Christian numbskull who just doesn’t understand the issues.
It is difficult to take a sketch character and develop it into a more than a series three minute scenes. One only has to look at the number of horrible Saturday Night Live spin off character films that have been made to prove my point. It is even harder to take a character out of the sketch and build it into a stand up routine. Mr. Colbert has now proved this to be the case…twice.
His recent attempt to use humor to “…draw attention to this important, complicated issue…” was not the first time he has bombed in the capital. In 2006 at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner Mr. Colbert tried his character driven stand up and died a horrible death when he bypassed funny and went to being personally insulting to Mr. Bush and others in attendance. In a rare bipartisan show of support his act was panned by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Mr. Colbert started his testimony with a nice piece of self-deprecation saying his appearance might get the hearing moved up to C-SPAN 1. Unfortunately it was downhill from there until the last line of the set. He followed this with a big stretch set up about obese American’s to get to a weak colonoscopy reference. The next joke was a reference comparing illegal immigration to the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt and a bad pun about “food pyramids.” The problem with this “joke” is that the comparison isn’t accurate. I’m not saying political jokes can’t stretch the facts but there is a breaking point where the audience doesn’t buy the premise.
This was followed by a series of weak attempts to humorously say that farm work is hard, hot physical labor. I don’t think that anyone doubts that. His point is that these are jobs American’s won’t do. Again, the humor is rooted in a falsehood so great that we all know it to be invalid. As a teen I used to cut corn out of soybeans and bale hay. The pay was crap and the hours long. I didn’t do it because I liked it I did it because there was no other way to get money. My father didn’t believe in the welfare system known as an allowance. Illegal immigration suppresses wages and makes the welfare system the smart choice for unskilled labor. Perhaps Mr. Colbert and his progressive friends are too dim to get that. Just as “progressives” don’t get that raising the minimum doesn’t lift people out of poverty it only raises the number we consider being poor. If raising the minimum wage was the answer to anything we could just make the minimum wage $300,000 a year and we would all be rich.
Mr. Colbert did do one thing right; he saved his best joke for the closer. At the end of his “expert” opinion he said, “I trust that following my testimony – both sides will work together on this issue in the best interest of the American people – as you always do.” Since Mr. Colbert seems to be fond of bad puns I’ll finish with one; Mr. Colbert’s act has jumped the snark.