The Colbert Report

The Colbert Report is a late-night satirical news show on Comedy Central.
Take My Comedy Seriously: Negative Perception Effect of the Satirist Shield

"I think [inviting Colbert to testify] was a mistake,"[1] Democratic Representative 
Steve Cohen of Tennessee told The Hill, an online political news site. Cohen was referring to Stephen Colbert testifying before the House immigration subcommittee about the day he spent as a migrant worker as part of the “Take Our Jobs” campaign by the United Farm Workers of America. He was invited to speak by California Representative Zoe Lofgren.

"Picking vegetables for 10 hours doesn't make you an expert in anything…. I think using an actor in character to give testimony makes a mockery of the committee process."[2] Apparently Representative Cohen did not understand the point of satire, which is to mock a subject, such a society’s mores, or in this case, Congress’s handling of the immigrant workers issue. 

However, it was not just politicians who said Colbert’s testimony was a joke. Many journalists agreed, viewing Colbert’s political satire in a negative light. Karen Finney, a liberal MSNBC commentator, claimed on NPR’s All Things Considered that she cringed while watching the testimony. 

Stephen Colbert plays illegal farm worker for a day.

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Fallback Position - Migrant Worker - Zoe Lofgren
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 “[U]nfortunately, I don’t think this levity actually furthered the cause…. Levity, in this sort of situation, only works if it’s helping to point out the irony and sort of move the cause along.[3] I can only assume that Finney missed the irony in all of Colbert’s lines, like this one:

“I don’t want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan, and served by a Venezuelan in a spa, where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian. Because my great-grandfather did not travel across 4,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean to see this country overrun by immigrants.”[4]

Nonetheless, many members of the media shared Linney’s sentiments. The Washington Examiner, a daily tabloid, published that Colbert’s testimony “fell flat” as the question “Why are we allowing this clown to make a mockery or our hearing and take up our time?” seemed to linger in the congressional air.[5]
Elites in media and politics stereotyped Colbert as a mere clown before he even reached the microphone. As this research project has shown, satire has great power to criticize. Although some satirists do not wish to admit it, their colorful criticisms can help shed light on hypocrisy that the public failed to otherwise notice or discuss. If the history of satirical news programs has shown anything, it is that governments know, fear, and have attempted to suppress satirical speech because of its perceived impact on public opinion.  For politicians and journalists to sneer at Colbert’s profession and ignore the content of his criticism, they must truly fail to see the impact satire can have on encouraging deliberative democracy.

To those outside the political/media realm, Colbert’s impact was clear. As commenter “Ibisko ren” noted on the website of All Things Considered

“[D]o we need commentary from 3 doltish boring non-journalists to tell us what we think about Colbert? [M]ark [T]wain, [W]ill [R]odgers, [L]enny [B]ruce, [M]ort [S]ahl, [and] the [S]mothers [B]rothers did way more to advance political discourse than the drips on [All Things Considered]. [T]he tradition of the jester speaking to power persists.”[6] 

Colbert’s appearance brought the most media attention to the subcommittee since Clinton’s impeachment in the late 1990s, according to Representative Lofgren. The crowd overflowed into separate rooms, and cameras were wall to wall.  Compare this gathering to the subcommittee’s meeting just two weeks before Colbert’s congressional appearance, where there was not a single camera.[7] Although most journalists would concede that Colbert brought attention to the issue, they still implied that as a comedian, most of his points of view were not to be taken seriously.[8] 

Laughter is not the enemy of serious and informed political debate. On the contrary, laughter triggered by satire is apathy awakened from its slumber; it is a newfound realization of a hypocrisy being silently rendered. Comedy, in the form of satire, offers real and serious criticism of societal issues. Stephen Colbert’s appearance in front of Congress and the reactions that ensued from politicians and journalists clearly reinforces the purpose for writing this thesis. Satirists’ views, especially those that evoke laughter, should be taken seriously. These views encourage debate among the ordinary public. It is only those prominent politicians and journalists who can shun satirists as being beneath their profession. After all, in terms of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, political viewpoints and coverage by media outlets are most often the target of ridicule and criticism. 

[1]Christina Wilkie, "Colbert appearance causes mixed feelings," The Hill, accessed at September 25, 2010,


[3]All Things Considered, "Week In Politics: Colbert Testifies On Migrant Workers : NPR," All Things Considered, accessed September 25, 2010,

[4]C-SPAN, “House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing on Immigration and Farm Labor,” C-SPAN, accessed September 25, 2010,

[5]Devonia Smith, "Stephen Colbert's congress routine fell flat,", accessed September 24, 2010,

[6] Ibisko Ren, September 24, 2010 (8:29 p.m.), comment on All Things Considered, "Week In Politics: Colbert Testifies On Migrant Workers : NPR," All Things Considered, September 24, 2010, accessed September 25, 2010,

[7]CBS News, "Colbert's Three-Ring Congressional Circus - CBS News Video." Washington Unplugged, accessed September 25, 2010,;featuredPost-PE.

[8]  On Washington Unplugged, Nancy Cordes stated, “He’s a celebrity who also happens to be a comedian, and he can have a serious point of view from time to time,” [emphasis added]. CBS News, "Colbert's Three-Ring Congressional Circus - CBS News Video." Washington Unplugged, accessed September 25, 2010,;featuredPost-PE.