Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman
Did Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert strengthen his argument about illegal immigrants and immigration reform by testifying before Congress in his comedic character? Or did he undermine it and insult Congress?
The debate rages on with most outrage coming from conservatives.
Colbert testified in his Bill O’Reilly parody persona, saying things such as: “I don’t want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, sliced by a Guatemalan . . . and served by a Venezuelan in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian.”
Colbert did break character once to answer a question by Rep. Judy Chu. His response was heartfelt and thought provoking. But then it was back to his shtick…
What if politicians extensively used comedy to try and make points? For instance, an Oval Office speech by President Barack Obama might go like this:
“My fellow Americans. I know Newt Gingrich thinks I should say “˜My fellow Kenyans’ or “˜My fellow anti-colonialists,’ but we’re really good friends. Years ago Newt invited me to his wedding. I told him I couldn’t make it but would attend his future weddings.
“I’m here to talk about jobs, unemployment and the stomach-churning fear of unemployment. I feel that myself these days.
“But a lot of this isn’t my fault. It’s due to the actions or inactions of some in Congress. For instance, take John Boehner. Please.
“You know John Boehner? He’s that tan guy who talks like he’s a policeman. Maybe that explains his Coppertone. Get it? Coppertone? I’ve got a MILLION of them! Unfortunately, I don’t have a million new jobs.
“But it’s great being President. The hardest thing is constantly dealing with ideologues who battle me on my proposals, demonize me, hate compromise, and wish I wasn’t in the White House. But enough about progressive Democrats.
“You know “˜progressive': “progressive” is to “˜liberal’ what “˜pre-owned cars’ is to “˜used cars.’
“Our other problem is the attitude of the Republican Party, the party of:”no” — n-o. Or as Dan Quayle would spell it: “˜n-o-e.’
“These are the little jokes, folks. If you’re looking for big jokes you’ll find them on your ballot this November. My name is Barack, and I’ll be here until January 2013 unless a Republican Congress finds grounds to impeach me. Love ya!!!”
Why is it Presidents don’t use humor excessively? Because there’s an aura about the office. Whoever holds it also symbolizes those who previously gave up chunks of their lives — and even their lives — to serve as President.
We can joke about Congress. But throughout our country’s history, respect has been shown to it in deference to those who served and will serve. Testifying is taken seriously.
Did Colbert do a fascinating comedy bit? Yes. Was it a good example of comedy irony for young comedians to study? Yes.
But appropriate? Absolutely not ““ a sentiment echoed on Sunday by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
You don’t have to be a Republican to be angry or saddened that yet another bar on thoughtful discussion has been virtually hurled out the window.
A huge contrast with Colbert took place last week at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York with actor Jim Carrey. Carey appeared as the Better U Foundation’s founder on a small farming panel to explain his work on a rice irrigation system that could produce 50-150 percent more yield with less water, less seed and no fertilizer or pesticides. He opened with one joke — and then was deadly serious.
Don’t defend Colbert or those who enabled him. This is NOT a matter of politics.
It’s a matter of needing to acknowledge that we face complex problems and should respect our institutions’ grandeur and norms. And to realize that there are times when entertainment and ridicule not only don’t fit but actually undercut the serious argument that someone is sincerely trying to make.
Copyright 2010 Joe Gandelman
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org and can be booked to speak at your event at www.mavenproductions.com.
Follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter @joegandelman