Tuned In

Stephen Colbert Brings the Wørd to the House

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The conversion of Washington, D.C. to full-time performance-art venue is complete. My column in the print TIME today (not yet online) is an expansion of my earlier blog post on Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s joint marches on the Mall Oct. 30, and it turned out to be fortuitously timed: Colbert today testified before a House Judiciary hearing on agriculture and undocumented workers—in character:

Colbert’s actual testimony was only part of a larger, surreal performance, in which Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) pre-butted Colbert by seriously quoting one of Colbert’s own arguments from a Formidable Opponent sketch, then Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) asked Colbert to simply submit his written remarks and leave. (I’m not entirely sure his motivation, but I have to imagine the entire room was conscious of how they would look edited on The Colbert Report, a worry some speakers alluded to.) He didn’t, and the result was, essentially, a Colbert Report editorial as might have gone out directly on Comedy Central. [Update: And apparently a surprise; he deviated from his submitted remarks, which were not in character.]

I’ll leave the substance of Colbert’s satire to others for now, but it suggests a solution to the problem of whether Stewart and Colbert risk making themselves seem too self-serious by holding events in Washington: Never stop doing comedy while you’re at it.