Published September 24, 2010
Stephen Colbert's satirical routine as a conservative commentator on "The Colbert Report" leaves millions of his fans laughing every night, but the comedian failed to amuse lawmakers Friday during a House panel hearing on farm jobs and illegal immigrants.
The Comedy Central star stayed in character during testimony as he made light of his experience working for one day as a migrant laborer on a vegetable farm in New York.
"America's farms are presently far too dependent on immigrant labor to pick our fruits and vegetables," Colbert said. "Now the obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating fruits and vegetables, and if you look at the recent obesity statistics, you'll see that many Americans have already started."
While some audience members laughed, most of the members of the House Judiciary subcommittee barely cracked a smile.
"This is America," Colbert continued. "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."
Buzz has surrounded Colbert's appearance ever since United Farm Workers announced Wednesday that its president would testify alongside him in Washington for a hearing on "Protecting America's Harvest."
The House Judiciary subcommittee hearing is about migrant farm workers and is touching on the so-called AgJOBS bill, a proposal that would give illegal immigrant farm workers a pathway to legal status.
While some Republicans criticized Democrats for inviting Colbert, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Fox News that she believes it's "appropriate."
"Of course I think it's appropriate," she said. "He's an American. He can bring attention to an important issue. I think it's great."
In his testimony, Colbert discussed his one-day experience as a migrant laborer.
"I started my my workday with preconceived notions of migrant labor, but after working with these men and women picking beans, packing corn for hours on end side by side in the unforgiving sun, I have to say -- and I do mean this sincerely -- please don't make me do this again," he said. "It is really, really hard work."
Colbert said his day on a farm left him traumatized.
"I don't even want to watch Green Acres again," he said.
Colbert turned serious for a moment when he was asked why he chose to focus on this issue.
"I like talking about people that don't have any power and it seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don't have any rights as a result," he said. "And yet we still invite them to come here and at the same time ask them to leave."
At the beginning of the hearing, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, tried to pull the plug on Colbert's testimony in an effort "to get to the bottom" of the issue.
"I would like to recommend that now we got all this attention that you excuse yourself and you let us get on with the three witnesses and all the other members there," he said. "I'm asking you to leave the committee room completely, and submit your statement."
But Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., the subcommittee chairwoman who invited Colbert to testify, intervened.
"Many are eager to hear his comments," she said.
Colbert replied that he would leave only at her request.
"I'm here at the invitation of the chairwoman, and if she would like me to remove myself from the hearing room, I am happy to do so," he said. "I'm only here at her invitation."