UPDATE: 5:11 P.M.: The media came in today bound and determined to make their narrative -- "OUTRAGE! Stephen Colbert addresses Congress 'in character'" -- stick, and thus far they have managed to keep it up despite the fact that it's not, as they say, "true."
"But wait," you are saying to yourself, "the only way they could get away with that is to entirely ignore the answer Colbert gave to his last question!" Well, yes. And that is exactly what they are doing.
Meanwhile, Jim Newell at Gawker reports: "Fox News, GOP Congressmen Furious Over Colbert Testimony." I should think so, probably because Colbert cited Matthew 25:40, and it made them feel a twinge of shame. Go read Jim's entire thing, and as I started out today's liveblog by pointing out that the halls of Congress are no stranger to the cheap, theatrical stunts that everyone was accusing Colbert of tainting Capitol Hill with, I invite you to stay to the end.
On Hardball tonight, Chuck Todd reported the episode by playing some of Colbert's joke lines before summing it up by saying, with a reference to the "Rally To Restore Sanity," that Colbert was actually "contributing to the insanity." Can a brother get a retort?
You may have enjoyed Stephen Colbert playing Stephen Colbert in front of a House subcommittee today, but rest assured your heroes in the field of political reporting were not a whit amused! (I know, I know, that just sort of makes you like it all the more!)
ABC News's Rick Klein tweeted that he was "REALLY not sure this is funny." Others were a bit more definitive. David Corn of Mother Jones said that Colbert was "making a mockery of this hearing." The Washington Post's Aaron Blake took it a step further, "Colbert's testimony made a mockery of Congress, just like his show does every night." If Blake believes it takes Colbert to "make a mockery of Congress," then I am forced to conclude that today was the first time he ever paid attention to what goes on in Congress.
Let's remember that here in Washington, DC, political reporters are people who find things like "Mouthpiece Theatre" to be the absolute height of hilarity. Out in America, however, people understand that there's more to comedy than coming up with different names for beer so that you can be sexist.
Pro tip: The essential ingredients to any joke are a set-up and a punch line. The build and the pay-off. Stephen Colbert takes a character-enabled approach to this formula, in which he establishes a clear tone to his various diatribes, lures the audience into its rhythm, and then picks a moment to very pointedly alter the tone, so that he can underline a serious point without breaking his character. That's more or less what he did today. In his opening statement, he made a clear tonal shift to make what was essentially his "thesis statement":
COLBERT: Maybe we can offer more visas to the immigrants who, lets face it, will probably be doing those jobs anyway. And this improved legal status, might allow immigrants recourse if they are abused. And it just stands to reason to me that if your co-worker can't be exploited, you're less likely to be exploited yourself, and that itself might improve pay and working conditions on these farms, so that eventually, Americans may consider taking these jobs again.
Now, I think that by and large, the setting of a Congressional hearing imposed itself enough on Colbert so that his act wasn't as seamless as it usually is on teevee. However, the entire act was building to this one last tone shift, and here, he nailed it:
CONGRESSWOMAN JUDY CHU: Mr. Colbert, you could work on so many issues, why are you interested in this issue?
COLBERT: I like talking about people who don't have any power. And this seems like some 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. And yet we still invite them to come here, and at the same time ask them to leave. And, you know, whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, these seem like the least of our brothers, right now. And I know that a lot of people are the least of my brothers because the economy is so hard, and I don't want to take anyone's hardship away from them or diminish it or anything like that, but migrant workers suffer, and they have no rights."
I think it's funny that no one has noticed that Judy Chu found herself holding the perfect question at the best possible time (the last question of the hearing), allowing Colbert the chance to deliver his punchline here. It seems to me that in that moment, Chu was Colbert's scene partner, not an interlocutor.
But that's how it works!