Stephen Colbert testified before the House Judiciary Committee this week and was nearly shut down before he could even begin, according to the Washington Post. As the guest of Committee Chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Colbert refused leave when asked by Rep. Joe Conroy, due to the large press presence. He then proceeded to explain how his “vast experience” in farming, culled from a day-long experience, had given him insight into the life of migrant workers. His in character testimony, seen here on CBS News, was probably more amusing to a wider audience than to the all-business Committee members.
When he wasn’t having fun at elected official’s expense, Colbert was also making a serious point- that the jobs migrant workers do are so arduous most Americans don’t want to do the back-breaking labor. But if the point was lost on the Committee members, the younger aides in the background were clearly finding him funny. And by using humor, Stephen Colbert and John Stewart are able to make commentary that connects their celebrity to a political point.
They’re not the first to do so. U2 singer Bono has carved out a second career for himself as a high-profile anti-poverty activist. With activist Bobby Shriver and activists from the Jubilee 2000 Drop the Debt campaign, Bono founded Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa (DATA), an organization committed to improving the lot of millions of Africans. DATA was eventually merged into the ONE Campaign. He helped sell the (RED) project as well, a method of raising funds for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Bono’s fame in this area has led him to speak with heads of state, to tour Africa with government officials, and has helped influence policy in many nations.
Actress Angelina Jolie has blended activism with politics as well. Her appointment as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador resulted from her work in Cambodia during the filming of “Tomb Raider”. During filming, she decided she wanted to do more work to alleviate humanitarian crises.
The two most famous American actors whose careers have resulted in a closer turn to politics, though, are both conservatives. Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger aren’t known for their serious acting roles. President Reagan was best known for his work in Westerns and screwball comedies; Schwarzenegger was a bodybuilder and action film star before entering the political arena. Both went on to become Governors of California. While Reagan would go on to become the 40th President of the U.S., Schwarzenegger is barred from running for that office, due to his having been born in Austria.
Colbert has roasted President George W. Bush, staged a short-lived run for President, is planning a “March to Keep Fear Alive” on The Colbert Report with the intention of mocking political pundit Glenn Beck, and has now testified before Congress. While making his mark in the world of humor, Colbert is impacting the way younger generations view politics. That’s probably a good thing, as politicians and those who follow politics could stand to take themselves a little less seriously.
Dana Milbank, “Colbert brings down the House – some of it” Washington Post
Lucy Madison, “Stephen Colbert Testifies Before Congress on “Vast Experience” as a Migrant Laborer” CBS News
The ONE Campaign
Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria
The Colbert Report “March to Keep Fear Alive Announcement”