Comedian Stephen Colbert didn’t take Rep. John Conyers’ advice and leave his hearing on immigration reform before making a mockery of it and embarrassing Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and the other Democrats on the subcommittee. Instead, lawmakers are taking Conyers’ advice and simply not showing up on Colbert’s show at all. After years of being the butt of his jokes, it seems that politicians have finally tired of the schtick:
Members of Congress have been fooled time after time after time by Stephen Colbert, and after last week’s mockery, they have a message for the satirist who makes a living lampooning them: Colbert, you’re dead to us.
Colbert’s act had steadily been losing cachet on Capitol Hill, but his spoof testimony merely accelerated a pending divorce.
Lawmakers and their aides are repeatedly turning down requests for “The Colbert Report,” political advisers are suggesting members avoid Colbert like the plague and the infamous “Better Know a District” segment that put Colbert on the map on Capitol Hill appears to be dying out.
That message isn’t restricted to one side of the aisle, either:
The Colbert divorce seems to be bipartisan. Spokesmen for both House campaign committees say they’d advise their candidates that there are better ways to raise their profiles than to expose themselves to Colbert.
“Generally, our advice is always to focus on the local media requests,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer. “The only thing we would advise candidates against is inviting comedians to testify in character before their committee when they become members,” added National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Andy Sere.
I’m not a big fan of the ironic schtick of Colbert, but I can appreciate his talent for doing it. However, I’ve never understood why members of either chamber would want to appear on Colbert or the Daily Show. Authors, I understand; publicity opportunities are limited to a few days after the release of their books, and after that an author is lucky to get five minutes on local radio (except celebrity authors, of course, who usually don’t need the help anyway). The same holds true for heads of non-profits, one-time newsmakers, media figures, and so on.
Sitting members of the House and Senate, though, can access media at almost any time, especially hometown media where the votes actually count. Giving an interview on any national media outlet entails risk of embarrassment and errors. Why go onto a show that aims at making people the butt of jokes and increase the risk exponentially?
The answer, of course, is that politicians by and large think rather highly of their ability to transcend the schtick and figure they can collect a lot of cool points by appearing with Jon Stewart and Colbert. But the audience size is limited on Comedy Central, dispersed throughout the country, and has a demographic that skews to those least likely to show up at the polls on Election Day, at least by age. Moreover, it won’t be the witty asides and parries by the politicians that show up on YouTube and live forever — it will be the gaffes.
If politicians stop trying to do comedy and collecting cool points, perhaps they’ll look less like a joke to the rest of us.
Update: I mistakenly listed Lofgren as a Republican; I know she’s a Democrat. Just an error on my part, which I’ve fixed. My apologies.