The fact that a comedian recently invaded the hallowed halls of Washington by appearing before the House Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law subcommittee hearing, and used humour to make a point should have drawn laughter from members of the subcommittee not frowns. Instead, Republicans and a smattering of Democrats were not amused by Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, when he testified before the subcommittee investigating labour conditions on American farms.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Democrat-California), the subcommittee chair, had asked Colbert to testify after they spent a day picking beans and corn as part of the United Farm Workers’ Take Our Jobs campaign, which gives Americans a chance to participate in field work. Actually, the true participants are illegal immigrants — the only people willing to work on American farms while stooping for hours in fields to pick fruits and vegetables.
Colbert enraged Republicans sitting on the subcommittee — as well as Fox News — who were shown on TV to be visibly frowning in disgust at Colbert’s spiel: “This is America. 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. Because my great-grandfather did not travel across 4,000 miles of the Atlantic ocean to see this country overrun by immigrants.”
Colbert added, “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. It is really, really hard.”
The comedian also commented that one way to address labour problems on American farms was to “stop eating fruits and vegetables ... and if you look at obesity statistics, people already have.”
For those Americans who feel that government is too serious of a body to be bothered by the odd injection of humour, they should look northward to Canada. There’s a real difference between Canadian and American politicians — ours have a sense of humour which they exercise on a regular basis while the House of Commons sits. Canadian politicians hone their comedic skills during Question Period, the great laugh fest of politics in our land. C-PAC-broadcast Question Period is a splendid apprenticeship stint prior to reaching the big leagues — a guest spot on The Rick Mercer Report, which is televised nationally on CBC-TV. CPAC is the minor leagues, which is viewed solely by political junkies, who are few in number. Still, politicians are given the opportunity to get accustomed to appearing in front of TV cameras before taking the next big step to a guest spot on The Rick Mercer Report, which is widely viewed by a highly-critical national television audience that appreciates and understands satire.
In addition, Question Period gives politicians a chance to practice their comedic timing so they won’t be upstaged by Mercer, who is noted for his fluid satirical banter with guests.
The best of the best from Canadian politics makes the transition from Question Period to The Rick Mercer Report, which undoubtedly turns Colbert an envious shade of green. It’s this envy which possibly led to his attempt to bring a bit of levity to the subcommittee hearing. Of course, Colbert failed, since American members of the House of Representatives and the Senate have nothing even remotely similar to Question Period in which to learn how to take comedic shots from their opponents. Every Canadian prime minister and cabinet minister has also learned from the life lessons of politics how to take a cream pie in the face.
Canadian politicians are so extremely adept at comedy — similar to the many of their countrymen who have made the grade in Hollywood, such as John Candy, Dan Ackroyd, Jim Carey, et al — that only a select few are deemed worthy to confront Mercer on the small screen.
Mercer has his choice of who appears, as prime ministers climb all over themselves in order to be guests on his show. In fact, former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin have each made two appearances on The Rick Mercer Report, although only once each while serving as the head political honcho in Canada and then a second time each when out of politics. There’s no doubt Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has already appeared once on the show, will make a second appearance with Mercer when he is in the same retirement situation as Chrétien and Martin.
In judging all three prime ministers’
appearance with Mercer, Martin’s was
the most stilted with Harper closely following, while Chrétien alone held his own, managing to launch a few comedic barbs that caught Mercer completely off-guard,
soliciting peals of laughter from the host as was the butt of the “Little Guy from Shawinagan's” jokes. If one was to rank Canadian politicians as comedians, Chrétien emerges at the very top rung on the comedy ladder. In particular, Chrétien showed he is a master of dead-pan humour when he related to Mercer the story of how he throttled a protester. Never in the field of Canadian political humour has a protester been so humiliated on national television by a sitting prime minister. If anyone desires the title of the “Grand Jester” of Canadian politics, it is Chrétien.
However, Harper showed the occasional spark at having learned his lessons in Question Period, especially when he invited Mercer to have a “sleepover,” and then conducted the Newfoundlander to a sofa posing as a makeshift bed. It was excellent use of a comedic prop in the spirit of Charlie Chaplin. As punishment for earlier asking a question about campaign financing, Harper added a touch of light humour by reading Mercer the legislation governing such contributions as a bedtime story. Harper’s final flash of comedic brilliance came the next morning when he was handing out pocket money and school lunches to his children. Approaching Mercer, Harper likewise gave him some cash, a lunch and then a hug to motivate the comedian to bravely face the school day. It was a great expression of pathos and worthy of a belly laugh.
While all Canadian politicians trip over themselves to show their comedic prowess, the majority of American politicians said Colbert’s testimony was a mockery of the hearing process, not appropriate and an embarrassment that never should have occurred. The only American politician who seemed to get it was Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who said Colbert’s testimony was “a good example of how (by) using levity and fame, a media figure can bring attention to a critically important issue for the good of the nation.”
Most Canadians would tell the too-serious American politicians that’s why we have Question Period. Our politicians use levity, intended or otherwise, to bring the nation’s attention to critical issues during the laugh fest.
Sorry, that’s a joke. Ha-ha.