Reaction roundup: Stephen Colbert’s testimony for Congress

What a remarkable day it was, Zoners! Stephen’s testimony for the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law created a huge stir in the media, with reactions ranging from “a disgrace,” “embarrassing,” and “cringe-worthy” to very positive. I’ve tried to round up most of the highlights for you here, but there’s a lot to cover, so grab some extra caffeine and settle in!

  • HuffPo has a roundup of media reactions, and says that Stephen “nailed it” with his answer to the final question. In a separate article, they identify the seven funniest lines from Stephen’s testimony.
  • The New York Times’ Caucus blog said the hearing “alternated between the serious and the absurd.” They also highlighted Stephen’s sincere answer when asked why he had an interest in the plight of migrant farm workers.
  • Mediaite was less than impressed with Stephen’s testimony, calling it “cringe-worthy,” and wondering if it made a mockery of the legislative process. But a separate article says that his testimony was, at best “really smart and nuanced performance art,” and calls his serious comments at the very end “a true moment of redemption.”
  • If you haven’t seen it already, CNN has a good run-down of the proceedings. If you read it earlier, the article was updated during the day to add a slightly redeeming quote from Rep. Conyers at the end: He initially asked Stephen to leave because he feared creating a circus atmosphere, but when asked later, he admitted that Stephen “actually turned out to be ‘profound.'”
  • Also from CNN, an excellent column by Roy Peter Clark explaining how Stephen is the heir to social commentary in the tradition of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. He also refers to Stephen as “this nation’s court jester.”
  • Gawker’s article about the hearing includes an interesting anecdote about Rep. Steve King’s preparation, which included watching some Colbert Report clips. He said he’d ask Stephen tough questions about agricultural policy. Stephen parried those tough questions with a gay joke about corn packers. (When will they learn not to take on Stephen’s lightning-fast wit?)
  • A separate Gawker article reveals that Fox News and some Republican congressmen are furious at the idea of a comedian testifying before Congress. (Shocking, I know.) The article also reveals that Rep. Steve King thought Stephen was “a liar who ‘staged’ his 10-hour workday with migrant laborers.”
  • Roll Call quotes Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who was once better known by Stephen, as being “not happy about the prospect of treating the Comedy Central host as a policy expert.”
  • The L.A. Times has some excellent analysis of the day’s events, and deemed it a success: “Colbert had taken a chance… by pushing his fictional character out into the real world. He emerged from the two-hour Capitol Hill session with only modest yucks, but with his credibility intact.” The article also points out that some Congresspeople seemed to have trouble accepting the idea that “satirists are citizens too” and therefore have the same right as anyone to testify before Congress.
  • Over on the other side of the big pond known as the Atlantic, the BBC, here and here, The Scotsman, and The Guardian all have coverage of Stephen’s testimony, which is quite interesting since the Report doesn’t even air in the UK.
  • Time magazine does a great job describing the atmosphere of the hearing, and wins points for the title of their article: “Stephen Colbert’s Fallback Position: Expert Witness?”
  • The CultureKitchen blog makes the point that few media outlets were reporting the most important part of Stephen’s testimony: the quote at the end, where he explains why he chose to support migrant farm laborers, which was a “powerful moment of Progressive Catholic activism.”
  • Andrew Sullivan made Stephen his Face of the Day. I can’t say it’s the prettiest picture of Stephen I’ve ever seen, but I like that he’s making a face while using his pen as a fake mustache.

Finally, to round all this out, here’s Keith Olbermann’s commentary from “Countdown,” along with some highlights of Stephen’s testimony.

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(h/t to all the Completists for their help in rounding up all this news!)


  1. Great roundup, thanks! I especially enoyed Keith Olbermann’s shredding of Gretchen Carlson…

    Unsurprisingly, Fox News seemed to put a negative spin on EVERYTHING Stephen did in their stories (he wasn’t funny, he was disrespectful, blah blah blah, STFU).

    • If it were Glenn Beck or Bill O or Hannity going out on the farm, they would’ve testified in the same way that Stephen did, except they would’ve been serious and FNC would be praising them. Of course, you don’t see Beck, Hannity or Bill O out in 105 degree heat picking beans or packing corn.

  2. “…..which is quite interesting since the Report doesn’t even air in the UK.”

    Yes Nation, my fellow Limeys, stuck on their little island, are sadly Colbert-deprived and suffering accordingly. Why do you think I moved abroad?!

  3. From Time:

    ‘Colbert was the last to give his prepared statement, and he listened with his trademark caricature of rapt attention (think head cocked, eyes squinted, gratuitous nodding) as he waited his turn. He also smiled and winked, scribbled notes and looked, at times, like he was REALLY trying not to laugh’

    XD loved that

  4. I just found out from reddit that the very serious guy sitting behind Stephen was actually one of TCR’s writers – Opus Moreschi. Maybe we’ll be seeing him on the show soon.

    • pkyoubuggin says:

      He did seem familiar! It’s great that he was there supporting Stephen.

    • Another “knowing way too much about TCR” easter egg in the coverage: not sure how many people caught the reference to Stephen’s gastroenterologist, “Dr. Eichler”, which I’m betting was a reference to the Colbert writer Glenn Eichler.

      • I did catch the reference to “Dr. Eichler”! I love catching those little things that tell me I retain way too many details about TCR. This could explain why I forget everything else.

      • MaryLovesColbert says:

        I caught that as soon as he said it! :D

    • I *knew* he looked familiar! Thanks for pointing that out.

  5. I really think the media just *assumed* Stephen was completely in character during his testimony without really watching the his testimony with much thought. I think all of us Zoners know that he clearly went in and out of character as it was appropriate, and I think that balance really made for a wonderful appearance in Congress.

    Dear Media: Please give Stephen more credit than that. He took the time out of his life to bring attention to this issue which should reflect more appropriately to his good nature as a human being, not just a comedian.


    Another mention of Colbert’s visit– sadly neither the intent or the humor was understood. Lack of humor NPR!!!

  7. I couldn’t watch the actual testimony, but I was catching bits and pieces on the news networks. Got to agree with an above poster that Fox News was putting a negative spin on it. O’Reilly had Glenn Beck on his show that evening and they both bashed Stephen (and the rallies). My personal favorite was Tucker Carlson on Hannity pretty much calling Stephen a “pompous jerk”. Yes, those exact words.

    I guess Chuck Todd (NBC/MSNBC) got a lot of hate spewed at him for saying Stephen “jumped the shark”. And thanks for the Keith Olbermann video. He uses truthiness right!

    CNN had an article yesterday morning about @StephenAtHome using an emoticon in a tweet. And Rick Sanchez that evening talked about the testimony and also issued a challenge to Stephen where if they trade shows for a day (Stephen would have to do all 3 hours of Rick’s List), he’ll let Stephen taze him.

    Sorry for the long comment. I spent all evening watching the news networks talk about Stephen at the Immigration hearing.

    • Don’t apologize for the long comment – you’ve given me lots more things to look for to watch online! I always value your contribution, and glad you are here with us!

    • MaryLovesColbert says:

      Ugh, what else would you expect from Tucker Carlson? :(

  8. Karenatasha says:

    I’m grateful to Keith Olbermann for focusing on the ENTIRE proceedings–right up to the end.

    And my question to FOX and the other networkst hat brayed in anger about Stephen’s presence: would you have covered a minute of these hearings without him?

    I wrote a scathing comment on the Politico site about their article, which missed the boat entirely.

    • Karenatasha says:

      Aargh, typos: that would be “that,” not hat.

    • Mr. Arkadin says:

      “I wrote a scathing comment on the Politico site about their article, which missed the boat entirely.”

      I’m so glad to hear this!
      I despise Politico & all the servile,brown-nosing tools to power who work for it!
      Many thanks Karenatasha! :D

  9. MaryLovesColbert says:

    I agree with Mediaite, that it was a very smart and nuanced performance, but I don’t think a lot of people got that. I know it shouldn’t bother me as long as I know what Stephen intended and we Zoners all know what he intended, but I don’t like when he’s perceived to be something he’s not. I guess we can’t all be “it-getters.”

    Also, when CNN calls him “the nation’s court jester,” I personally think that’s true about both Stephen and Jon, but I don’t think that’s what they’re aiming for. They always say they just want to make people laugh. :)

    Although, I was talking with some of my friends on LiveJournal about this testimony and we were wondering about it and Stephen’s other forays into Washington, DC. That seems like trying to affect change to me, no matter how much they protest. What do you guys think?

    • Mr. Arkadin says:

      “Although, I was talking with some of my friends on LiveJournal about this testimony and we were wondering about it and Stephen’s other forays into Washington, DC. That seems like trying to affect change to me, no matter how much they protest. What do you guys think?”

      I think you & your friends are 100% right! Stephen doth protest too much. ;) Why would Stephen take such a risk as he did yesterday (or at WHCD) of public ridicule except that he believes there’s some chance to affect change?
      And I think he was entirely right too try. Because just like 2006, he pissed-off all the right people! :)

      • MaryLovesColbert says:

        I think you may be right, yeah. Haha! That’s true, he definitely pissed off all the right people! :D

  10. “Note to the right: he’s quoting Christ there, if you didn’t recognize it.”

    Nice one, Keith Olbermann :)

    I’m so ready for this chatter about the testimony to die down, though.

    • Could not agree with you more about wanting all the media chatter about the event to die down. That would explain why I haven’t been reading many of the articles, just a few of the good and a few of the bad. I would guess that Stephen isn’t paying attention to a lot of it either. I don’t mean to compare it to the WHCD, because it’s not the same thing, but the reaction is very similar. And I remember Stephen saying that after a while he just stopped hearing everything because he stood by what he said.

      I sincerely wish the media-at-large would have a better understanding of Stephen’s comedy and his sincerity (especially since he was only there because he was asked to come and genuinely offer some insight), but regardless, I’m so proud of him for what he said and for the way he was able to get his point across. :)

      • “I sincerely wish the media-at-large would have a better understanding of Stephen’s comedy and his sincerity (especially since he was only there because he was asked to come and genuinely offer some insight), but regardless, I’m so proud of him for what he said and for the way he was able to get his point across. :)”

        The media is no longer in the business of informing the public, I wasn’t surprised at the negativity at all. He truly pissed off all the right people – unfortunately they also run most of the media now.

  11. Much as I dislike Olbermann’s snarkiness (I agree with most of what he says, I just hate the tone), I have to give him kudos for playing the whole clip of Stephen’s least brothers quote in its entirety. Thank you, sir.

    For some reason, this whole thing brought back memories of the segment Stephen did during the writer’s strike on Stephen’s father during the civil rights movement. I think Stephen’s dad would be proud – the Colberts have a history of fighting for the dignity and basic human rights of our least brothers, and yesterday Stephen kept that tradition alive.

  12. I guess that saying “Haters gonna hate…” comes into this -they’d attack Stephen for helping a little old lady across the road. Yes media, stop b*tching about Stephen drawing attention away from yourselves and think about what he and Arturo Rodriguez were there for. Let’s face it, Stephen has used his celebrity to something good, and they really don’t like that.

    I noted that when Stephen stepped up to the plate and offered to be the 4th person on the Take Our Jobs, by the time he testified, he said it was now 16 -so I like to think he gave it the Colbert Bump. I wonder how many of those politicians at the hearing had done a day’s work in the field -instead of mocking Stephen’s day there, they should do it, so at least they’d know what they were talking about.

  13. Okay, I’ll be Captain Obvious here. On Studio 360 today, I hear this discussion about comedy. Rob Reiner talked about the “2,000 year old man” skit and about how fear drives comedy. He said it was like “doing comedy without a net.”

    What Stephen did at the Congress and what he and Jon are doing with the rally are great examples of “comedy without a net” … LOL.

    Keeping Fear Alive!!! YYAAAAaaaaa … keep it fresh, keep it on the edge, keep ’em guessing!!

    • Mr. Arkadin says:

      I think you meant Carl Reiner.
      Thanks for the link! :)

      • Yes, you are right, Carl R. did the original skit with Mel Brooks but I believe it was Rob R. speaking in the NPR bit. Still, both known for their comedy without a net, LOL. Who can forget, Rob R. playing in and writing for “All in the Family.” Carl R. is still writing and pushing the edge too.

    • Mr. Arkadin says:

      Oops! Your right. I got that wrong. Sorry.

  14. I had a big grin on my face when Keith Olbermann referred to Gretchen Carlson as “…the moron from FOX…”.

    Thanks a lot for putting this together! Even the German “SpiegelOnline” had an article about Stephen’s testimony. Didn’t excpect that. Of course it’s only relevant to Germans but here’s the link anyway:,1518,719579,00.html

    • Thanks for posting, I just read the “Spiegel” article. It’s cool that they wrote about it. It’s interesting that a German Magazine realized his character and actually know what satire is in contrary to some US media. Well I have to say we generally have very good satire in German media. So maybe we kinda used to it.

  15. I got way to excited when I saw this posted on the BBC website! surely the UK fan base must be growing for them to do that, think it’s about time we forced More4 to start showing the report!

  16. He did a really great job, it was really great to hear him slip out of character a bit and get so passionate about it. That’s just awesome that he did all that. I just hope he feels that it was all worth it overall. His lines were well thought out, and there was meaning behind the humor, and I hope people saw that. Good thing at least Keith bothered to show the rest of the clip.

    I think the worst part was that horrible media circus all around him, treating him like a common celebrity, as if a photo of him there was worth more than what he had to say, and what it stood for. I sure hope he doesn’t have to deal with that kind of exposure all the time, especially when he needs privacy.

  17. Not quite sure why the uber-right [which is vastly different from true “conservatives”] gets its nose so out of joint about such things. Or, then, maybe I do. There is little that Colbert said that is not correct, if the nuances and irony are fully understood.

  18. I think one of the most interesting things about the media coverage of the testimony is how the spin breaks down not just straight party lines, but whether the person reporting/blogging/whatever seems to agree with the core of Stephen’s argument or not.
    Don’t think migrant workers deserve respect, dignity & protections? Boom, it was a mockery of our hallowed halls of legislation.
    Those hallowed halls, it is often forgotten by those rushing to their defense, are filled with people who are far bigger mockeries every day.
    I’m sure it’s partly the ZOMGHugeFan! part of my brain doing the driving here, but I simply cannot believe Mr. Colbert would waste his own time if he didn’t care about it, and wouldn’t trivialize the efforts of a cause he did care about.
    For anyone to not see past the comedy to the sincerity underneath is simply myopic.

    • What disturbed me about most of the media coverage I had to plow through to compile this post wasn’t just the spin, but the fact that it was so completely focused on Stephen that virtually no one even mentioned what was discussed by other participants in the hearing. As far as the media was concerned, the whole story was “ZOMG there’s a comedian testifying before Congress!!” A few stories mentioned Stephen’s serious and heartfelt answer to the final question — and I tried to include as many of those stories here as I could — but really none of them covered the substance of the hearing. Which is sad to me because I know Stephen did this because he thought his testimony would bring some attention to the subject, but it seems like it was the wrong kind of attention because so much of the media is just shallow and stupid.

  19. This is reminiscent of the media s**tstorm that followed the White House Correspondents dinner back in 2006.

    When I heard that Stephen was testifying before congress I was hoping it might get a bit of press coverage and hopefully some of the inevitable Fox News scorn that TCR could use as fodder for the show.

    The resultant media scrum was pretty surprising, I assume caused by the novelty/controversy of Stephen addressing congress in character. He certainly has brought attention to the AGJobs bill that it would not have received from the press otherwise, but the debate does seem to be dominated by media hysteria and politicking.

    I think even before Stephen testified certain segments of the media decided to push a manufactured ‘outrage’ narrative. Although I doubt there will be much in the way of political fall-out for Rep. Lofgren because she holds a safe Democratic seat and most of criticism seems to be largely partisan.

    I know I’m biased but I found Stephen’s address to be funny, well presented and somewhat touching. I think it’s been blown way out of proportion because the US is currently in an election cycle and hyper-partisan.

    • DogGoneGirl says:

      Ya! … Meg on CN posted that this congressional testimony was like the White House Correspondents’ Dinner’s Little Brother … invite Mr. C to come in character and prepare to be “Truth-ed” whether you like it not!!

  20. marleygirl84 says:

    I was watching Rachel Maddow with my husband, and she didn’t really cover Stephen’s testimony, but did have some nice things to say in passing: “On the day that Stephen Colbert braids performance art and politics together so tightly that he almost pops immigration reform out of congress with the sheer pressure of his wit…..” I couldn’t have said it better if I tried all day. :)

    • Mr. Arkadin says:

      I saw that too! It was massive! :P
      Thank you so much for post that Rachel quote,marleygirl84. I had been thinking about posting that as well. But, sloth got the better of me. ;)

  21. On Democracy Now, Colbert’s appearance was among the headlines they reported – and they showed _only_ the clip of his heart-felt plea at the end (“the least of my brothers…”).

  22. mrtigger001 says:

    Great post about Stephen’s “least of my brothers” closing statement over at Andrew Sullivan:

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