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Jokester Colbert goes to Washington

Television comedian Stephen Colbert has gotten famous by using his trademark conservative faux-outrage to label the United States Congress as a joke.

On Friday, a House subcommittee – maybe, sort of, actually we really don’t know -- might have played along.

“I certainly hope that my star power can bump this hearing all the way up to C-SPAN One,” Colbert promised members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security, where he appeared as a witness on the issue of migrant farm work.

The subcommittee chairman invited the Comedy Central personality to testify at the hearing, which addressed the possibility of offering illegal immigrant farm workers a path to citizenship. Colbert’s “expertise” in the arena of immigration and farm labor stems from a July 2010 episode of his TV show “The Colbert Report,” during which he joined subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren to spend a day doing the work of an agriculture laborer.

Speaking in character as a bigoted and irate “free-market guy,” Colbert argued in his testimony that “we have to do something” about the plight of farm workers “because I am not going back out there.”

“At this point, I break into a cold sweat at the sight of a salad bar,” he said.

It's unclear upon how many members of the committee the joke was lost.

Rep. John Conyers, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, initially requested that Colbert leave the hearing room before his testimony, arguing that his presence had achieved its purpose by bringing attention to the hearing's subject matter. Lofgren interceded, saying that Colbert was in attendance at the subcommittee’s request, and Conyers relented.

Colbert did not stick to his (joke-free) prepared testimony, breaking from his planned dry statistics about American agriculture in favor of gags about entering his colonoscopy results into the Congressional Record.

If the committee’s intent was garnering publicity by inviting a late-night comic as its star witness, it worked. Lofgren commented at the outset of the hearing that she had not seen so many cameras in a hearing room since the impeachment.

Asked if it was appropriate for a comedian to testify on the Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters, "Of course."

"He's an American. He comes before the committee. He has a point of view. He can bring attention to an important issue like immigration," she said. "I think it's great."

Colbert did note the seriousness of the issue of immigration during the hearing's question-and-answer period, saying that he likes "talking about people who have no power."

"Migrant workers suffer. And have no rights," he said.

NBC's Lea Sutton and Shawna Thomas contributed to this report.


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