Taking a Joke

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Aug 07, 2006 5:41 PM

There's a lot of talk in these parts about whether politicians should subject themselves to things like Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report."

I always say "go for it," but that's mostly because I'm lookin' out for No. 1, and No. 1 is greatly amused when politicians make fools of themselves on Colbert. I might not make the best consultant...

Anyway, please see the most recent silly/embarrassing interviews with Robert Wexler and Eleanor Holmes Norton. They're both a riot, Wexler's more damaging than Norton's. Wexler allows himself to be coaxed into saying "I enjoy cocaine because it's a fun thing to do," and Norton becomes vexed indeed when Colbert "nails" her for never having voted during her many terms in office.

But Wexler's genuine dumbness aside, I think Colbert is a great place for politicians to get some publicity. Yes, it's a little scary to relinquish control to the editors of a comedy show, but politicians are already subject to misquotes and out-of-contexts with the real media as it is. Why not have some fun with it?

Rep. Lee Terry, a Republican from Nebraska's 3rd District, makes that case in the LAT today to counter Rep. Nancy Pelosi's admonition that she "wouldn't recommend that anyone go on the show:"

But I had a very different experience on "The Colbert Report" when I appeared as part of its "Better Know a District" series. Did Colbert make a fool of me? Absolutely. But, to tell you the truth, the "Better Know a District" segment was one of the best appearances I've made as a congressman.

You may find this shocking, but not many people know much about Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District (including some of our residents). Doing the show was a way to put a face, and a joke, to my name — and a way for my constituents to see me in something other than an opponent's 30-second attack ad.

More important, the rest of the country learned a little something about the Fighting 2nd. Now everyone in the nation (who has seen the show) knows that Omaha is home to one of the country's biggest telecommunications centers, as well as the tower at First National Center, the tallest structure between Minneapolis and Denver! (OK, it sounded more impressive on TV.)

First as a city councilman and now as a congressman, I have been interviewed on numerous television shows, and yet I've never had as many people (i.e., potential voters) approach me on the street as I have since my appearance on "The Colbert Report."

As for subjecting myself to a comic's edit, I would much rather have my words taken out of context by Colbert than by the "real" media. At least with Colbert, the context is clearly comedy and the audience gets it. I'm not sure Pelosi does.

It is interesting that it's the historically humorless conservatives who tend to fare better in front of the Colbert camera and take things in stride, and it's the hip kid from the Bay Area discouraging folks from participating, especially when it's ostensibly Pelosi's demographic the show is reaching.

I hope no one listens to Pelosi (though now that I type that, it occurs to me I probably shoudn't worry. If they're gonna keep spending our money at truly alarming rates on truly alarmingly silly things, they should at least take some time to entertain us. Consider that a constituent concern, Congressmen.