Bow tie insult thrown in for extra measure..Ever since Richard Nixon delivered the "Sock it to me" punch line on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" during the 1968 presidential campaign, politicians have sought to use comedy shows to prove they aren't the stiffs they seem to be.
But Colbert's series is different.
Instead of high-profile presidential wannabes, it features relatively anonymous House members. The interviews are taped in the lawmaker's office, so there's no studio audience to chastise a hostile questioner. And the approximately five-minute segments are culled from sessions as long as 2 1/2 hours -- plenty of time for even an experienced politician to say or do something to make a press secretary cringe.
Each segment begins with a short send-up of the representative's district. Colbert takes on a conservative persona and remains in character when he sits down with members of Congress, firing off provocative or just plain stupid questions.
"Is it safe to say you're an America-hating terrorist lover hiding behind a stupid bow tie?" he asked Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.
"Do you have to take your toupee off when you go through security?" Colbert asked Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla.
Paul Lewis, a Boston College professor who has studied humor and politics, said the series was just "a trap" for politicians. "When they go on the show, they often seem like buffoons," he said.
Many like to play along.
Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey, D-Calif., arm-wrestled Colbert.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., let Colbert comb his mustache.
"We don't want to be stuffed shirts only doing dry subjects in a dull format," said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., who was the first House member Colbert profiled.
Democratic consultant Jenny Backus said Colbert offered lawmakers an excellent opportunity to broaden their appeal, just not in the home stretch of the campaign.
"There will always be people in the House trying to stick out of the crowd, ... but right now is not the season to be doing that," she said, noting that a series of congressional scandals have many voters in a less-than-jovial mood. "In this climate, it's must-not-do TV." More...