Monday, July 3, 2006

No matter how hard members of Congress who appear on the “Better Know a District” comedy segment try to beat the system, Stephen Colbert makes them end up looking silly. But several lawmakers said doing the spoof spot on “The Colbert Report” on TV’s Comedy Central actually has raised their profiles back home, particularly among young folks.

“You have to have the right attitude,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican, whose 11th District was featured on the cable show in April.

“It’s a comedy show; he’s a comedian, and you’re not,” he said. “Even though I tried to be funny, all my funny stuff ended up on the cutting-room floor. I just had to leave hoping that when they slice and dice and put it all back together again, I wouldn’t look too stupid.”

Indeed, any publicity is good publicity.

Mr. Gingrey, whose thick mustache was admired by Mr. Colbert, who asked to stroke it, said there was an unexpected byproduct of doing the show — attention from young constituents and House staffers.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon had a similar experience when his 3rd District was profiled in May. “I had never watched it, but I was stunned at the number of e-mails I got almost instantly,” the Democrat said.

But Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, regrets his appearance and called Mr. Colbert a “third-rate” comedian.

“It was a stupid waste of time, and he is two stooges short of a good routine,” Mr. Frank said.

Still, the segment is among the more popular on “The Colbert Report,” a spin-off of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” with more than 1 million viewers.

Mr. Colbert so far has targeted 25 members in the 435-member House, splicing and dicing sometimes two-hour-long camera sessions into five-minute clips.

Mr. Blumenauer said his appearance was fun, even though the two argued about global warming and Mr. Colbert called him “an America-hating terrorist-lover hiding behind a stupid bow tie.”

“We tend to take ourselves too seriously in this business,” Mr. Blumenauer said.

Several lawmakers said that although their staffers prepped them with clips of past segments, they were not prepared for Mr. Colbert’s creative editing.

Mr. Colbert recently hazed Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Republican from Georgia’s 8th District, for not writing a single piece of legislation during his nearly two years in Congress.

However, Mr. Westmoreland co-sponsored a bill that would require the Ten Commandments be displayed in the Capitol.

When asked, the lawmaker was able to name just three of the Commandments. “I can’t name them all,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman did the show with gusto, even filming a spoof pornographic movie with Mr. Colbert because his 27th District in California is home to many pornographers.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has been a guest on “The Daily Show,” said the Colbert segment is “humorous,” but wouldn’t recommend members make an appearance.

“I would think it would be OK to go on if you were live to tape, but don’t subject yourself to a comic’s edit unless you want to be made a fool of,” the California Democrat said. “I think: Why would anybody go on there? Not that I don’t think they have all done very well.”

Mrs. Pelosi added that she watches the show “all the time.”

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio, by contrast, said he had never heard of the show.

“I’m culturally illiterate,” he told The Washington Times.

The segment has an educational element, with Mr. Colbert outlining the district’s demographics, history and oddball trivia. He also gives each district the adjective “fightin’,” as in the “Fightin’ Fifth” in Oregon.

He talked to that district’s Rep. Darlene Hooley about the state’s medicinal-marijuana laws. The Democrat laughed heartily when she was asked: “Are you high right now?”

Mr. Colbert, widely panned for his performance bashing President Bush at the White House Correspondents Dinner, commonly asks guests: “George W. Bush: great president or the greatest president?”

Mr. Colbert has featured five Republicans and 18 Democrats, and also did a mock “retiring” of Texas’ 22nd District when Republican Rep. Tom DeLay announced his retirement, putting together press clips for a fake interview with the former majority leader.

He moved California’s 50th District to the “never existed to me” category when former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham resigned amid a bribery scandal. The Republican is now serving prison time, and Mr. Colbert’s segment was renamed as a 434-part series.

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