Two Comedians 'Executed' by Politicians -One For Real
When popular, youthful Colombian comedian Jaime Garzón took the stage during the 1990s, he used humor as an instrument to expose corruption and hypocrisy within that nation's government.
He was a TV favorite of my parents. They tuned in to laugh at his political satire as he exposed the flaws, greed and cronyism of some of Colombia's political leaders. Often he was aided by a toothless, fictional shoeshine boy, "Heriberto de la Calle."
In 1998, Garzón invited political personalities such as presidential candidate Andrés Pastrana, who won election and went on to serve a four-year term as that country's commander in chief. Garzón's alter ego needled stodgy politicians with provocative questions and biting criticisms while snapping his shine rag.
In one episode, observing all the gold a particular elected official was wearing, Garzón asked him, "You're not afraid with all that gold you're wearing, someone in Congress might steal it?"
The official chuckled, "No, they don't steal there."
Garzón's response was a hysterical laugh.
His biting truths earned him more than a few enemies. As he was driving to work on Aug. 13, 1999, two sicarios —paid assassins — pulled along side of him on their motorcycle and called out his name. When he turned to look at them, they pumped five bullets into his face, and sped away.
A decade later, the murder of the 38-year-old comedian is still "under investigation."
Eerily, Washington's Capitol Hill daily tabloid, Politico, carried a page 1 story Sept. 30 that led off:"Members of Congress have been fooled time after time after time by Stephen Colbert, and after last week's mockery, they have a message for the satire specialist who makes a living lampooning them: Colbert, you're dead to us (my emphasis)."
Ostensibly, the 42-year-old Comedy Central star came to Capitol Hill to voice his concern for exploited immigrant farm workers. During his testimony Sept. 24 at a hearing jammed with national and international media, he took some of his best shots at Washington's often pompous and now-and-then corrupt politicians.
As his presence packed the room, House committee members recounted that the last time a hearing had received so much attention was during impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton in the '90s.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, had asked Colbert to share his 10-hour experience working last August in the farm fields of Hurley, New York, in response to a challenge from of United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodríguez.
Dapper in tailored black suit, red tie with thin blue stripes, and rimless glasses, Colbert began his five allotted minutes for an opening statement: "I certainly hope that my star power can bump this hearing all the way up to CSPAN1."
Then, cloaking himself in his nativist, know-it-all Comedy Central character, he began:
"This is America. I don't want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, sliced by a Guatemalan and served by a Venezuelan in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian."
"My great grandfather did not travel across 4,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean to see this country be overrun by immigrants. He did it because he killed a man back in Ireland."
Remaining in character through most of his testimony, he suggested the farm labor shortage could be solved if everyone would just stop eating fruits and vegetables. To help in the obesity debate, he offered "to submit a video of my colonoscopy."
He needled the members for doing nothing and when asked about the AgJobs bill, which failed to win congressional approval, he said he didn't know what it contained because "like most members of Congress, I haven't read it."
A few offended committee members suggested that he get up and leave. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) called his appearance "a misuse of Congress" and his testimony "an insult to the intelligence of the American people."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) later told Fox News, "What he had to say was not the way it should have been said."
Colbert did have a few defenders, but their oratory lacked Representative King's pizzazz. The best House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could muster in praising Colbert "for bringing attention to an important issue like immigration" was "He's an American, right?"
Politico quoted a couple Hill staffers' warnings to their bosses: avoid Colbert "like the plague." It quoted one victim, "The show is like herpes. It never goes away and itches and flares up."
Another recounted how a conservative Georgia Republican who co-sponsored a bill requiring the Ten Commandments to be displayed in Congress was challenged on camera by Colbert to name them. The Georgia Congressman could only come up with three.
Fortunately for fans of "The Colbert Report," Stephen is unlikely to meet the same fate as Jaime. The slings and arrows quivered by offended members of Congress don't carry the firepower of the weapons that dispatched the Colombian comic. And it's questionable whether any of the Capitol Hill Gang can steer a motorcycle straight.