Colbert’s Call

Posted November 30, 2007 at 6:33pm

Stephen Colbert is resorting to desperate measures to get Members to sit down with him for the “Better Know a District” feature on his Comedy Central mock-news show. Last week, House offices got a package from Colbert, which included a DVD of lawmakers who’ve appeared on the segment, along with a pitch letter entreating others to join him. True to Colbert form, the missive takes a witty tack, reminding Members that appearing on “The Colbert Report” will put them in front of “1.4 million of America’s youngest, most politically motivated TV viewers.”

[IMGCAP(1)]“Dear Congressman X,” the letter opens. “Are you tired of being known as Congressman X? Well here’s your chance to change that.”

But will the appeal to Members’ burning desire for fame work? Seems press aides are wary of allowing their bosses to appear on Colbert’s program, particularly since the “Better Know a District” segment is taped and edited for funny — and potentially embarrassing to the Member in the hot seat — effect. So far, 46 Members have appeared on the show.

Staffers are buzzing over a tactic used by Colbert’s producers to prompt a funny on-screen moment. According to the legend, Colbert leaves the room during taping of the interview, saying that he has to take a call. But the cameras stay rolling because he doesn’t want to interrupt the setup, one Hill communications type tells HOH. Then, as the Member sits before a rolling camera, waiting for Colbert’s return, one of the producers will make a loud and unexpected noise. The Member’s startled expression is caught on tape, and edited into the final segment as a reaction to a question.

Comedy Central spokesman Steve Albani says that ploy has never been used in filming the segment.

Still, plenty of staffers fear submitting their bosses for the Colbert treatment. “If it were a live spot, I’d say, ‘Go for it,’” one communications director said of the funny-but- treacherous spoofy interview. “But the way they edit it makes everyone look ridiculous — I would never let my boss do it.”

The letter from Colbert includes an additional sweetener for unconvinced lawmakers: It instructs interested Members that “one of my beautiful and/or handsome young staffers will call to follow up on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The I-Man Cometh. And speaking of interview opportunities lawmakers are mulling, the return of once-radioactive radio host Don Imus to the airwaves might present a quandary for Members of Congress who used to be frequent guests of the radio talk-show host’s. At least a few Senators are sticking by the I-Man, who was fired from his MSNBC and CBS Radio show for making racially loaded comments but is returning as the host of an ABC-syndicated radio show, which will be simulcast on cable channel RFD-TV. Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) will join Imus as a guest, if he’s asked, a spokeswoman tells HOH. Lieberman was a frequent guest on Imus’ old show.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), too, will go back on the show — as long as it’s the more inclusive program that Imus has pledged it will be. “Sen. Kerry said during the spring that he believes in second chances and redemption, and that if as Imus suggested it would be a different kind of show he’d be happy to return as a guest,” said spokesman David Wade. “Don Imus has made it clear that’s exactly his intention.”

Calls to the Senate and presidential campaign offices of Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who announced his White House bid on the old Imus show, went unreturned.

Hotel Kansas. GOP staffers are aware of just how tough a job market it is out there, but an e-mail that circulated around the Hill last week seemed to strike new fears about their career prospects. Chuck Knapp, communications director for Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), sent out a “farewell” e-mail common among job-switchers. In the message, he did the requisite thanking of colleagues and gushing over the job he was leaving. But it was a mention of Knapp’s new gig that had GOP staffers worried: Knapp announced that he was pursuing an exciting new opportunity … as the manager of the Holiday Inn Express in Andover, Kan.

“I knew times were tough for Republicans on the Hill but looks like things might be sinking to a whole new level if these are the only options we have left,” said one GOP Congressional staffer.

Knapp tells HOH he realizes that such an unconventional career move, particularly after seven years in Tiahrt’s office and 17 in politics, might look odd. But he’s doing it — he swears — to spend more time with his family, which includes his four kids. The hotel’s owner is an old friend and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. The prospect of regular hours and no travel (Knapp made a monthly trip to Washington from his home base in Tiahrt’s Wichita district office) was too good to pass up. And as a press-savvy guy, Knapp says he knows some people will doubt the old “spending more time with my family” line as a way of explaining such an unconventional shift. “People can spend all the time second-guessing or speculating, but I know that I’m doing the right thing for me and my family,” he says. “My wife tells me she has already noticed the difference.”

Kiss Them, They Don’t Smoke. Now that the Senate has banned the sale of cigarettes from vendors in Senate buildings, a few House Members are hoping their chamber will snuff out smokes, too. Democratic Reps. Lois Capps (Calif.), Diana DeGette (Colo.), and Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) last Wednesday wrote to House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) seeking to halt on-campus sales of nicotine sticks. “We believe that selling tobacco products in the House is inconsistent with Congress’ commitment to protect the public health,” the trio wrote. And, they noted, plenty of teenagers come waltzing through the marble halls and might be tempted.

Smokes sold in the Capitol complex are free from state sales tax, making them cheaper than most sold in regular stores.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is a big anti-smoking proponent, banning Members from lighting up in the once smoke-filled Speaker’s Lobby. But pro-tobacco forces still hold plenty of sway in the House. Looks like there could be a smokin’ fight on hand.

Thanksgiving Treat. While the rest of us were prepping our Thanksgiving feasts, CongressNow Editor Lou Jacobson and his wife, Elisabeth Layton, already had something to be thankful for: newborn son Zachary Joshua Jacobson. Born Nov. 20 at 7 pounds, 3 ounces, Zachary joins his 3-year-old sister, Cynthia. While Jacobson returned from the hospital to spend Thanksgiving dinner at Elisabeth’s grandmother Clarice Levy’s house, he made sure to make a delivery of his own. He brought Elisabeth back a turkey-laden plate in the hospital.

Jacobson reports that “mom, baby and the rest of the family are doing great despite a distinct lack of sleep.” Congratulations to Lou and Elisabeth on the newest addition to the Roll Call Group family.

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