Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By RAY ROUTHIER
Does U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree have a good sense of humor?
People in Maine and around the country soon will be able to judge for themselves.
Pingree, elected to Congress from Maine's 1st District in 2008, taped an interview with Stephen Colbert on Monday for his show ''The Colbert Report'' on Comedy Central. She ended up thumb wrestling with Colbert, arguing against his stance that wind is not necessarily a renewable energy source, and defending the taste of Maine's official soft drink, Moxie.
In between those moments, there was talk about gay marriage and chickens wearing sweaters, and Pingree's rebuttal of Colbert's assertion that most Mainers have no running water.
''It was kind of absurd and all over the map,'' Pingree said of the 90-minute taping in New York City. ''So I really can't tell how it's going to come out.''
Is she nervous she'll look foolish on national TV?
''Sure, it makes you nervous. But as a member of Congress, you have the opportunity to screw things up in a lot of ways, talking to someone in the supermarket or on TV. You just do your best not to,'' she said.
The segment Pingree taped is part of a series on Colbert's show called ''Better Know a District,'' with the goal of eventually profiling every congressional district. The segment does not have a firm air date yet, but Pingree said show producers told her it would probably be on within two or three weeks.
In character on his show, Colbert is a loud, swaggering, conservative talk-show host. And in the past, he has made many members of Congress look a little lost and even silly, by pretending to know nothing about them or by asking outrageous questions.
He asked Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, who is gay, what his wife thought of his weight problem. He asked Republican Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming to describe Wyoming's ''black guy.''
Some members of Congress actually look as though they have no idea that Colbert is a comedian and that his show is a parody. But Pingree prepared by watching ''Better Know a District'' segments online and talking to colleague Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who ended up leg wrestling with Colbert during his segment.
''You look at the segment Jason did, and you might say he got picked apart, but Jason told me he enjoyed it,'' Pingree said.
Pingree said she likes Colbert's show, and from watching it, she has the feeling that the answers she gave to one question might be used with another. She said that after she left the studio, Colbert and the crew continued to tape, and she assumed that they were adding questions or responses from Colbert to get the funniest outcome.
''I can tell the way it was filmed they don't let you be funny, they make you the straight guy,'' Pingree said.
Pingree said there are those around Washington who warn members of Congress to never, under any circumstances, go on a program such as Colbert's. No good can come of it, they say.
But Pingree, who said Colbert's show has been calling her office ''for some time,'' thinks it's important for all members of Congress to show people that they are human and not oblivious to what's going on in society.
She wanted to show that she, personally, is accessible and can certainly take a joke.
''Approval levels for Congress are very low right now, and I think we all have to show we're accessible, '' Pingree said. ''More people, especially young people, watch shows like this than the nightly news.''
Pingree said that Colbert came out of character only at the end of the taping. He asked a little bit about Maine, and Pingree suggested that he come to the state for a visit.
''He said, 'See if you still want me to after you see the segment,' '' Pingree said.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: