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Wexler falls into a comedic interviewer's trap -- and he's not laughing

By Brian E. Crowley

Palm Beach Post Political Editor

Saturday, July 22, 2006

U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler has sat in front of some of the hottest television lights in the world of news talk, barking about political rivals, demanding action and mostly holding his own in on-air squabbles.

Then he sat down with comedian Stephen Colbert.

Wexler thought he knew what he was getting into — but really he didn't.

He found himself talking about whether caribou meat should be used to fuel sport utility vehicles. And he found himself being cajoled into staring at the camera and saying, "I enjoy cocaine because it's a fun thing to do," in a segment that aired Thursday night.

Welcome to Comedy Central, congressman. Those tough political crowds in Boca Raton have nothing on the sharp wit of Colbert and the editing skills of the staff on his popular comedy show, The Colbert Report.

When the cable TV show's producers contacted Wexler's Capitol Hill office to ask if the Democrat would be interested in appearing, his young staffers went crazy. All fans of the show, they persuaded a somewhat reluctant Wexler to do it.

So three weeks ago, Wexler gamely walked to an office on the hill that the show was using to tape the program. Someone stuck a Florida flag behind Wexler so Colbert could pretend the interview was taking place in his congressional office.

The taping lasted 90 minutes, which the producers artfully trimmed and rearranged for five minutes of the best comic effect.

The show, which airs at 11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, is political satire, a takeoff on shows such as Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor.

After poking fun at the "fighting 19th" Congressional District, Colbert introduced Wexler with the question, "Which well-tanned politician has the SPF to represent this district?"

Throughout the taping, Wexler — like all of Colbert's subjects — was forced into the role of straight man. Asked about the show Friday, the normally exuberant Wexler seemed a bit subdued after watching it Thursday night.

"I had never seen the show," he said. "Many of the people in the office love the show, and they said it would be fantastic."

His verdict? "Not my cup of tea."

Which really is the point of Colbert's recurring segment on congressional districts — making a member of Congress uncomfortable. When Orlando Republican John Mica appeared, Colbert asked whether he had trouble getting his rumored toupee through airport security. Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, who is gay, reportedly was seething after Colbert asked him what it was like to be "an openly left-handed" American.

So as Wexler sat watching the show with his 17-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, he cringed. At one point, Colbert asked Wexler about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Colbert: "Should we drill in ANWR?"

Wexler: "No, no."

C: "So caribou are more important than my SUV?"

W: "No, no."

C: "That's what you just said."

W: "What's most important is that your SUV be required to have better efficiency in the future."

C: "What if I could make it run on caribou meat? Would you be in favor of that?"

W: "On caribou meat?"

C: "Or hide — it doesn't matter — or bone?"

W: "Probably not."

Then, because Wexler has no opponent this year, Colbert — saying "this is just kidding" — egged him on to "say a few things that would really lose the election for you if you were contested." Colbert neatly hemmed him in by telling him to complete this sentence: "I enjoy cocaine because... "

And for Comedy Central, here's the money shot: Wexler squirming but looking straight ahead and playing along by saying, "I enjoy cocaine because it's a fun thing to do." Followed by, again at Colbert's suggestion: "I enjoy the company of prostitutes for the following reasons because it's a fun thing to do. If you combine the two together, it's probably even more fun."

Colbert wrapped up soon after, joking "there is no amount of damage control" that Wexler would be able to do now.

So what did Wexler's kids think of his performance?

"They thought I was foolish.


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