Colbert explains story behind staffers’ arrests on Capitol Hill
"CBS “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert didn’t wait long Monday night to discuss the bizarre topic that everyone was waiting for him to address: the fact that multiple members of his production team, including the voice behind one very famous puppet, were arrested last week in Washington at the Longworth House Office Building and charged with unlawful entry.
“How was your weekend?” Colbert greeted his studio audience. “I certainly had an interesting one, because some of my staff had a memorable one.”
The host launched into a quick recap: Last week, a group of Colbert staffers — along with Robert Smigel, who voices the Triumph the Insult Comic Dog puppet that originated on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” — traveled to the District to interview members of Congress to highlight the investigative hearings into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“Democratic and Republican congresspeople agreed to talk to Triumph. He’s a bipartisan puppy. He’s so neutral, he’s neutered,” Colbert said. “Triumph and my folks shot for two days in congressional offices across the street from the Capitol building. They went through security clearance, shot all day Wednesday, all day Thursday, invited into the offices of the congresspeople they were interviewing.”
Thursday evening, the group was doing some “last-minute puppetry” in a hallway, Colbert said, when they were approached and detained by Capitol Police. (This echoed the statement that CBS released Friday when the news became public. The Washington Post reported that police said the building was closed to visitors at the time and that the group earlier had been directed to leave.)
“The Capitol Police are much more cautious than they were, say, 18 months ago — and for a very good reason,” Colbert said. “If you don’t know what that reason is, I know what news network you watch.”
The host said everyone was “very professional” and “very calm.”
“My staffers were detained, processed, and released. A very unpleasant experience for my staff, a lot of paperwork for the Capitol Police. But a fairly simple story,” he said.
“Until the next night,” Colbert continued. “When a couple of the TV people started claiming that my puppet squad had ‘committed insurrection’ at the U.S. Capitol building.” Colbert did not name names, but that quote came from Fox News’s Tucker Carlson.
“First of all, what? Second of all, huh? Third of all, they weren’t in the Capitol building,” Colbert said. “Fourth of all — and I’m shocked I have to explain the difference — but an insurrection involves disrupting the lawful actions of Congress and howling for the blood of elected leaders, all to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.”
“This was first-degree puppetry,” he added. “This was high jinks with intent to goof. Misappropriation of an old ‘Conan’ bit. It’s really Conan’s fault.”
Colbert said such quotes were “predictable.”
“They want to talk about something other than the January 6th hearings on the actual seditionist insurrection that led to the deaths of multiple people, and the injury of over 140 police officers,” he said. “But drawing any equivalence between rioters storming our Capitol to prevent the counting of electoral ballots and a cigar-chomping toy dog is a shameful and grotesque insult to the memory of everyone who died. And it obscenely trivializes the service and the courage the Capitol Police showed on that terrible day.”
Colbert remarked that the incident happened on the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, so it could have been a conspiracy. He joked that it was similar to such “puppet lawlessness” as “The Great Muppet Caper” and “the ‘Fraggle’ riots of the 1980s.”
“But in this case, our puppet was just a puppet doing puppet stuff. And sad to say, so much has changed in Washington that the Capitol Police do have to stay at high alert all the time because of the attack on January 6th,” he said. “And as the hearings prove more clearly every day, the blame for that actual insurrection all goes to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s puppet.”