Late-night TV host Stephen Colbert sought Monday to lower the temperature on the arrests of his staffers at a House office building, calling it a case of “first-degree puppetry” and accusing critics of blowing the story out of proportion.
“Quick question: How was your weekend? I certainly had an interesting one because some of my staff had a memorable one,” Mr. Colbert said at the start of CBS’ “The Late Show.”
Addressing the issue for the first time since the Thursday night incident, Mr. Colbert said he was contacted earlier by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who “offered to go down to D.C. and interview some congresspeople to highlight the January 6 hearings.”
“I said, ‘Sure, if you can get anyone to agree to talk to you. Because — and please don’t take this as an insult — you’re a puppet,’” said Mr. Colbert. “Well, he did. Democratic and Republican congresspeople agreed to talk to Triumph. He’s a bipartisan puppy. He’s so neutral, he’s neutered.”
Mr. Colbert didn’t mention comedian Robert Smigel, who voices the puppet. Seven crew members, including Mr. Smigel, were arrested and charged with unlawful entry after being caught unescorted at about 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the Longworth House Office Building.
Mr. Colbert said the crew shot for two days at the House buildings, emphasizing that they were located “across the street from the Capitol building,” and the staffers went through security clearances and were invited into the offices of the members of Congress for interviews
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Stephen talks about last week’s non-surrection. pic.twitter.com/6dwPxQfGdG
— The Late Show (@colbertlateshow) June 21, 2022
On Thursday evening, after wrapping up the interviews, “they were doing some last-minute puppetry and jokey make-‘em-ups in the hallway when Triumph and my folks were approached and detailed by the Capitol Police,” he said.
“The Capitol Police were just doing their job, my staff was just doing their job, everyone was very professional, everyone was very calm,” Mr. Colbert said. “My staffers were detained, processed and released. A very unpleasant experience for my staff.”
He called it “a lot of paperwork for the Capitol police but a fairly simple story, until the next night when a couple of the TV people started claiming that my puppet squad had quote, ‘committed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building.’”
Mr. Colbert didn’t attribute the phrase, but it was used Friday night by Fox host Tucker Carlson in a sarcastic reference to those framing the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot as an insurrection.
The charge of unlawful entry was the same one filed against many of those arrested in the Jan. 6 riot.
“It is likely that some members of Stephen Colbert’s team will be held in solitary confinement for a year and half without being charged, and why? Because this is an insurrection,” Mr. Carlson said on his show. “And actually, all joking aside, how could they not be held for a year and a half in solitary confinement without being charged? Because the precedent is in place.”
Stephen Colbert’s producers just committed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. pic.twitter.com/8lHkIcCYld
— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) June 18, 2022
Mr. Colbert took the remark seriously, however, and said that “I’m shocked that 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.”
He joked that his crew had committed “first-degree puppetry. This was hijinks with intent to goof. Misappropriation of an old Conan [O’Brien] bit. It’s really Conan’s fault.”
The late-night host didn’t address reports by Fox News that the producers returned to the building and were let in by an aide for Rep. Jake Auchincloss, Massachusetts Democrat, or that they banged on the doors of several Republican House members after hours.
An Auchincloss spokesperson said Monday that the CBS producers interviewed the congressman, but that “Our contact with them ended well before the building closed for the evening.”
Republican Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Rodney Davis of Illinois sent a letter Monday to the Capitol Police asking for security footage, photographs and reports related to the arrests.
Mr. Colbert also took a shot at former President Donald Trump, the focus of the ongoing House select committee hearings on the Jan. 6 riot.
“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 on high alert at all times because of the attack on Jan. 6,” Mr. Colbert said. “And as the hearings prove more clearly every day, the blame for that actual insurrection all lies with Putin’s puppet.”