With a fist pump and decked in a false beard that made her look like a cross between Ossama Bin Laden and one of the members of ZZ Top, Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.) set the tone for the Writers Guild of America’s guerilla theater on Capitol Hill Thursday, which was a sometimes absurd take on a serious topic.
Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert were probably wishing they could poach some of the jokes that flew between idled writers for their shows, who played the parts of both casually-attired writers on one side of a Capitol Hill hearing room table, and suited, dismissive producers on the other. The interchange produced some funnier lines than have come out of the nightly talk shows of late.
Amid occasional chants of "nerds" from the producers side, the WGA side argued that one studio would need to cough up only about $4.5 million to give the writers all they wanted, or only about half of what it took to get Reese Witherspoon interested in making a picture. What’s more important, the script or half of Reese Witherspoon, said a writer on the WGA side of the table. "Depends on which half," said retorted a "producer."
Are unions necessary?, asked moderator DeeDee Myers.
After the writers talked about things like a reasonable work weak, pensions and health benefits, the "producers" side took their turn: "Do you know why the Chinese are beating the Chinese-made pants off of us right now," said one AMPTP impersonator. "It’s because they are not afraid to let their nine year olds work 16-hour days in the inhalable lead plant. If we give in to these union writers and all their demands, they are going to make TV more expensive. That means it is going to go offshore and, before you know it, we are going to be watching "According To Mao" and "Foot-Binding With the Stars."
In addition to posing as member of AMPTP, a couple of writers also posed as protestors, the kind that stand up in slogo-emblazoned T-shirts and shout about cruelty to cats during a Hill hearing on oil-drilling in Alaska. One was wearing an electric pink T-shirt with "Look at Me" on the front. He was soon joined by a second "protestor" with "I have Valid Concerns" on his lime green T.
The interruption delighted an audience familiar with the occasional hearing-room antics of well-meaning but often hilarious activists.
The exchange went a little something like this.
Myers question is interrupted as a voice shouts from the crowd:
Pink Shirt: "I demand attention.
Myers: I’m sorry, there seems to be a disturbance."
Pink Shirt (shouting): "I’m wearing a pink t-shirt and I am fully focused on what is happening in front of you."
A second guy in crowd removes his coat to reveal Green Shirt.
Green Shirt: "Don’t look at that guy, look at me. I’m even more distracting and also louder (he is). Also, I have a substantive critique of our nation’s foreign policy that is best understood when shouting incoherently at a hearing about something else…"
Cost of Metro farecard to get to the hill: $2.70.
Getting to see Daily Show and Colbert writers demonstrating why they are so valuable: Priceless.