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Did Stephen Colbert and Joaquin Phoenix take satire too far?

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Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS/AP

(Read caption) Joaquin Phoenix (l.) joins host David Letterman on the set of the "Late Show with David Letterman last Wednesday to apologize for his 'joke' February, 2009 appearance.

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So, if you crack a joke and nobody laughs, is it funny? That is a question making the rounds of the punditsphere this week after the curious political/pop culture one-two at the end of last week.

On Friday, there was Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert testifying before a congressional hearing on immigration and farm workers' rights – fully in character as a mock-conservative talk show host. Some representatives smiled gamely as he made mock racist comments and rapped politicians in general, while others – notably Republicans – called him “inappropriate.”

On Wednesday, actor Joaquin Phoenix told late-night talk show host David Letterman that Mr. Letterman had been an unsuspecting player in the actor's new movie, “I’m Still Here.” In 2009, a bearded and disheveled Mr. Phoenix went on Letterman's show to announce his retirement from acting. But that announcement, it turned out, was a hoax made for the actor's new faux documentary.

Letterman, with a vigor that appeared only half-joking, demanded that Phoenix tell the audience he had been duped and was not part of the hoax.

Looming just around the corner are two full-scale mock rallies in Washington, D.C. – initiated by Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart in tandem with Mr. Colbert. The event has more than a few politicians as well as fans scratching their heads about whether to laugh, jump a plane to the Woodstock for this generation (sans drugs and nudity, according to Stewart) – or demand the National Park Service refuse the pair a permit to meet on the National Mall.


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