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January 23, 2008

Decked out in a false beard that made her look like a cross between Osama bin Laden and one of the members of ZZ Top, Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), was just helping out, setting the tone for a Writers Guild of America's guerilla theater presentation on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert were probably wishing they could poach some of the jokes that flew between idled writers. The scribes played the parts of both casually attired members of the Writers Guild on one side of a Capitol Hill hearing room table, and suited, dismissive producers on the other.

The interchange produced funnier lines than what has come out of the nightly talk shows of late.

Amid occasional chants of “nerds” from the producers' side, the WGA members 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 as much money it takes to get Reese Witherspoon interested in making a picture.

“What's more important? The script or half of Reese Witherspoon?” asked a writer on the WGA side of the table.

“Depends on which half,” retorted a “producer.”

After the writers talked about things like a reasonable work week, pensions and health benefits, the “producers” took their turn:

“Do you know why the Chinese are beating the Chinese-made pants off of us right now?” asked one AMPTP impersonator. “It's because they are not afraid to let their 9-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 protesters, the kind that stand up in logo-emblazoned T-shirts and shout about cruelty to cats during a Hill hearing on, say, 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 “protester” with “I Have Valid Concerns” on his lime-green T.

Cost of Metro farecard to get to the Hill: $2.70.

Getting to see Daily Show and Colbert writers demonstrate why they are so valuable: Priceless.

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