WASHINGTON — Stephen Colbert was denied when he tried to run for president this year in South Carolina. Now the fake TV pundit is getting some love from the city of his birth.
His portrait was hung Wednesday at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington for a six-week showing in what the museum considers an “appropriate place” — right between the bathrooms near the “America’s Presidents” exhibit. Museum officials stress it’s only temporary.
“We agreed to go along with the joke and hang it for a short time in between the bathrooms,” said museum spokeswoman Bethany Bentley. “Let me tell you two key things here: His portrait is not coming into the collection, and it’s not hanging permanently.”
That may come as a surprise to Colbert, who campaigned for the honor since Jan. 10 and boasted on his Comedy Central show Tuesday night that his portrait was “hanging in the hall of presidents, just a few yards from the father of our country — exactly where I believe it belongs.”
Colbert, who plays a conservative talk-show host on “The Colbert Report” and recently tried to run for president as a Democrat, went to great lengths to persuade Smithsonian Institution officials he was worthy.
In the first episode of his campaign that aired Jan. 10, he strapped his portrait — actually a digital image on canvas — onto his back to visit museums on the National Mall. That’s where he was rejected by Brent Glass, director of the National Museum of American History, for inclusion in the “Treasures of American History” exhibit.
“What we are doing is presenting to the public collections ... that are of permanent value to the nation,” Glass said.
“Like my portrait,” said the Washington-born Colbert, who grew up in South Carolina.
Glass didn’t buy it, but Colbert wasn’t finished. He offered the museum his pants when he saw an exhibit of the sweater worn by “Mister Rogers” and insisted on a $50 bet with Glass that a random college-age male would rather have the Colbert portrait than Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.” Colbert lost the bet — and almost accepted defeat.
Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings By the third installment in his series, Colbert made his way to the portrait gallery. Bentley said Colbert wasn’t begging so much as “making his case.” She said they welcome the conversation about whose portraits are included in the gallery’s collection. It was just not Colbert’s time, she said.
“Who’s the competition? Who do I need to knock out of here to get me up?” Colbert asked gallery director Marc Pachter.
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Colbert argued he was more deserving than athletes Lance Armstrong or Andre Agassi and pulled out his Hacky Sack for a few kicks in the art gallery to prove it. “You do realize I’m in big trouble if you hit any of these portraits,” Pachter said.
Still, Colbert said he thinks his “sack work” ultimately won Pachter over for the temporary display. Colbert’s publicist did not immediately return an e-mail requesting comment.
Word of his portrait at the gallery spread quickly among loyal fans.
Unique Bexley, 20, and Jacqueline Canales, 19, both of Washington, said they talked on the telephone after watching the show Tuesday and decided they had to go to the portrait gallery.
“It’s kind of sad that this is the first time we’ve been here,” Canales said Wednesday as a steady stream of young admirers took their pictures with Colbert’s portrait.
“We might look at the rest of the museum, but we really came for Colbert,” Bexley said. “I needed a new Facebook picture, so it might as well be with Stephen Colbert.”
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