Better Know a District (also known as BKAD) is a recurring segment on The Colbert Report. It offers a humorous explanation of a different United States Congressional district in each segment and generally includes an interview with that district's member of Congress.
Each segment begins with basic information about a specific district, such as history and geography, and sometimes a humorously bizarre event that happened there. The district is also almost invariably referred to as "fightin'," as in the "Fightin' 11th." Most segments feature an interview with its Representative.
One comedic maneuver that Colbert commonly employs in these interviews, particularly when he is interviewing Democrats, is to ask the Representative a loaded question of either "George W. Bush: great President, or the greatest President?", or "the Iraq War: great war, or the greatest war?" When the interviewee, nearly always a Democrat, tries to express his or her disapproval of Bush, Colbert will usually state that the only choice is between "Great or Greatest," and nearly always states, "I'm gonna put you down for 'Great'." (He often refers to previous Democratic representatives who chose 'great', and shows clips from their interviews where they, too, refused to choose either 'great' or 'greatest,' and Colbert simply bulldozes over them saying, "I'm gonna put you down for 'Great'.")
After the interview, Colbert adds the segment to "the big board", a map of the entire United States with district lines drawn; the new district, shown in sparkling gold on a blue background, is usually very difficult or impossible to see due to its small size. Though many districts have been profiled, the map still looks largely vacant overall.
Although the interviews intentionally show most of the Representatives in an unflattering light, the Representatives' post-interview reactions have varied. Colbert's interview with Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank resulted in Frank lambasting the program (he was quoted on a later Report), while the interview with Virginia Representative Jim Moran pleased the Congressman — he told the New York Times that he thought Colbert "let me off kind of light."
California Representative Brad Sherman appeared to be in on the joke. He claimed not to know that his San Fernando Valley district was home to the pornography industry, gave an apparently long and dull explanation of a tax proposal, and participated in the making of a "pornographic video" with Colbert and impersonated a robot.
The Washington Times published a story on the show stating that "several lawmakers said doing the spoof spot on 'The Colbert Report' on TV's Comedy Central actually has raised their profiles back home"; however, the Los Angeles Times has reported that due to the fact that many House members have "stumbled badly" during this segment, others are not risking "the price for looking stupid" and are passing up the opportunity to be on Colbert's Better Know A District.
On his November 7, 2006 show, Colbert lauded the fact that every one of the 28 actual congressmen whom he had interviewed by that point won election or reelection, which he claims to have been because they were given the "Colbert Bump".
Because of the way Colbert intentionally tries to skewer congressmen in his interviews, former Democratic Caucus chairman Rahm Emanuel advised his fellow Democrats not to appear on the show, causing Colbert to make fun of Emanuel's advice on the show. However, Colbert now rarely features Better Know a District as a regular segment, suggesting many in Congress took Emanuel's advice. In January 2009, Colbert received what he claimed was a letter from U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and said he was cleared to begin interviewing congressmen once again. However he began the 2009 season of Better Know A District by interviewing Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz instead of a Democratic congressman.
Better Know a District began as a "435-part series," 435 being the number of United States Congressional districts; however, on November 29, 2005, Colbert banned California's 50th District after his "friend" Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the 50th's Representative, pled guilty to receiving over $2 million in bribes and resigned his seat. California's 50th is now the lone member of the "Never Existed to Me" category, and the map showing the United States' Congressional districts now looks as if the district does not even exist. This brought the series to a "434-part series". After this, Texas's 22nd congressional district was retired on April 4, 2006 when Tom DeLay announced that he planned to leave Congress. Texas's 22nd was reinstated on June 8, 2006, with a fake interview in which video of DeLay in three previous interviews on other television networks was interspersed with questions from Colbert. The congressman's words were used out of context for comedic effect. The district was put back into retirement at the end of the segment.
In the show's first year, 34 districts were profiled.
The original district map lacked Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. During a phone-in segment, a resident of Michigan’s 1st, which includes all of the Upper Peninsula as well as a sizable portion of the northern Lower Peninsula, reported this absence. Colbert informed the caller that he lived in Canada and if it was not on Colbert’s map, it was not a part of the United States. The Upper Peninsula was added to the map the next time it was shown.
During the interview with Eleanor Holmes Norton, Colbert established that the District of Columbia was not a state, and thus the District of Columbia was not a part of the United States. The Better Know a District map was updated with an asterisk notation to reflect this fact. Furthermore, the count of 435 districts does not include non-voting districts, such as the District of Columbia; however, this segment was included in the district count, filling in for California's 50th district's absence, restoring the total to 434.
After the 2006 midterm elections, Colbert was invited to a meeting of the incoming House freshmen at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. During this encounter, he brought his total of "better-known districts" from 36 up to 51 (including a British parliamentary constituency); however, he did not count these as installments, and the count picked up at 37 with the next regular installment. The show aired on December 12, 2006.
The districts covered thus far in "Better Know a District" are shown below. Segment numbers are listed starting with the 37th installment as they no longer correspond to the actual number of districts profiled. The Washington Post has reprinted transcripts from segments of "Better Know a District".
|1||Georgia - 1||Jack Kingston (R)||October 18|
|2||Massachusetts - 4||Barney Frank (D)||October 27|
|3||Ohio - 11||Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D)||November 3||Included "Judge Tubbs," a fake judicial show; Tubbs Jones, a former judge, said she always wanted to have her own courtroom show. This segment was shown again when Jones died in 2008.|
|4||Florida - 7||John Mica (R)||November 9|
|5||Colorado - 2||Mark Udall (D)||November 16||Now Senator of Colorado.|
|6||Michigan - 13||Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D)||November 30|
|7||Virginia - 8||Jim Moran (D)||December 6|
|8||New York - 11||Major Owens (D)||December 15|
|9||New Jersey - 9||Steve Rothman (D)||January 12|
|10||New York - 17||Eliot L. Engel (D)||January 19||Reintroduced in "Better Know A Memory"|
|11||New Jersey - 8||Bill Pascrell (D)||January 25|
|12||New York - 8||Jerrold Nadler (D)||February 2|
|13||Pennsylvania - 2||Chaka Fattah (D)||February 8|
|14||New Jersey - 13||none||February 21||Bob Menendez (D) had resigned after being appointed to the Senate, so the seat was vacant at the time. The Clerk of the House, Karen L. Haas, who was responsible for official business in the district at the time refused to talk to the show.|
|15||California - 39||Linda Sánchez (D)||March 9|
|16||California - 27||Brad Sherman (D)||March 22||Reintroduced in "Better Know a Memory"|
|17||California - 29||Adam Schiff (D)||March 29|
|18||Oregon - 5||Darlene Hooley (D)||April 6|
|19||Maryland - 4||Albert Wynn (D)||April 20|
|20||Georgia - 11||Phil Gingrey (R)||April 26||First interview to receive an extension via "Betterer Know A District"|
|21||Oregon - 3||Earl Blumenauer (D)||May 4|
|22||Nebraska - 2||Lee Terry (R)||May 10|
|23||Texas - 22||Tom DeLay (R)||June 8||An interview pieced together from video clips taken out of context. Later he would have an ordinary interview with Stephen.|
|24||Georgia - 8||Lynn Westmoreland (R)||June 14||Asked if he could name the Ten Commandments, but the episode aired with him only being able to name three. His press secretary says that he named seven, but that four of them were edited out. Reintroduced in "Better Know a Memory."|
|25||Colorado - 1||Diana DeGette (D)||June 22|
|26||Washington - 2||Rick Larsen (D)||July 12|
|27||Florida - 19||Robert Wexler (D)||July 20||Reappeared on the show on November 7, but was more careful with what he said. He was reintroduced in "Better Know a Memory" the following day.|
|28||District of Columbia||Eleanor Holmes Norton (D)||July 27||Reappeared on the show on November 7, 2006, March 22 and April 24, 2007, February 12, 2008 and February 11, 2009.|
|29||California - 6||Lynn Woolsey (D)||August 10||Prompted "Stephen Colbert's Green Screen Challenge"|
|30||California - 31||Xavier Becerra (D)||August 17|
|31||New Jersey - 3||Rich Sexton (D)||September 12||Representative Jim Saxton declined to be on the show, so Colbert interviewed his challenger instead (defeated).|
|32||New Jersey - 5||Paul Aronsohn (D)||September 21||Representative Scott Garrett declined to be on the show, so Colbert interviewed his challenger instead (defeated).|
|33||Florida - 16||Mark Foley (R)||October 5||Colbert didn't actually interview Mark Foley, but instead supposedly sent the former representative an SMS/IM (a reference to the scandal that forced Foley to resign his seat).|
|34||New Jersey - 4||Carol Gay (D)||October 12||Representative Chris Smith declined to be on the show, so Colbert interviewed his challenger instead (defeated).|
|35||New York - 19||John Hall (D)||October 19||Representative Sue W. Kelly declined to be on the show, so Colbert interviewed her challenger instead. John Hall subsequently won his race with 51%, the only interviewed challenger from '06 to do so. He reappeared on the show the next day (November 8), and because he is a former pop star, sang the national anthem along with Stephen.|
|36||California - 30||David Nelson Jones (R)||November 1||Representative Henry Waxman declined to be on the show, so Colbert interviewed his challenger instead (defeated).|
|37||Ohio - 18||Zack Space (D)||December 12||Returns for a full segment on February 7, 2007|
|38||Pennsylvania - 8||Patrick Murphy (D)|
|39||California - 11||Jerry McNerney (D)|
|40||Vermont - AL||Peter Welch (D)||"I get to light up an entire state?"|
|41||New Hampshire - 2||Paul Hodes (D)|
|42||Kentucky - 3||John Yarmuth (D)||"John Yarmuth... I knew that." Returns for a full segment on March 8, 2007.|
|43||Shrewsbury and Atcham||Daniel Kawczynski (C)||First British House of Commons member to be counted|
|44||New Hampshire - 1||Carol Shea-Porter (D)|
|45||Kansas - 2||Nancy Boyda (D)||"You're better known."|
|46||Pennsylvania - 10||Chris Carney (D)||"Better known." Returns for a full segment in 2007.|
|47||Illinois - 17||Phil Hare (D)||"Consider yourself better known." Returns for a full segment on March 15, 2007.|
|48||Pennsylvania - 4||Jason Altmire (D)||"Better known." Returns for a full segment on January 24, 2007.|
|49||Iowa - 2||David Loebsack (D)||"Consider yourself better known."|
|50||Minnesota - 1||Tim Walz (D)||"Err, Uh. I just better knew you. 'kay, he's better known."|
|51||Hawaii - 2||Mazie Hirono (D)||Used "tap and run" approach to better-know|
|52||Washington - 3||Brian Baird (D)||37th||January 17||Interviewed by Colbert with the use of a sock puppet and a sausage.|
|48||Pennsylvania - 4||Jason Altmire (D)||38th||January 24||Defeated by Colbert in a game of paper football. First congressman from December 12, 2006 segment to return for a profile.|
|53||New York - 6||Gregory W. Meeks (D)||39th||January 31||Features Colbert as "Fidel Castro."
"Let me ask you this: Speaker Pelosi, disgrace to the office or the greatest disgrace to office?"
|37||Ohio - 18||Zack Space (D)||40th||February 7||Second congressman from December 12, 2006 segment to return for a profile.|
|54||Arkansas - 2||Vic Snyder (D)||41st||February 15||"Oh, so THAT'S where Arkansas is."|
|55||Tennessee - 9||Steve Cohen (D)||42nd||March 1||"Thank you for taking time out from being a black woman to talk with me."|
|42||Kentucky - 3||John Yarmuth (D)||43nd||March 8||A debate over the subject of "throwing kittens through a woodchipper." Third congressman from December 12, 2006 segment to return for a profile.|
|47||Illinois - 17||Phil Hare (D)||44th||March 15||"It was wrong to break the law to get people out of slavery - that's what you just said." Fourth congressman from December 12, 2006 segment to return for a profile.|
|56||New York - 22||Maurice Hinchey (D)||45th||March 21||Has "brown acid-induced hallucinations" of Colbert with a horse's head.|
|57||Virginia - 11||Tom Davis (R)||46th||May 3||Includes a clip of Eleanor Holmes Norton concerning her relationship with Davis. Virginia's 11th is given a "#1 Ribbon" for being the wealthiest of the 435 districts.|
|58||Arizona - 7||Raúl Grijalva (D)||47th||May 23||"You are of Mexican descent. As a Congressman, do you believe that you are doing a job that Americans don't want to do?". Debated over border control; asked Grijalva how much he charges for mustache rides.|
|59||Illinois - 9||Jan Schakowsky (D)||48th||June 4||"You are a Democrat, and therefore you are liberal. Are you high right now?" Interview "conducted" with clips from Schakowsky's appearance on the show 5 minutes earlier.|
|60||Washington - 9||Adam Smith (D)||49th||June 7||"Have you ever supported NAMBLA?" Colbert attempts to eat two hamburgers. The existence of shrink-rays was never confirmed nor denied.|
|61||South Carolina - 4||Bob Inglis (R)||50th||January 30|
|62||Pennsylvania - 7||Joe Sestak (D)||51st||April 22|
|63||New York - 14||Carolyn B. Maloney (D)||52nd||July 29|
|64||Utah - 3||Jason Chaffetz (R)||53rd||January 6||Stephen shows his gun called Sweetness to Chaffetz. Ends interview with a leg wrestle that Stephen wins.|
|65||Wyoming - AL||Cynthia Lummis (R)||54th||March 9||The Fightin' Larges!|
|66||New York - 25||Dan Maffei (D)||55th||April 7||Features "evil twins" of Colbert and Maffei wearing goatees in the style of "evil Spock" in the Star Trek episode Mirror, Mirror. Colbert prompts Maffei's "evil twin" with statements about cocaine and prostitutes, similar to Robert Wexler's 2006 interview. Maffei, at Colbert's prompting to "look cool", attempts to shotgun a beer. At the end of the interview, Maffei and Colbert exchange the vulcan salute.|
|67||Illinois - 18||Aaron Schock (R)||56th||April 15|
|68||Maine - 1||Chellie Pingree (D)||57th||August 10|
|69||Colorado - 2||Jared Polis (D)||58th||August 17||Called "Even Better-er Know a District," Colorado's 2nd district on Stephen's map is now green|
|70||Delaware - AL||Mike Castle (R)||59th||November 9|
|71||California - 12||Jackie Speier (D)||60th||November 17|
|72||Illinois - 5||Michael Quigley (D)||61st||February 10|
|73||Vancouver South||Ujjal Dosanjh (L)||62nd||February 22||First Member of Canadian Parliament to be interviewed.|
In the months leading up to the 2006 congressional elections, Colbert interviewed the challengers in several House races. On several occasions he made clear that the challenger was interviewed because the incumbent declined to appear. However this was not always definitively the case. In these cases, the segment is known as "Better Know a Challenger," with different intro graphics.
After the segment, the district was colored on the "Better Know a District" map in goldenrod instead of amber, which is said to be the color all other districts are filled in with. It was upgraded to amber if the challenger won the 2006 election, or downgraded to cadmium yellow if they lost. Of course, it is nearly impossible to see the distinction between these shades on the map. Of the five challengers interviewed, only John Hall defeated an incumbent.
On March 16, 2006, Colbert introduced a four-part series entitled "Better Know a Protectorate", focusing on the protectorates (more correctly, unincorporated territories) of the United States (which send non-voting delegates to Congress). The formula is relatively the same as with "Better Know a District." Distinctive elements include Colbert attacking the member for their (non-)voting record, and feigning cultural ignorance. For the first segment, the same "Big Board" as BKAD was used, but was discontinued with the airing of the second segment. The United States Virgin Islands ("the fightin' virgins") was the protectorate that was covered and its delegate, Donna Christian-Christensen, was interviewed.
On April 26, 2007, Guam ("the fightin' Guam") was covered, including an interview with Madeleine Bordallo. A global map was used to produce the "Big Board", given Guam's distance from the continental United States. On August 7, 2007, American Samoa was featured ("the fightin' Samoa") and an interview with Eni Fa'aua'a Hunkin Faleomavaega, Jr. was shown.
The remaining protectorate is presumably Puerto Rico which has yet to be featured (the Northern Mariana Islands did not have a non-voting member as of the start of the series, although they received a seat after the 2008 elections).
On March 1, 2006, Colbert introduced the "56-part" Better Know a Founder, an in-depth look at the signers of the Declaration of Independence. For this series John Trumbull's painting of The Declaration of Independence is used as the template for the "Big Board".
Using the same formula as Better Know a District, Colbert's first subject in the series was a spotlight of an interview with "Battlin'" Ben Franklin; the actor Ralph Archbold portrayed Franklin for the interview, with both he and Colbert wearing period clothing. Most of the hallmarks of the original segment remained, either in an altered form (e.g., King George: Great king, or the greatest king?) or unchanged (e.g., Colbert anachronistically asks Franklin if he had taken money from Jack Abramoff).
On November 15, 2006, the second installment of BKAF featured three actors portraying President Thomas Jefferson in an America's Next Top Model style segment, America's Top Jefferson, with Project Runway mentor and producer Tim Gunn making an appearance.
On May 17, 2006, Colbert introduced Better Know a President, a 43-part series that would refresh the viewer's memory of the accomplishments of every President in United States history. The first president covered was Theodore Roosevelt, played by Roosevelt impersonator Jim Foot. In keeping with the running gags of the segment, he asked Roosevelt if the Spanish American War was merely a great war of American imperialism, or the greatest war of American imperialism. The second covered was Thomas Jefferson. Colbert talked to three different Jefferson impersonators, and judged which was the best.
On August 3, 2006 Stephen began the first segment in a series entitled "Meet an Ally" in which he examines nations part of the "Coalition of the Willing". He began the series by interviewing the ambassador of Palau, Stuart Beck.
When Colbert shows an extended segment of an interview at a later date, he calls the segment "Betterer Know a District".
On November 8, 2006, some representatives who were profiled in Better Know a District and have since been re-elected were reintroduced in a short segment that immediately preceded the commercial breaks. A humorous clip from the BKAD interview would be shown and the words "RETURNED TO CONGRESS" would be rubber stamped onto the still image of the representative. The subjects reintroduced were Eliot L. Engel, Brad Sherman, Lynn Westmoreland, and Robert Wexler.
On January 21, 2008, after the Republican South Carolina Primary, Colbert interviewed Governor Mark Sanford as the easiest way to learn about all of South Carolinians.
On February 6, 2008, Colbert began what he called an "Infinite-long" segment called "Better Know a Lobbyist," where he interviews lobbyists. His first interview was with Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization. This was a two part interview, with the second half being broadcast on February 7. On March 12, 2008, it changed to "Better Know a Lobby" and became a 35,000-part-long segment. The second interview was with Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, a lobby demanding the legalization of drugs. His third interview was with Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign, a gun control lobby.
On January 28, 2009, Colbert began what he called the first of a four part series "Better Know A Beatle", where Colbert intends to interview all of the Beatles starting with his interview with Paul McCartney, bass player, singer-songwriter of the Beatles. Colbert introduced Paul McCartney as "The Fightin' Walrus", a reference to two Beatle songs, I Am The Walrus, and Glass Onion.
During his trip to Iraq, Colbert began his one part series, Better Know a Cradle of Civilization, during which he explained the history of Iraq.
On December 16, 2009, Colbert began a new segment in which he interviews other prominent men named Stephen (specifically spelled with a "ph"). He started off by interviewing Stephen King.
On February 22, 2010, Colbert began his one part series, Better Know a Riding, during his coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The featured riding (a riding is an electoral district in Canada) was Ujjal Dosanjh, representing the Vancouver South riding.