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FCC to Investigate Stephen Colbert's Controversial Trump Joke: Chairman

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that if Colbert is found to be in violation of standards, then the commission would look into 'the appropriate remedy.'
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
The Late Show with Stephen ColbertCBS via Getty Images

The head of the Federal Communications Commission said it will investigate late-night TV host Stephen Colbert and take "appropriate action" after receiving complaints about his controversial monologue earlier this week.

His opener during Monday's "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" took aim at President Donald Trump by referencing a sexual act — and set off a #FireColbert backlash on social media.

"I have had a chance to see the clip now and so, as we get complaints — and we have gotten a number of them — we are going to take the facts that we find and we are going to apply the law as it's been set out by the Supreme Court and a number of other courts," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Thursday on Philadelphia talk radio station 1210 WPHT.

"We'll take the appropriate action," he added.

Pai said that if Colbert is found to be in violation of the FCC standards, then the commission would look into "the appropriate remedy" — typically a fine that depends on the severity and frequency of the infraction.

But Colbert may get a reprieve from any sort of penalty since the "The Late Show" airs after 10 p.m. — outside the FCC's long-established "safe harbor" time of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., during which the commission does have the authority to police allegations of indecent and obscene material on the airwaves.

Related: Stephen Colbert Defends Donald Trump Jokes After Controversy Erupted

The chairman himself acknowledged that different rules are applied during late-night hours.

“After 10 p.m., the amount of conduct that the indecency rules are applied to is relaxed,” Pai said. “In previous years, these complaints would just sit on the shelf and we’re committed to making sure we evaluate these cases and try to do it in a timely way.”

Pai was appointed to the FCC in 2012 by President Barack Obama. He was elevated to the chairmanship of the commission in January by Trump.

Colbert angered some viewers for his monologue in which he made numerous jokes about Trump. Among them, he made reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump engaging in oral sex. Colbert's mouth was blurred and his voice bleeped during part of the joke.

Some on social media found it to be homophobic, and called for him to be fired or for advertisers to boycott the CBS show.

Colbert responded to the controversy during his opening monologue on Wednesday, saying he regretted his choice of words. But he stopped short of an apology.

"So while I would do it again, I would change a few words that were cruder than they needed to be," he said. "I'm not going to repeat the phrase, but I just want to say for the record, life is short, and anyone who expresses their love for another person, in their own way, is to me, an American hero. I think we can all agree on that. I hope even the president and I can agree on that. Nothing else. But, that."

Also during Wednesday's show, "Big Bang Theory" star Jim Parsons, who is gay, joked with Colbert about the controversy.

"You taught me new terms," Parsons said. "As a gay man, I didn't know certain things — that's titillating. I wouldn't call it homophobic. That's just my take on your good form."