For Stephen Colbert, the copious news coverage of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s “joyride into the ionosphere” took the billionaire turned astronaut’s 10-minute space shuttle flight a bit too seriously.
“When they landed, the ‘billion-nauts’ sprayed each other with champagne like it was the end of a yacht race,” Colbert said during the opening monologue of “The Late Show” on Tuesday. “If something is really important, it doesn’t need a big wet celebration. You’ll remember Buzz Aldrin didn’t douse Neil Armstrong with Gatorade.”
Jokes about the brief foray into space inside a ship called the New Shepard dominated the late-night shows on Tuesday as comedians lampooned the rocket’s phallic appearance and mocked Bezos for his post-flight persona.
Bezos launched into space Tuesday morning from a spaceport in the West Texas desert for a short flight with a crew of three other people, including his brother, Mark Bezos; 82-year-old Wally Funk, who became the oldest astronaut to enter space; and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, a student from the Netherlands who bought his seat in an auction. (Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
After the crew landed safely, Bezos drew some ire from critics when he thanked the Amazon employees and customers who have built his immense wealth: “I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this,” he said.
Colbert rolled that clip on his show Tuesday night and then quipped: “It’s funny because he doesn’t pay taxes or his employees.”
Amazon, where Bezos still serves as executive chairman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bezos’s attempt to credit the people who have contributed to his fortune fell flat for some critics in part because of long-standing complaints about working conditions inside Amazon warehouses and recent reports that the multibillionaire has at times avoided paying federal taxes. Last month, ProPublica reported that, despite being one of the wealthiest people in the world, Bezos had not paid a penny in federal income taxes in 2007 or 2011, according to a trove of Internal Revenue Service records.
Late-night comedians were hardly alone in challenging Bezos over his decision to spend his money on space travel.
“Listen, I’m all for space exploration and it must have been an amazing view,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., tweeted Tuesday. “But maybe – and I’m just spitballing here – if Amazon and other companies paid their fair share in taxes, we could lift all kids – if not into space – at least out of poverty.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., also lashed out, saying Amazon workers paid for the rocket “with lower wages, union busting, a frenzied and inhumane workplace, and delivery drivers not having health insurance during a pandemic.”
On Tuesday, Bezos boasted about bringing a pair of goggles that had belonged to Amelia Earhart on the space flight. The billionaire claimed Earhart had worn the antique protective eyewear on her flight around the world that ended when she crash-landed and vanished in 1937.
“That’s an interesting choice for a good-luck charm,” Colbert said on “The Late Show.” “OK, we’ve got Amelia Earhart’s goggles, we have a chunk of the iceberg from the Titanic, and in here we’ve got Abraham Lincoln’s playbill. Let’s go.”
Of course, the true star of the night was the cowboy hat Bezos wore as he emerged from the rocket once it had landed safely on Earth.
“You know you’re rich when you put that on and everyone who works for you goes, ‘Oh, it looks great. Yeah. You’re a man of the people, just going to space,’ ” Jimmy Fallon quipped on “The Tonight Show.” “He looks like a mash-up between Buzz Lightyear and Woody.”
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