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Colbert Portrait Hangs at Smithsonian

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BRETT ZONGKER | January 17, 2008 12:44 AM EST | AP

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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 has campaigned for the honor 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 pompous 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.

The portrait _ actually three portraits in one _ depicts a debonair Colbert standing at a fireplace in front of a similar portrait of himself posing in front of the same mantel with a third picture of himself.

After the work was rejected by the National Museum of American History, Colbert eventually 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.

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.

"I don't mean to brag, but as it contains three portraits, my portrait has more portraits than any other portrait in the National Portrait Gallery," he said, adding, "All Employees must wash hands before returning to work."

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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Associated Press photographer Jacquelyn Martin contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

National Portrait Gallery: http://www.npg.si.edu/

"The Colbert Report": http://tinyurl.com/dz3bk