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Pussy Riot’s Brave ‘Colbert Report’ Interview Makes Us Love Them Even More

Nadezhda (Nadya) Tolokonnikova and Maria (Masha) Alyokhina, the two women who visibily head the Russian activist collective Pussy Riot, have come to America this week. They’re here, they say, to tour prisons. They also have some other plans, including a giant concert with the Flaming Lips, Tegan and Sara, and assorted other folks at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn tonight. And last night they made a delightful interview appearance on Colbert.

Among the highlights: At one point Nadya and Masha referred to Putin as a “shirtless man on a horse” leading Russia. Colbert seized on it:

COLBERT: Vladimir and I get together shirtless, and go hunting all the time. Sometimes we don’t even get around to the hunting.

NADYA: You should take some handsome boys with you.

Later, things turned more serious:

The women reiterated their position that they were released only as a publicity stunt for the Sochi games. This publicity stunt failed, Nadya said. “Maybe Putin made a mistake, and he should just throw us back in jail,” she added. Which struck me watching them, they who have families back in Russia, a country to which they by all accounts intend to return, as such an amazingly brave thing to say. Colbert, apparently, too, was struck by it. He dropped his right-wing-jerk act for a second to say, “I wouldn’t tempt him. I wouldn’t tempt him.” There was a note of genuine concern in his voice.

It’s a refreshing and unusual thing, where Pussy Riot is going to sit, for the remainder of this tour, at the intersection of pop culture and politics. We don’t have a lot of overt politics in our celebrity news here these days — all the discussions about diversity, for example, are really about the subtext of what people say. No one comes right out and dares political leaders to imprison them. In part that’s because in America there’s so little risk of going to jail for what you say. But even the sort of stick-it-to-the-man-ism there is room for in American politics is so genteel. Example: Learning of Pussy Riot’s plans for the next few days, Colbert lightly quipped, “Well, I’m not surprised you’re touring American prisons, because my understanding is they’re just wonderful here.” Sitting next to two women newly back from Siberian penal colonies, his barb seemed an awful lot less sharp than usual.

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