White House Correspondents’ Dinner Pushes the Edge This Year

The White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner (aka Nerd Prom) was held this past Saturday. Apart from presidential inaugurations and state dinners, it’s the high point in the Washington, D.C. social calendar. That explains why, despite loving politics and policy wonkery, I live in New York.

It’s a weird mix. As Paul Begala said years ago, politics is show biz for ugly people — which explains D.C.’s fascination with movie and TV stars. And Hollywood is fascinated by people whose careers aren’t based on make-believe (well, not at the staff level anyway). So, for one night a year, the prom queen and the treasurer of the chess club hang out.

This year, President Obama proved once again that he still has the best comedic timing of any president since Gerald Ford (whose pratfalls are the stuff of legend). And Joel McHale proved that even if no one in Washington has heard of you, jokes at their expense scare the crap out of the high and mighty. It was one of the edgier WHCADs.

Now, I am old enough to remember when these things were broadcast only on C-SPAN and nobody really wanted to be invited. The WHCA was a bunch of old, white journalists who took their sources to dinner once a year. It had all the charm and social importance of a Rotarian awards night in Aurora, Ill.

But the late and lamented Michael Kelly, whom I knew slightly, of the Baltimore Sun (a vastly underrated paper even today), brought Fawn Hall as his guest in 1987. Now, Hall had been the secretary to Lt. Col. Oliver North, the key player in the Iran-Contra scandal (don’t bother Googling — Ronald Reagan traded arms to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages in Lebanon and used the money to arm fascist death squads in Central America, which was against American law. He should have been impeached, convicted and imprisoned, but he was old.) Well, once everyone knew Hall was going to be there, it actually became the hottest ticket in town. The rest is history.

This was the sixth time President Obama performed. It won’t go down in history the way the 2011 show did (Obama had given the order to kill bin Laden, told his jokes and then went to bed), but he did a yeoman-like job.

He slammed the three main cable news channels: “’The Koch brothers bought a table here tonight, but as usual they used a shadowy right-wing organization as a front. Hello, Fox News!” Skewering CNN”s incessant coverage of the missing Malaysian airlines plane, he said, “I think they’re still searching for their table.” And “MSNBC is here — they’re a little overwhelmed. They’ve never seen an audience this big before.”

He mocked himself as well. Of his own healthcare website problems, he said, “In 2008 my slogan was ‘Yes we can,'” he said. “In 2013 my slogan was ‘Control-alt-delete.”’ And he remarked that he had had a bad 2013: His daughter Sasha needed someone to come for her school’s career day, and she asked Bill Clinton.

John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, and his Oompa-Loompa complexion were at the heart of this year’s best line, “These days, the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me. Which means orange really is the new black.”

Headlining and closing the proceedings was “Community” star Joel McHale, who also hosts “The Soup” on E! He managed to offend more than a few with jokes that were seen by some as cutting too close to the bone. He said, “I promise tonight will be amusing and over quickly, just like Chris Christie’s presidential bid,” and “CNN is searching for something that’s been missing for months: their dignity.”

One that I liked but which others did not was “Hillary’s daughter, Chelsea, is pregnant, which means in nine months we will officially have a sequel to ‘Bad Grandpa.’ It also raises the question: When the baby is born, do you give Bill Clinton a cigar?” Perhaps, it’s because I never liked Bill “Rockefeller Republican” Clinton.

Another groan came from “Jeb Bush says he’s thinking about running. Wow, another Bush might be in the White House. Is it already time for our every 10 years surprise party for Iraq?” I take the view it’s funny because it’s true.

The Christie fat jokes weren’t all that amusing, but the bridge jokes were. McHale’s best bit combined the two, mocking Christies’ investigation of his own administration over the closure of the George Washington Bridge to New York. “Governor, do you want bridge jokes or size jokes? ‘Cause I’ve got a bunch of both. I could go half and half. I know you like a combo platter.”

“I am sorry for that joke, Gov. Christie,” he added. “I did not know I was going to tell it, but I take full responsibility for it. Whoever wrote it will be fired. But the buck stops here. So I will be a man and own up to it just as soon as I get to the bottom of how it happened because I was unaware it happened until just now. I am appointing a blue-ribbon commission of me to investigate the joke I just told. And if I find any wrongdoing on my part, I assure you I will be dealt with. I just looked into it. It turns out I am not responsible for it. Justice has been served.”

Nor did he forget to hit the president. “How about the president’s performance tonight, everyone? It’s amazing that you can still bring it with fresh, hilarious material. My favorite bit of yours was when you said you’d close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.”

The WHCAD is a roast of everyone in general in Washington, but the crowd prefers things rare while McHale went past well-done. Next year, they’ll go with someone much safer.

And again, I’ll spend the night in New York, where no one wants to go to a Bloomberg party.

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