2nd UPDATE: Here is video of Wanda Sykes’ performance in its entirety.
UPDATE: I’ve been to the White House Correspondents Dinner. And, if history is any judge, then comedians asked to perform there seem to do best when they joke with gentle jibes rather than go for the jugular. Someone should have reminded Wanda Sykes about that before tonight. Because not since Don Imus roughed up Bill Clinton at the annual event has a comedian been so mean-spirited. Certainly, Stephen Colbert wasn’t to George W Bush. But, unlike Imus or Colbert, Wanda Sykes didn’t lay a glove on the sitting president Barack Obama. Instead, she reserved her barbs for people who weren’t there: Dubya, John McCain, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. I’m not saying pols and media don’t deserve to have the piss taken out of them. But even watching the WHCA dinner on television, viewers saw the room grew very quiet and then erupt as Sykes seemed to cross the line with what was more harsh partisanship than funny comedy. At one point, the C-SPAN cameras caught Fox News commentator Glenn Beck sitting stone-faced after Sykes had singled out one conservative after another for her insults. Even Obama seemed to look uncomfortable at times. Of course, the WHCA had to know what they were getting since Sykes has gone on late night television being just as outspoken. Which is why, when she was announced as the performer, I wondered why the journalists had chosen her unless they wanted her to cause controversy, which she certainly did tonight.
Sykes started off speaking admiringly of first Barack Obama and then wife Michelle, and lobbed gently funny softballs their way … about Obama’s basketball prowess … and Michelle’s bare arms … and their history-making presidency. (“This is amazing, you’re the first black president. I’m proud to be able to say. But that’s unless you screw up. And then it’s going to be, ‘What’s up with that half-white guy? Who voted for the mulatto. What the hell?’ “) She also poked fun at Nancy Pelosi, saying it was the House Speaker’s idea for Obama and VP Joe Biden to grab hamburgers for lunch the other day. (“You guys can’t hang out out together. What’d she say, ‘Why don’t you boys go out and get a bite’? You know she was a Hillary supporter.”)
But the comedian’s tone changed dramatically when she went after former President George W Bush. “I gotta say, he broke a lot of stuff. You thought you were moving into a new home, and you’ve got a fixer-upper. And there are a lot of things that need to be fixed.” About the criticism Obama received from animal rights activists concerning his choice of a pedigreed pup,” Sykes said, “The man has to rescue a country that’s been abused by its previous owner. Let him have a dog.”
On the subject of Dick Cheney, Sykes commented, “Oh my god, that’s a scary man. Scares me to death. I tell my kids if two cars pull up, and one has a stranger, and the other car has Dick Cheney, you get in the car with the stranger.” And she criticized the former VP for “trying to defend torture”.
Sykes was at her most vicious on the subject of Rush Limbaugh. “Rush Limbaugh said he hopes this administration fails. That’s like saying, ‘I hope America fails.’ Or that ‘I dont care if people are losing their homes, their jobs, our soldiers in Iraq.’ He just wants the country to fail. To me, that’s treason. He’s not saying anything differently than what Osama Bin Laden is saying.” Then, turning to the president, Sykes added, “You might want to look into this, sir. Because I think maybe he was the 20th hijacker. But he was just so strung out on Oxycontin that he missed his flight.”
Realizing she shocked the crowd with that remark, she said, “Too much? But you’re laughing on the inside…”
But she wasn’t done. “Rush Limbaugh [says] ‘I hope the country fails.” I hope his kidneys fail. How about that? He needs some waterboarding, that’s what he needs.”
On the subject of Sean Hannity, Sykes noted that the Fox News commentator has offered to be waterboarded for charity. “Let Keith Olbermann waterboard him. He can”t take a waterboarding. I can break Sean Hannity just by giving him a middle seat in coach.” Now I personally find that last line extremely funny.
But I do think her overall performance was inappropriate for the room, and I say that as a liberal Democrat. Sykes herself was prescient when she began her performance with these remarks: “This is truly an honor to be here. It really is. I keep getting asked the same question, ‘Are you nervous? Are you nervous?’ With this administration, what is there to be nervous about? If I do a good job, I get great press. If I screw it up royally, Tim Geithner gives me a bonus.”