“Let’s give it up for Secret Service. I don’t want to be too hard on those guys. They’re the only law-enforcement agency in the country that will get in trouble if a black man gets shot,” Cecily Strong said in one of her best gags at the White House Correspondents Dinner tonight, as she struggled to follow President Obama. Obama not only had set a very high bar with his Bucket/F**k It List jokes, he pulled a fast one on her by bringing out his Anger Translator Luther, aka Key and Peele’s Keegan-Michael Key.
Strong started off pretty weak:
“I’m the first straight women to host this in 20 years, so, we finally made it, straight people!”
“I do need to say something here. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I’m going to go easy on you people. I’m going to go easy on you because my brain is smaller.”
In an interview that aired on C-Span not long before the clambake got underway, Strong said it was a nightmare to have to follow the president. On stage, she said, last year’s entertainer, Joel McHale, “proved that speaking at this dinner is an amazing opportunity that can take you from starring on a show on NBC all the way to starring in that same show, but on Yahoo.”
“It is great to be here at the Washington Hilton – is something a prostitute might say to a congressman,” Strong slogged on. “Man, if these walls could talk, they’d probably say ‘Clean me.’” Which was great, because no late-night comic who’d done this gig had ever taken a cheap shot at the venue before.
She told some jokes about the growing parade of politicians who’ve announced they are running, or are likely to run, for the White House in ’16. Jokes like the one about how Jeb Bush’s full name actually is John Ellis Bush, which she guessed he thought sounded too elitist “so he way over compensated,” which she said is “Like if Benedict Cumberbatch decided to go by ‘Skeeter’.”
Michelle Obama, she advised, should take good care of her White House vegetable garden because in 18 months Bill Clinton is going to turn it into an above-ground pool.
The less said about Strong’s POTUS-candidate gags the better – Obama did it much better.
Strong had a much better time taking whacks at media outlets in attendance:
“Tonight’s event is being broadcast on C-SPAN. So, to some viewers watching at home on C-SPAN, hello. But to most viewers watching at home on C-SPAN, ‘Meow.'”
“Whenever a big story breaks, I can turn to CNN and watch Anthony Bourdain eat a cricket.”
MSNBC’s call letters are long winded, and it has so many prison documentaries they’re making Ed Schultz get a teardrop tattoo, she said.
“Fox News has been losing a lot of viewers lately, and may they rest in peace.” Every show at FNC, Strong said, is “all hot blonde ladies and old dudes” and looks like a party scene in Weekend at Bernie’s.”
In re NBC: “What can I say about Brian Williams? Nothing because I work for NBC.”
Of Huffington Post, she said, “Way to go on that partnership with AOL. Everyone on my chat room won’t stop talking about it.”
Buzzfeed is here, she said, “but I can show you a listicle of 17 reasons why they shouldn’t be.”
USA Today is “only here because they were slipped under the hotel door.”
NPR has a table at the dinner, and “had a lot of success with Sarah Koenig’s Serial podcast, which finally answered the question, ‘What would it be like if somebody gently whispered an episode of Dateline’.”
And, she got some of her own back, joking about Obama:
“After six years in office, your approval rating is 48% and your grey hair is at 85%. Your hair is so white now it can talk back to the police.”
“You’re a lot like Madonna. You’ve both given this country so much, but like in a year and half you’ve got to stop.”
She showed slides of her vacation with Aaron Schock, the disgraced Downton Abbey Office congressman, and said, “Obama, Paris is so beautiful, Mr. President. You should really think about going there some time” – a reference to his no-show at the post-Charlie Hebdo shooting memorial parade.
Still, things didn’t look too good for our Cecily as she headed into the home stretch. But she turned things around when she asked all members of the media in the room to put up their hands and take a vow:
“I solemnly swear not to talk about Hillary’s appearance, because that is not journalism.”
It was a zinger.
This annual Hollywood Petting Zoo frequented by journalists and politicians has become a career touchpoint for performers asked to deliver the closing monologue. Strong is the second female comedian to host it in more than 20 years, which says a lot about the White House Correspondents Dinner, or how women are regarded in stand-up comedy, or both. Probably both.
This year’s White House Correspondents Association president Christi Parsons said in interviews, including tonight to C-SPAN, that she picked Strong to follow Obama because she didn’t want another middle-aged white guy up there following President Obama, and because like Parsons, Strong is from Chicago and described Strong as “a nice girl who says very cutting things,” which Parsons called “a heartland thing.”