3RD UPDATE – FINAL: (See Conan and Obama videos here and here.) We warned you not to expect much from tonight’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. And true to form it failed to deliver. Bland to a fault Conan O’Brien didn’t lay a glove on celebrity-in-chief Barack Obama. (Bring back Seth Meyers…) But the President got an easy laugh with a showbiz joke that couldn’t have made Comcast too happy. (He noted that, of 22 recent basketball shots, he had 2 hits and 20 misses. “The executives at NBC asked, ‘What’s your secret?'” POTUS said.) O’Brien’s best line of the night was comparing the relationship between Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner to a blind date between Anderson Cooper and Rachel Maddow. (“In theory they understand each other’s positions. But deep down you know nothing’s ever going to happen.”) Obama got in the nastiest media dig. Noting that CNN has “taken some knocks” – because of errors during reporting on the Boston Marathon bombings – he said, “Fact is I admire their commitment to cover all sides of a story – just in case one of them happens to be accurate.” Obama even stabbed his liberal media cronies. He said saying seeing David Axelrod going to work for MSNBC was “a nice change of pace since MSNBC used to work for David Axelrod”.
Steven Spielberg – whom Obama called “my wonderful friend” – played a pivotal role in a video claiming the director’s next film is about Obama and will star Daniel Day-Lewis. (Obama pretended to be DDL playing himself. “The cosmetics were challenging.”) Otherwise, POTUS was flat. And, at times unabashedly arrogant. Like when he warned that, if the media are “only focused on profits or ratings or polls, then we’re contributing to the cynicism that so many people feel right now.” He also made this media comparison: “My job is to be president. Your job is to keep me humble. Frankly, I think I’m doing my job better.” He did receive a big laugh with this line: “These days I look in the mirror and I’m not the strapping young Muslim Socialist I used to be.” Swaggering to the podium accompanied by rap music, he began by self-congratulating himself. (“Rush Limbaugh warned you about this. Second term, baby!”) He constantly made showbiz references. A nod to Michael Douglas in The American President. (“An Aaron Sorkin liberal fantasy.”) To History channel’s depiction of him as the devil. (“Of course, Fox News thought the comparison was not fair – to Satan.”) To Groucho Marx. (“That’s Groucho Marx. Not Karl.”) To Conan’s invitation to host the WHCD. (“It’s the age-old dilemma: do you offer it to him now? Or wait five years and give it to Jimmy Fallon?”)
For his part, O’Brien was too respectful, especially given that he was headlining for the second time. (He previously hosted in 1995 and underwhelmed.) For instance he said very little about the recession, except to point out that, when it came to job creation, “under Obama the number of Popes has doubled, and the number of Tonight Show hosts has tripled”. Conan even went so far as to bash the hotel more than Obama. O’Brien was fine with showbiz jokes like this: “The guys from Duck Dynasty are here. It can can only mean one thing: the guys from Storage Wars said no.” But anti-Republican jabs didn’t go over. (Explaining that the President only won reelection because “he must have run against Mitt Romney, the rich guy whose horse danced in the Olympics”.) is media jokes were better received. He noted that Jeff Zucker’s news network is watched only “by the people who clean the offices at CNN”. And that Piers Morgan is actually the “scheming footman from Downton Abbey“. An Ann Curry-Al Roker feces joke fell flat. Winding up the evening, Conan laid a big one when he tried to cast an alleged new Turner Broadcasting DC miniseries because “Hollywood can’t get enough of your world.” (VP Biden = Bob Barker, David Axelrod – Higgins from Magnum PI, Paul Ryan = Mr Bean, Chuck Schumer = Grandpa Munster, Janet Napolitano = Paul Giamatti, Rahm Emanuel = Stewie from Family Guy.)
The Washington Hilton ballroom was “hot as hell,” we’re told. Maybe because red-hot Duck Dynasty reality star Willie Robertson was attending the dinner. (“Surprised I’m the only person wearin’ a bandana,” he tweeted.) Who cared that cantankerous Tom “Get Off My Lawn!” Brokaw is objecting to the presence of celebrities among the 2,700 guests at this annual glitter and power schmoozefest. George Clooney, Ari Emanuel and Charlize Theron weren’t there like last year. But Obama bundlers Jeffrey Katzenberg and Harvey Weinstein were plus Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Barbra Streisand. Before O’Brien and the President spoke, a House Of Cards spoof video with Kevin Spacey (playing a ruthless U.S. Congressman) was shown. “Conan is the best we can do,” he laments. “It must be so hard to write jokes about a town that already is one.”
Mercifully, no Lindsay Lohan or Kim Kardashian buzzed this year’s WHCD. But Motion Picture Of America Association chief Chris Dodd got schooled as he had to wait his turn for a photo opp with Bradley Cooper. Red Carpet arrivals included Gerard Butler, Claire Danes, Sharon Stone, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg, Amy Poehler, Connie Britton, Tracy Morgan, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Josh Radnor, Tim Daly, Jessica Pare, Psy, Katy Perry, Jon Bon Jovi, Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens, Kerry Washington, Kate Mara, Tony Goldwyn, Ty Burrell, Aasif Mandvi, John Oliver, Rebel Wilson who told CNN she received a personal letter inviting her to the dinner from First Lady Michelle Obama. Hard at times to separate the fake from reality. As Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes just tweeted: “Am about to be in the same room with both my fake President and my real President at the same time.” Missouri U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill tweeted plaintively: “Wondering if my husband will pay any attention to me on our anniversary since sitting w/ Olivia Munn and Nicole Kidman.” C-Span was snarking the snoozefest with #NerdProm. But not even Rahm Emanuel worked the room like Tracy Morgan. 1600 Penn’s Josh Gad and Veep’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus hung out with House Of Cards star Spacey and show Executive Producer Beau Willimon. The producer tweeted a pic of himself with his boss Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos, a Bloomberg guest. NBC’s Go On might have had a rocky first season but star Matthew Perry still holds some sway in DC. People lined up to get their pic with him seated next to West Wing colleague Brad Whitford.
Related: Video: President Obama’s WH Correspondents Dinner Speech
Related: Video: Conan O’Brien’s Shtick At WH Correspondents Dinner
Related: Video: President (As Daniel Day-Lewis) In Spielberg’s Obama
Related: Video: House Of Nerds WH Correspondents Dinner Spoof
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.