Don Lemon gave Larry Wilmore’s performance the middle finger tonight at the White House Correspondents Dinner while the other 2,699 attendees appeared to wish they’d had the nerve. But, after lambasting the media packed into Washington’s Hinkley Hilton, Wilmore capped his set with a head snapping pivot, paying tribute to Obama’s White House legacy that ended with a gasp inducing, “You did it, my n*gga!”
“Welcome to Negro Night here, or as they say at Fox, ‘two thugs disrupting an elegant dinner’ in Washington,” Wilmore began, kicking off a set, reaction to which rivaled that of his Comedy Central predecessor Stephen Colbert a decade earlier. Colbert crashed and burned at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner with a savage takedown of President George W. Bush and of the media who filled the 2,700-seat ballroom.
Wilmore similarly savaged the media tonight and got the same reax.
— “I am a black man who replaced a white man who pretended to be a TV newscaster,” Wilmore said of his Comedy Central show, that replaced The Colbert Report after CBS poached Stephen Colbert. “So, in that way Lester Holt and I have a lot in common.”
— “How is Wolf Blitzer still on television? Ask a follow-up question! Wolf, I am ready to announce a winner: Anyone who isn’t watching The Situation Room!”
–“Who are you killing tonight?” Wilmore asked Obama, noting that the night of a previous WHCD, Obama’s administration had been finalizing a campaign to kill Osama Bin Laden. “It’s can’t be print journalists because that industry has been dead for a while.” When the room reacted with silence, Wilmore said he wanted to give a “shout out” to print journalism – “seriously I have to shout, because they’re all over 70.”
— “CNN is here tonight. I used to watch it back when it was a news network…I don’t know about you guys but I can’t get enough of that CNN countdown clock. Now we can see when they hit zero in the ratings,” Wilmore continued. That gag was uninformed; CNN’s ratings have surged during the election cycle as it locked up most of the debates and town halls. Ditto Wilmore’s gag about MSNBC now standing for Missing A Significant Number of Black Correspondents for having taken off the air so much of its black on-air talent, including Joy Reid. A day earlier, the network had named Reid to anchor a new program, on Saturdays and Sundays.
— “Some of America’s finest black journalists are here tonight. Don Lemon is here too,” Wilmore snarked. When Lemon waved, Wilmore added, “Hey, Don! How’s it going, alleged journalist Don Lemon.” That’s when Lemon gave him the finger.
— Wilmore noted you can’t turn on the TV these days without seeing someone gushing over Donald Trump who is a member of Trump’s family “or as it also is known, Morning Joe…Morning Joe has its head so up Trump’s ass they bumped into Chris Christie.”
He also cheap shot-ed the field of potential Obama replacements, past and present. Will Smith, who was in the room, is starring in the upcoming movie Suicide Squad, not to be confused with the new Jeb Bush docu, Suicide Watch, Wilmore said, insisting stoutly “groans are good,” when the lame gag elicited groans.
Dem presidential candidate Bernie Sanders “seems to be anti-gun” but doesn’t seem to care who gets a gun in Vermont, Wilmore said, whispering into the microphone, “There are no black people in Vermont.”
“I can’t understand why everyone treats Donald Trump with kid gloves,” Wilmore said, turning his sights on the GOP frontrunner. Then, he said, he figured out that kid gloves are the only ones that would “fit his stupid little baby hands.” Trump resembles “the rich dad in every episode of Law & Order where the frat kid accidentally strangles the hooker,” Wilmore joked. Trump did not attend this year’s dinner but two of his sons did.
“I am not surprised Trump is happening to America,” Wilmore continued, “because I watch movies and every time there is a black president something always comes to destroy earth.”
“Everybody hates Ted Cruz. Even OJ said, ‘That guy’s hard to like,'” Wilmore said of Trump’s closest GOP rival. The crowd liked that one, which was a refreshing change. A running gag about Cruz as the Zodiac Killer, however, was well past its expiration date long before Wilmore finished trying to feed it to the crowd.
Meanwhile, Michelle Obama, he said, “embodies grace, class and poise – not to be confused with future First Gentleman Bill Clinton whose favorite strippers are Grace, Class and Poise.”
And here was the night’s Chris Christie fat joke: Chris Christie has lost a lot of weight by just eliminating self pride and dignity.
“You guys are tough!” Wilmore whined when that gag too died in the room.
Most controversially, Wilmore ended his set by thanking Obama for having been the country’s first black President. “When I was a kid people couldn’t be a black quarterback. A black man was thought by his mere color not good enough to lead a football team and now to live in your time, when a black man can lead the entire free world,” Wilmore began.
“I’m going to keep it 100: Yo, Barry. You did it, my n*gga!” Wilmore raved. Obama, meanwhile, looked like a president whose WHCD legacy got run over by a stereotype.
Almost immediately some began forecasting that line would be a career killer for Wilmore; others dismissed those critics as old white people clutching their pearls in horror.
Some of Wilmore’s staunchest supporters noted that tonight, more than at any of Obama’s previous White House Correspondents Dinner appearances, Wilmore had an impossible act to follow. Because, of course, no professional comic could be expected to be as good, at comedy, as the President of the United States. But, ahead of tonight’s hosting gig, the The Nightly Show host had poisoned the air, calling the event “the most narcissistic room ever invented.”
“The room could explode from the narcissism alone,” Wilmore told CNN’s John Berman earlier this week.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.