“Welcome to the White House Correspondents Dinner, the night when Washington celebrates itself,” said President Barack Obama tonight. “Somebody’s got to do it,” he deadpanned. The Comedian-in-chief was speaking in D.C. Saturday at what will be his second to last WHCD as President. Joining Obama on stage was comedian Keegan-Michael Key in his Comedy Central’s Key & Peele role as the President’s Anger Translator Luther. “We can count on Fox News to terrify old white people with some nonsense,” said Luther, after Obama mockingly praised the press for addressing the big issues of the day.
At one point, after references to being “one step away from The Walking Dead,” in relation to CNN’s obsessive ebola coverage, the new Mad Max movie, and Game Of Thrones, where 2016 hopeful Hillary Clinton was compared to the mother of dragons herself, Daenerys Targaryen, Obama went on a fake rant that caused Luther himself to leave the stage. “All due respect, sir,” Key said as Luther to big applause, “you didn’t need an anger translator, you need counseling.”
Like last year, the President took direct aim repeatedly at cable news in his routine. “Usually the only people impersonating journalists on CNN are journalists on CNN,” the President said in a reference to host Cecily Strong’s Saturday Night Live skits. Obama slapped another cable news network earlier in his remarks.“One big story was the brutal winter, he said of the last year in journalism. “The Polar Vortex caused so many record lows they renamed it MSNBC.”
Freshman comedies also got a name check from the President tonight.
“I have to give ABC fair warning being black-ish only makes you popular for so long,” the President said noting some of the cast members from the freshman comedy in the crowd. “There’s a shelf life to that thing.”
This year, following in the recent footsteps of Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien and Joel McHale, SNL’s Strong has the honor and challenge of following the leader of the free world on the platform and keeping the well-heeled crowd laughing. The President even plugged their double header earlier tonight on Twitter, just before arriving at the Washington Hilton.
While not as cutting to The Celebrity Apprentice host as he was back in 2011, Obama made sure to note that Donald Trump was once again in the room this year. “And Donald Trump is here,” the President said to anticipatory groans. “Still,” he then threw in, to big laughs — including from Trump himself. Earlier tonight, Trump once again hinted he might make a White House run, just like he has teased in several elections since the late 1980s.
This is the 101st year since the founding of the White House Correspondents Association. The dinner itself started in 1921 and three years later Calvin Coolidge was the first President to attend along with about 50 other guests. It’s obviously gotten a lot bigger now and since the 1990s, Hollywood has had a significant presence at the WHCD.
The Tinseltown crowd among the more than 2,600 guests this year in the ballroom of the Washington Hilton included Grace and Frankie’s Jane Fonda, Selma director Ava DuVernay, Alan Rickman, Empire’s Gabourey Sidibe, House of Cards’ Michael Kelly and Glee’s Naya Rivera plus members of the casts of Scandal, black-ish, Modern Family, Veep, DIG, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. Christopher Nolan and American Sniper’s Bradley Cooper, a frequent DC and White House visitor, were at Time magazine’s table.
Obama’s stab at getting some laughs on Saturday came after a tribute video, the awarding of scholarships by the WHCA and awards to the White House Press Corp. First Lady Michelle Obama was at the podium to help hand out the scholarships to the young recipients. The President’s hits, misses and bunts also came after a video showing Obama’s face on Mt. Rushmore, among other photo-shopped gags, was played for the audience at the Hilton.
Top potential successors to the 44th President like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were not among the media, political, corporate and entertainment guests at the tables today – though both were mentioned by Obama in his routine with the jokes about the former Secretary of State getting the bigger reaction. However, other potential 2016 contenders like Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb were there. Both the Republican and the Democrat are guests of Dow-Jones at this year’s WHCD. Neither were mention by Obama. Democrat and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was also in the ballroom.
While doing his WHCD duty and pushing on the humor button fairly hard with his “rhymes with bucket list” and other wisecracks, Obama also took on more serious topics tonight, as he has in past years. Citing the power of journalism to “expose corruption, injustice, give voice to the marginalized, the voiceless,” the President noted the deaths of Steven Sotloff and James Foley in his remarks. Obama also said of imprisoned Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian that he would “not rest until we bring him home safe and sound to his family” from Iran. The President ended his WHCD 2015 remarks with a toast quoting legendary foreign correspondent Dorothy Thompson. “It is not the fact of liberty, but the way in which liberty is exercised that ultimately determines whether or not liberty itself survives,” he said.