Most of comedy’s top talent are in Los Angeles this weekend at the inaugural Netflix Is a Joke festival, but the best jokes literally and figuratively in the nation were at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington DC on Saturday.
Sticking to a winning strategy of self-deprecation, President Joe Biden opened with “a special thanks to the 42% of you who actually applauded,” in a clear comment on his low poll numbers. The President then addressed his immediate media-heavy audience as the “only group of Americans with a lower approval rating than I have.”
Ending his speech with praise to “good journalist, good satire,” Biden will be followed by Trevor Noah. The Daily Show host has the somewhat thankless job of roasting POTUS in front of the man himself, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, as well as several of his Paramount Global bosses, peers and pals and members of the cabinet.
Recalling how he was charmed when Noah called Biden “America’s new Dad” after the 2020 election, the nearly 80-year-old POTUS added with perhaps his best delivery of the night, “I’m flattered when anyone would call me the new anything.”
Tonight, in his first WHCD since getting the top job and the first POTUS to be at the shindig since Barack Obama’s mic-drop swan song in 2016, Biden had to walk a careful line in his remarks. Working with his staff and some outside talent on his speech, the crowd-pleasing President had to make sure to get a few belly laughs while not seeming insensitive to the economic woes many Americans are experiencing and the carnage coming out of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
In that vein, and with fears of the Covid risks of the WHCD gathering, Biden took a direct swipe at the media outlet that rides him the hardest for their own hypocrisy. “Everyone had to prove they are fully vaccinated and boasted,” POTUS said. “So, if you are at home watching this, and you are wondering how to do that, just contact your favorite Fox News reporter, they’re all here, vaccinated and boasted, all of them.”
That last line garnered Biden his biggest laugh and applause of the evening.
“Fox News, I’m really sorry your candidate lost the last election,” the president went on to say to the Rupert Murdoch-owned cable newser. “To make it up to you, I’m happy to give my Chief of Staff to you so he can tell Sean Hannity what to say every day,” a pointed Biden said in reference to the now-public relationship between Mark Meadows and the FNC host.
That line didn’t go over well.
The follow up on ex-Trump aide Mick Mulvaney surprising Biden on being hired by CBS when he thought the other former chief of staff would “end up on Masked Singer with Rudy,” went over far better.
After taking his required swipes at the media, Biden made a few passing lunges at the GOP and its extreme stances. “Today’s Republicans say tear down Mickey Mouse’s house,” he exclaimed in the latest round of the always popular culture wars. “Pretty soon, they’ll be storming Cinderella’s castle, you can be sure of it.”
“Republicans seem to support one fella, some guy named Brandon,” Biden said in grinning reference to the coded insult against him that has become a MAGA chant. “He’s having a good year, I’m kind of happy for him.”
Covered live on C-Span, CNN and others on the small screen and online, the annual DC lovefest certainly is more star-studded tonight than in recent years. For one thing, this is the first live WHCD in two years because of the pandemic and the District has been partying harder than Coachella this weekend. Secondly, an American President is actually under the roof for the first time in six years and you can’t really beat that for sheer nuclear codes-wielding star power.
A DC regular since 1973, Biden was a featured player in a number of past WHCD over the decades. His presence was most noticeable in 2014 when the then-Veep put pedal to the metal with fictional Veep Selina Meyers (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in a video short that left the ballroom in legitimate stitches.
Biden was on video tonight briefly in a weak James Corden-led skit of the now departing Late Late Show host looking for new gig as White House Press Secretary.
POTUS noted the 2023 exit of Corden and said “if all goes well, I have a real shot at replacing” him. The tux-wearing Biden dug a little deep in the Corden mine by stating “a great performer going out on top after eight years on the job, sounds about right to me.”
Noting we had a “horrible plague, followed by two years of Covid,” Biden went a little rougher than expected at one juncture with a swing at the 45th POTUS when he noted what a “coup” it would have been to have the other guy in attendance.
Before Biden and Noah, there was more pre-recorded comedy from Tinseltown on Saturday with Billy Eichner appearing behind a podium with the Presidential seal on it to mockingly honor entertainment journalists. Flying the Paramount flag high, CBS Morning co-host Gayle King took to the ballroom stage to give a shout-out to one of her bosses and present the first Dunnigan-Payne Prize for Lifetime Career Achievement at the event. The award is named after the first two African American women to serve as members of the White House press corps – as a video played in the room detailed.
King was on form as usual, but even as fictional would-be POTUS, Eichner was a step up from the last fella.
Long a welcoming landing spot fort Daily Show alum, past and current, the WHCD dimmed during the reign of error of the former Celebrity Apprentice host in part because Trump was too humorless and thin-skinned to attend. It didn’t help that press and the then President were in a constant chokehold embrace, to put it mildly, over his policies and paranoia.
As it has for decades, the whole shebang takes place in a 2,500-person strong Hilton ballroom packed with the upper crust of American pop culture and media. While Washington Post owner and world’s second richest man Jeff Bezos isn’t there, this year the celeb list includes such spotlight snaring luminaries as one-time Trump surrogate Kim Kardashian and current beau SNL’s Peter Davidson, who was in L.A. last night for the Netflix comedy fest.
More expectedly, CNN’s Jack Tapper, CAA’s Bryan Lourd, former White House official and current MSNBC contributor Symone Sanders attended, none of whom had the level of security that brought Kardashian to her table. Additionally, CBS Entertainment Group boss George Cheeks, Showtime head honcho David Nevins, media mogul Byron Allen, Billions‘ Corey Stoll, Drew Barrymore, would-be 2024 contender Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, short-time CA gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner, director Mario Van Peebles, NBCU’s Jeff Shell, SAG-AFTRA prez Fran Drescher, UTA’s Jay Sures (who reps a number of cable news hosts), Caity Lotz of the just-cancelled DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and Fox News’ Steve Doocy and Peter Doocy were there too among many high rollers.
There were of course fears that Biden would bail on showing up and make his remarks remotely. Certainly, the specter of the around 80 Beltway heavyweights who tested positive for Covid-19 after the Gridiron Dinner earlier this month hung over the 79-year Commander-in-chief’s appearance at the WHCD tonight. Add to that, Vice President Kamala Harris testing positive earlier this week and White House Science advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci deciding not to attend this year because of concerns of another DC super spreader, and it is obvious no one would have begrudged Biden’s absence.
But that didn’t prove to be necessary, did it?