Comic viewed as safer choice than last few years'

The once and future host of “The Tonight Show,” Jay Leno, will be the headliner at this year’s White House Correspondents Assn. dinner on May 1.

The event is among Washington’s highest profile gatherings of media figures, politicos and celebrities, a sometimes surreal mix where it wouldn’t be unusual to spot the cast of “Gossip Girl” at one moment and Donald Rumsfeld at another.

The choice of Leno marks what is viewed as a safer choice than last year’s comic, Wanda Sykes, who created some waves in her scathing humor about Rush Limbaugh and other Republicans. But she was nothing compared to Stephen Colbert, whose 2006 roasting of President George W. Bush, in Bush’s presence, stirred some anger and resulted in a much less controversial choice the following year, Rich Little.

Leno reportedly was invited to this year’s dinner before NBC canceled his prime time show and triggered the fracas with Conan O’Brien.

The org, an association of journos on the White House beat, uses the gathering as a fund-raiser for its scholarship programs and other activities.

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