O'Brien, Obama get laughs playing to the room and riffing on D.C. and Hollywood touch points
WASHINGTON — This year’s White House Correspondents Assn. dinner was covered live on C SPAN, CNN and other networks, but the event itself showed how much it is still playing to the crowd.
That is, the Beltway politicos, media insiders and Hollywood types sitting in the ballroom of the Washington Hilton.
There were elaborate spoofs of the latest pop-culture hits, high expectations for the comic headliner and an ample dose of insider jokes — much of it unlikely to connect with those outside of the pop and political circles.
Obama on his fiasco of a basketball game: “Two hits, 20 misses. The executives at NBC are like, ‘What’s your secret?’ “
Entering to rap music, Obama said, “How do you like my new entrance music? Rush Limbaugh warned you about this. Second term, baby.”
Then he riffed on Republicans liking the idea of the sequester, then disliking it: “It’s like they are trapped in a Taylor Swift album.”
Obama even made reference to the upstart website Buzzfeed, which was unable to get a table at the event so they instead held their own competing event at a nearby tavern. “I remember when Buzzfeed was something I did in college until 2 a.m.”
Perhaps nothing reflected how close Obama’s ties to showbiz have become — they’re certainly closer than they were four years ago — than in a video short in which he played Daniel Day-Lewis appearing in Steven Spielberg’s faux next project, “Obama.”
But the nexus of Hollywood and D.C. was on full display with a slickly produced spoof of “House of Cards” called “House of Nerds,” a reference to those who dub the annual dinner “the nerd prom.” Kevin Spacey, Valerie Jarrett, John McCain, Politico’s John Harris and Mike Allen, Jay Carney, Michael Bloomberg and Steny Hoyer were among those appearing in the video, with Hoyer even noting he could call Ted Sarandos to “get my Netflix to work.” CNN, CSPAN and other cable outlets carried the schtick live, but it certainly went over the heads of much of the viewership.
CNN was the source of much humor, from Obama, but it also took on an extra level of bite when Conan O’Brien went after them for their premature reporting of an arrest last week after the Boston bombings. CNN chief Jeff Zucker, who was in the room, hired and then replaced O’Brien on “The Tonight Show.”
O’Brien, too, got into the Beltway mindset, making a quip about a recent D.C. sideshow. “Earlier this evening a waiter asked Bob Woodward if he wanted regular or decaf, and Woodward said, ‘Stop threatening me.’ ” You’d have had to have known that Woodward recently accused White House economic adviser Gene Sperling of threatening him as he set out to do a critical story.
As has been the case in previous years, Obama probably upstaged the host, a testament to good timing and savvy joke writers, not to mention the spectacle of Obama quipping on those in the room, including the very Republicans who are the source of so much of his frustration (although it was O’Brien, not Obama, who noted the presence of Justice Antonin Scalia, unusual for one of these events).
Scalia and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly offered polite pained smiles to a man that they seem to detest.
The Obama-O’Brien comparison is a bit unfair. After all, before this insider crowd, how is the talk host to top this?
“I admit that I look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘I am not the strapping young Muslim socialist I used to be,’” the president said, in one of his biggest laughs.