WASHINGTON — President Obama’s poll numbers may be down to record lows. There are ever-increasing tensions with the White House press corps. But once again, he showed he can still score on delivery in his monologue at the White House Correspondents Assn. Dinner.
While past appearances have scored more home runs, Obama nevertheless hit many doubles. Interspersed with “Daily Show”-like photos, Obama riffed on Republicans, Hillary Clinton and even his Vice President, Joseph Biden. But he also made jokes of his own healthcare rollout.
“In 2008, my slogan was, ‘Yes we can.’ In 2013, my slogan was, ‘Control. Alt. Delete.’”
One of his biggest laughs was at the expense of House Speaker John Boehner, and how Congress has been turning on him. “Orange really is the new black.”
He riffed on cable news, as he has in the past. On CNN: “I am a little jet-lagged from my trip to Malaysia. The lengths we have to go to get CNN coverage these days.” On MSNBC: ‘MSNBC is here. I think they’re a little overwhelmed. They’ve never seen an audience this big before.” And of Fox News, he quipped, “Let’s face it Fox. You’ll miss me when I am gone. It will be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya.”
That wasn’t all. Taking a page from Jon Stewart, images flashed on screen as he took aim at various targets. Referring to his appearance on Funny or Die’s “Between Two Ferns,” he said, “I am not the first person on television between two potted plants.” The a picture flashed of Elizabeth Hasselbeck sitting between her two male co-hosts on “Fox & Friends.”
He capped off his jokes with a video, one that instantly had technical difficulties. So he called some one in to fix it, and recently resigned Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, responsible for the Obamacase rollout, appeared to take the task. If it wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, it had an inventive setup.
Featured entertainer Joel McHale, in the tough spot of following Obama, went for a edgier tone, at one time going after Chris Christie over his weight and the bridge scandal so relentlessly that the comic wondered whether he could ever visit New Jersey again.
“I promise tonight will be amusing and over quickly, just like Chris Christie’s presidential bid.”
Where Obama was teasing, McHale was biting. Obama riffed on CNN’s obsession with the Malaysian airline. McHale said the network was “searching for something that has been missing for months: their dignity.”
He joked about Nancy Pelosi’s face, Lindsey Graham’s sexuality and, of course, Donald Trump’s hair. Sen. Ted Cruz appeared a bit exasperated at times as McHale made digs at his intransigence.
But one of McHale’s more profane conjured up obscene metaphors. “Every year the White House checks the President for polyps and George Clooney’s head,” he said, a reference to Clooney’s recent defense of Obama in a spat with Steve Wynn.
His jokes were perhaps the most biting since Stephen Colbert’s much-remembered 2006 appearance, so uncomfortable that the WHCA the next year selected Rich Little to cool things down.
One aimed at Hollywood and the craze for tax credits.
“You give us tax credits for movie and television production, and in return we bring jobs to great American cities like Vancouver, and Toronto, and…Vancouver.” Robert De Niro, who was attending, wasn’t spared, as McHale mimicked his agent, listening to a movie offer and saying, “He’ll do it.”
His humor was far more pessimistic than say, Wanda Sykes, who was the featured entertainer in 2009, when Obama had just entered office, and her edgiest material was aimed at Rush Limbaugh.
Nevertheless, before the dinner, many participants talked of the Washington Hilton being more crowded than ever, even with what seemed like a more muted Hollywood presence.
At the Yahoo-ABC News reception, Barbara Walters, with escort, carefully made her way through the cocktail party, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar towered over everyone. “It probably looks a lot better from up there,” quipped Fox News’ Bret Baier.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul, posed for pictures with Jeff Goldblum, who seemed amazed at the scene. Pelosi said it was her first dinner in 12 years, and she talked of the skit she pre-taped for the event.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, also attending his first dinner, sized it up. “I come here [to this hotel] for the National League of Cities convention, and this place is full of mayors and council members. It’s a very surreal experience now — movie stars next to Kareem Abdul Jabbar next to White House correspondents.” Garcetti, who represented Hollywood, proper, when he was a city councilman, added, amusedly, “I think I have been brought here to translate between the two camps. Stars who are intimidated by politicians and politicians intimidated by star, and I can tell everybody just to relax, you are all just people.”
“It is just funny to watch: Washington at the end of the day is like any town in America. When Hollywood comes, everybody gets weak kneed. This morning it was the three shows that have to do with Hollywood, and I think they think the actors are more real themselves.”
True on this night at least: “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the real VP Joseph Biden appeared in a video skit that was shown just before Obama took the stage. And at the event, at the CBS News-The Atlantic reception, Michael Gill, president Garrett Walker on “House of Cards,” was stopped at every turn for a snapshot or selfie. Somewhere else in the hotel, Tony Goldwyn, President Fitzgerald Grant on “Scandal,” was surely doing the same thing.