Hours before “nerd prom” kicked off at the White House Correspondents Dinner in D.C. — minus the president — Samantha Bee and her “Full Frontal” cohorts took the stage at DAR Constitution Hall for TBS’ “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.” The alt-TV special was more than twice the length of a regular “Full Frontal” episode, letting Bee’s typical ruthless comedy and satire loose with both barrels.
If viewers tuned in hoping for an hour of bashing President Trump, they were in for some disappointment. Not that there weren’t some excellent barbs made at POTUS’ expense, but the night was more about celebrating the often-maligned journalists who continue to try to do their jobs in the face of adversity.
“You (journalists) basically get paid to stand in a cage while a geriatric orangutan and his pet mob scream at you. It’s like a reverse zoo. But you carry on. You dig up misdeeds and frauds by the powerful, you expose injustice against the weak and you continue to fact-check the president as if he might someday get embarrassed,” said Bee, to big laughs.
And that was the right approach for this special, taped Saturday afternoon in D.C. and broadcast hours later (10 p.m. ET/PT) on TBS. A full-on roast of Trump would have been enjoyable for a while, but it would have gotten tired. The “Full Frontal” gang is not a one-trick pony, and they put that on a brilliant display, from video segments of Bee performing at imagined past Correspondents’ Dinners (and also an imagined 2018 WHCD for President Pence), to a cold open featuring “West Wing” alum Allison Janney giving a press conference in her snappy CJ Cregg way, to Will Ferrell popping by to reprise his George W. Bush impression from “Saturday Night Live.”
It made for a lively mix of comedy that never felt bogged down or like it was beating a dead horse by repeating itself.
It was also nice to see Bee not pull any punches in regards to the press (not that viewers expected any less). Not only did the special land some pointed commentary at outlets like Breitbart and the way Fox News dealt with its sexual harassment issues, it also did a segment about how much CNN is wasting its cadre of talented journalists in favor of whatever it is CNN puts on the air most of the time. Bee put the blame squarely on CNN president Jeff Zucker’s shoulders.
“Zucker’s greatest success since ‘The Apprentice’ — which, by the way, thanks for that — is filling the airtime between car crashes with a reality show loosely based on the news where loyal partisan hacks make us measurably dumber by spewing mendacious nonsense while a hologram of Anderson Cooper stands by counting the seconds to the commercials for all the pharmaceuticals he probably wishes he could gulp down before to sedate himself before Kayleigh opens her f—ing mouth again,” said Bee, to the appreciative crowd that did include some CNN representatives.
My only quibble with the special is that there were so many pre-recorded video segments it didn’t leave much room for Bee live on stage firing off astute observations and sharp one-liners. She’s an incredibly talented comedian, often delivering three more zingers as the audience gets around to laughing at the first one, so it would have been fun to see Bee more in what is undoubtedly her element. But I understand the desire to want the special to keep changing gears — plus, Bee’s “Man in the High Castle” parody that closed the show was nothing short of genius.
Featuring the man, the myth, the legend George Takei handing the host a film called “The Bee Lies Heavy,” the segment imagined a world where Hillary Clinton won the election, “the Patriots lost the Super Bowl, “Lemonade” won Album of the Year and every print of “La La Land” spontaneously combusted,” and featured Bee’s imagined opening monologue for Clinton’s first WHCD.
There were plenty of zingers leveled at President Clinton (and first gentleman Bill), but Bee ended the jokes with a message that she reportedly couldn’t deliver at dress rehearsal without getting a little choked up. While she held it together here for the actual show, it was still a very heartfelt (and a little sad) way to close out the show.
“In conclusion, Madam President, I want to say thank you,” said Bee. “You may have your faults, but because of you, I can tell my daughters that they can do anything and that sexism won’t hold them back. The world will not magnify their faults and ignore their virtues because of their gender. That time has truly passed. No hard feelings, men. If there’s one message that echoes through this dinner, let it be that men’s rights are human rights and human rights are men’s rights.”
If the trend continues of Trump boycotting the White House Correspondents’ Dinner for however long he’s in the White House, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if Bee made this alternative event an annual tradition.