WASHINGTON — Michelle Wolf, the headliner at this year’s White House Correspondents Association Dinner, says that she doesn’t plan to hold back on her material, even if President Donald Trump attends the event.
“What is the fun in holding back?” she told Variety on Friday. “I feel like you are not doing a job as a comedian. If you are willing to say something about someone, you should be willing to say it on Twitter, to their face, whatever. So I think if you want to say something you got to step up and say it.”
Wolf was announced as the featured entertainer at the WHCA event, scheduled for April 28 at the Washington Hilton. She recently signed for a new series on Netflix and had a popular HBO special “Michelle Wolf: Nice Lady,” and also was a contributor to “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.”
She’s been biting in her humor about Trump. Just after the election, in a bit with Noah, she quipped that Trump’s election was “the worst thing to happen to women since yeast.”
Wolf said she’s preparing for a number of scenarios, although, “I don’t think my set is going to change whether he is there or not.”
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“I figure I will go in with several contingency plans,” she said. “He says he is going to go, and he doesn’t. He says he is not going to go, and then he shows up. And then he goes and he leaves in the middle. I am going to plan for all possible scenarios. I’ll be excited no matter what.”
Wolf has never been to the dinner, an annual mix of D.C. media types, celebrities and politicians. Presidents usually attend and appear with their own stand up act before the entertainer, which can make for an unenviable task for comedians. But Trump skipped the event last year, avoiding the scene of mingling with D.C. insiders as well as the news media he often has targeted for attacks. The White House has not said whether he will go this time around.
The event also is held in a cavernous ballroom, but Wolf also sees a challenge in that a meal is being served.
“Any time you are seeing a set up in a room where people are eating dinner, you think, ‘These people don’t want to hear jokes right now.’ So it looks like a fun challenge,” she said.
She said that she was contacted a couple weeks ago about doing the gig, and she didn’t have any hesitation other than thinking about it for a night. She texted Seth Meyers, who headlined in 2011, and asked him if she should do it, and he said, “Yes definitely.” Wolf was a writer for “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” and appeared on the show.
Wolf also reached out to Hasan Minhaj, the entertainer last year, who gave her a list of advice and tips, she said.
She says she knows that the gig is not an easy one with a “tough crowd.” By chance, she is performing this weekend at an improv club in Washington and on Thursday night met Margaret Talev, the president of the WHCA, who is tasked each year with finding the entertainer.
“I think I will be more performing for the C SPAN audience,” Wolf said. “I hope they like the jokes and roll with them. It is why we are there. We are there to make fun of everybody.”
Wolf’s career path didn’t always point in the direction of comedy. Born and raised in Hershey, Pa., she attended the College and William and Mary majored in kinesiology, which she says is essentially “exercise science.” But at graduation, “a couple of my roommates were like, ‘We all got jobs on Wall Street. Come with us. Get a job. We will all live in New York for a couple of years.”
She got a job in private client services at Bear Stearns in summer, 2007, having not even taken a business class in college, but it was on the cusp of the financial crisis. “I started doing improv in March of 2008, right when the bank was collapsing,” she recalled.
But is wasn’t because the bank was collapsing that she decided on a different career path. She said that she had gone to a taping of “Saturday Night Live,” and “I was like, ‘How did these people get into this?’ So I Googled them and I saw that most of them started in improv. As soon as I did improv, I thought, ‘This is so much fun.’ So I did improv for a while and then standup.” After Bear Stearns collapsed, she worked at JPMorgan for a couple of years before going into standup full time. Her first late night spot was on Meyers’ show in 2014, and she appeared as a recurring character, “Grown Up Annie.”
As much as Trump is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to late night humor, Wolf said that it actually poses even more of a challenge for comics.
“I think Trump is terrible for comedy,” she said. “A lot of people say he is great. He’s not. You can’t joke a joke. It has made some comedy less about jokes and more just about saying what people want to hear. There is only so many times you can say, ‘Trump tweeted something that was bad.’ That is not a joke to me. It is not exciting anymore. It almost has become hacky at this point. You are need to creatively come up with a new take.”
She also doesn’t sound as alarmed about Trump’s tenure as she did right after the election on “The Daily Show,” when she described the election as an “experienced politician against a racist fake gynecologist.”
“I think we will be fine, and hopefully we will make it through three more [years],” she said. “If it is seven more, then I am sure we will make it through. The thing is, we have only had two presidents who have ever tweeted. We don’t actually know how crazy some of the other presidents might have been… Like Calvin Coolidge, what might he have said?”
She said that she already has written some material for the night, and she will ask a few friends who are “very good joke writers” to help out.
“There is so much to cover, and I don’t want to drag on,” she said. “Short and sweet is much better, but I kind of want to hit on all the major topics and all the major players, and all the major networks, and print media and all that stuff. Give a couple of good punches everywhere, and then go have a cocktail.”