White House Correspondents Association Hopes Annual Dinner Spurs More Than Laughs

Trevor Noah
Christopher Polk for Variety

Organizers behind the White House Correspondents’ Dinner are leaning into the event’s showbiz trappings after a two-year pandemic break.

This year’s gala, produced by veteran Hollywood awards show producer Bob Bain and slated to be aired on C-SPAN, has a celebrity host in comedian Trevor Noah, an opening skit by James Corden, and a greater number of cameras than usual to capture more of the star-studded audience.

Most notably, President Joe Biden is expected to attend the hourlong April 30 dinner, resuming a tradition that Donald Trump suspended while in office. Network news divisions have also invited celebrities such as Kim Kardashian to the event, dubbed the Nerd Prom for the social swirl surrounding it, with a Paramount after-party and dueling Sunday brunches hosted by Politico and CNN among the tie-in gatherings.

The glitzy nature of the festivities represents a marked change from the last WHCD in 2019. Hosted by a historian after Michelle Wolf ruffled the Trump administration’s feathers as a host the year prior by skewering officials such as former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in 2018. The following year’s event relied on a historian, and, as such, had diminished entertainment value. To help punch up the event, the White House Correspondents’ Assn. brought in Bain, who first met with the group in 2019.

“We want to draw attention to the meaning of our mission, and we want to do that with more video elements and a better overall presentation,” says Steven Portnoy, the CBS News Radio White House correspondent who is the current president of the WHCA.

Bain, who recently produced the Critics Choice Awards and the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards, came on board the event 10 weeks ago. “We are hoping he can elevate this event to a level we haven’t had it at before,” Portnoy tells Variety.

Bain says he’s increased the number of cameras in the room. A Billy Eichner skit is also planned.

But there will be some emphasis on the host organization’s mission, not just Noah’s punchlines or Biden’s response. The WHCA will unveil a new lifetime achievement award named for Alice Dunigan and Ethel Payne, the first two Black women in the White House press corps, who pressed President Eisenhower about his administration’s stance on civil rights and segregation. Gayle King is expected to present the prize, and the two journalists’ families should be in attendance, says Portnoy.

The best of intentions won’t keep eyes off the glitzier elements of the event. Among the tie-in parties. the annual Thursday-night Bytes & Bylines party will return at the residence of Ireland’s ambassador to the U.S. Attendees say a Sunday brunch held by Politico at the home of Elena and Robert Allbritton, who recently sold the outlet to Axel Springer, is a hot ticket.

ABC News has invited Kardashian, Pete Davidson and Michael Keaton, according to two people familiar with the planning behind the event. ABC News declined to make executives available for comment. But the outlet is among those holding a party around the dinner. CBS News will have one as well — in addition to an after-party backed by parent Paramount Global held at the residence of the French ambassador to the U.S., with network brass and news stars on the guest list along with Drew Barrymore; Melinda French Gates; the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova; “Abbott Elementary” star Sheryl Lee Ralph; and Jay Roach.

NBC News plans four events — two big and two smaller, private ones. One, a private dinner with MSNBC President Rashida Jones to celebrate the launch of Symone Sanders’ new program, was held Wednesday. CNN is putting on a Sunday brunch, where incoming chief Chris Licht is expected to make an appearance. CNN declined to offer immediate comment. Both CAA and UTA, which represent dozens of prominent journalists, will host cocktail parties on Friday night. WME is making a donation to the Center for European Policy Analysis’ Democracy Fellowship Fund to sponsor Ukraine and Russian journalists and researchers who have been forced from their homes. UTA will make one to the Committee to Protect Journalists

Silly or serious, organizers are betting people will be talking about the dinner days after it ends.

“It is the nerd prom,” Bain says. “But what you’ve heard after the fact a lot of the time is ‘This was the most boring dinner I’ve ever been to.’ We’re trying to eliminate that comment.”