The last time a president and comedian shared the stage at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner was six long years ago tonight when Larry Wilmore ended his set with a deeply personal send-off to Barack Obama. A lot has changed in both politics and comedy since then.
Now, following a couple of years in which Donald Trump refused to attend and was roasted in absentia by, most notably, comedian Michelle Wolf, two more years canceled due to the pandemic—and one in between that everyone involved would rather forget—Washington D.C.‘s “nerd prom” made a tentative return on Saturday night amidst yet another COVID wave that has already caught up to Vice President Kamala Harris.
But there was nothing tentative about host Trevor Noah’s set.
With Pete Davidson and Kim Kardashian among the famous faces in the room, the Daily Show host opened his remarks by saying it was his “great honor to be speaking at the nation’s most distinguished superspreader event.”
“I expect this from Sean Hannity, but the rest of you, what are you doing?” Noah asked. “You spent the last two years telling everyone the importance of wearing masks and avoiding large indoor gatherings. Then the second someone offers you a free dinner, you turn into Joe Rogan.” He then noted that we should have known something was wrong when Dr. Fauci “thought it was too dangerous” to attend the event while “Pete Davidson thinks it’s OK.”
No one was left unscathed during Noah’s no-holds-barred set, from Democrats like Kyrsten Sinema (“openly bisexual but closeted Republican”) and Republicans like Ron DeSantis (“He won’t even tell people if he got the booster. Or as they say in Florida, ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’”).
There were also plenty of jokes at the expense of beleaguered media figures like Chris Cuomo and Jeffrey Toobin, who he said could still win the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album after “whipping it out” in front of his colleagues.
“This is an exclusive event,” he added. “In fact, coming in, I heard Meghan McCain telling the bouncer, ‘Do you know who my father was?!’ They were like, you have a ticket, you can come in, but she insisted on telling them who her father was anyway.”
To Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, Noah asked, “How are you doing? I’d ask a follow-up, but I know you don’t know what those are.” When the crowd groaned, he added, “Don’t boo him, he’s trying!”
The host then compared Fox News to a Waffle House, explaining, “It’s relatively normal in the afternoon, but as soon as the sun goes down there is a drunk lady named Jeanine threatening to fight every Mexican who comes in.” He said the network’s primetime lineup is so “impactful” that their “segments about vaccines moved their viewers… into the ICU.”
Spotting Fox’s Laura Ingraham in the crowd, Noah said, “Wow, what can you say about her that hasn’t already been said by the Anti-Defamation League?”
Before Noah took the stage, President Biden got an early assist from James Corden for a mildly humorous pre-taped video in which the outgoing Late Late Show host briefly replaced Jen Psaki as White House press secretary, complete with a cameo from the Fox News reporter who the president once called a “stupid son of a bitch.”
When it was his turn to tell some jokes of his own, Biden began by poking fun at his own dismal approval ratings and said it’s no surprise that it’s been six years since a president spoke at the dinner since the country suffered a “horrible plague—followed by two years of COVID.” He drew some groans when he added, “Just imagine if my predecessor came to this dinner this year, now that would have been a real coup.”
“I know there are questions about whether we should gather here tonight because of COVID,” Biden added later. “Well, we’re here to show the country that we’re getting through this pandemic. Plus, everyone had to prove they were fully vaccinated and boosted. So if you’re at home watching this and you wonder how to do that, just contact your favorite Fox News reporter. They’re all here, vaccinated and boosted, all of them.”
For good measure, the camera cut to Fox’s Peter Doocy, who barely cracked a smile.
By the end of his speech, which ran more than 25 minutes, Trevor Noah used his time in the spotlight to challenge the journalists in the room to use their uniquely American freedom for good.
“In America, you have the right to seek the truth and speak the truth, even if it makes people in power uncomfortable,” Noah said. “Even if it makes viewers or readers uncomfortable. You understand how amazing that is? I stood here tonight and I made fun of the president of the United States and I’m going to be fine.”
Turning to Biden, he asked, “I’m going to be fine, right?”
But before he left, Noah got in one more dig at the president. “Please be careful leaving tonight,” he told the crowd. “We all know this administration doesn’t handle evacuations well.”
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