WASHINGTON, April 28, 2013 — President Obama was in rare form last night at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, also known in Washington as the “Nerd Prom,” letting loose zingers on the media, Republicans, Congress, and even a few barbs aimed at himself. (See video below)
One of his opening lines began with “I look in the mirror and say ‘I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist I used to be.’ Time passes, you get a little gray. And yet, I still make rookie mistakes.” Then he went on to list a few, particularly the AG Kamala Harris compliment that got in him trouble back home…with Eric Holder.
The President did say that in his second term he was open to trying new things and he showed photos of himself with First Lady Michelle Obama, both in bangs.
Obama also had a special zap for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has been the bane of the White House, saying, “…some folks think I don’t spend enough time with Congress. ‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell’ they ask. Really? Why don’t YOU get a drink with Mitch McConnell?” The line brought down the house with Republicans and Democrats cracking up.
His other target was the media, especially CNN which had flubbed its on-air coverage of the Boston bombings, giving out inaccurate information. Obama, however, said he appreciated the cable network’s desire to cover all sides of a story, “just in case one of them happens to be accurate.”
The President also remarked that the media is changing rapidly and noted that he could remember “when Buzzfeed was just something I did in college around 2 a.m.” Then he paused, adding with a wide grin, “It’s true.”
So it was hard for funnyman Conan O’Brien to follow the President, who had closed his comic remarks with a salute to Boston, West, Texas, and victims of the Midwest floods, saluting their courage and resilience.
For about the first ten minutes, Conan’s one-liners fell flat and he seemed to be rushing through his routine as though he wanted to get off stage fast. But slowly he regained his confidence and his footing, perhaps thanks to a small gavel he found on the podium and used for comic effect, connecting with the audience for the last twenty minutes.
However, Conan avoided zeroing in on Obama himself, a ripe target for rapier wit. In fact Conon spent more time denigrating the Hilton Hotel where the event was held than the President of the United States.
But by far Conan’s best zingers were about the media, when he compared the glitzy crowd of journalists and politicians with their celebrity guests to the high school cafeteria where cliques sit together: Fox News are the jocks; MSNBC are the nerds; Bloggers are the Goths; NPR are the kids with peanut allergies; Al Jazeera is the “weird foreign kid no one talks to”; and print media it the “poor kid who in his sophomore year died in a car crash — cheer up we dedicate the yearbook to you.”
And he had one memorable line for the Republicans, reminding them why they lost the last presidential election: having the support of celebrities like Ted Nugent and Meatloaf. Conan explained, “The Republicans overestimated the number of voters who still drive carpeted vans.”
The highlight for many at the dinner and those viewing the event at home was “House of Nerds,” a spoof of Washington with Kevin Spacy, the star of the hit series on Netflix, “House of Cards.” Both Republicans and Democrats had cameos and some showed real comic talent and did quite well, especially Sen. John McCain and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. It was a rare moment of bipartisanship.
All was in the name of good fun, of course, and to raise scholarship money.
The annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner is the called the “hottest” ticket in town and with journalists, politicians, and stars from television, movies and Broadway on hand, last night was no exception. It is also the night when the “hottest” comic hosts the event.
Conan O’Brien was at the mike at the 1995 dinner when he was only 32 years old. The President, no matter who is in office, traditionally pokes fun at himself, throws more than a few funny jabs at his political opponents and often some very good one-liners.
The real purpose of the dinner is not just an evening to forget the woes of the world with laughter and a few drinks, but also to raise money for WHCA Scholarships.
Until World War II, the annual dinner was an entertainment extravaganza, featuring singing between courses, a homemade movie and an hour-long, post-dinner show with big-name performers. During the War years the dinner tradition continued, but the event was more subdued.
A 1944 article in the Charlotte Observer reported: “The most complete turnout of the Nation’s war leaders since Pearl Harbor ate unrationed duck and traded off-the-record political wisecracks with the Capital’s press last night at the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents’ Association.
President Roosevelt, attending the only party outside the White House that he allows himself in wartime, sang loud when the entertainers called for audience participation and laughed louder at some of the fourth term jokes which flew thick all evening.”
Until 1962, the dinner was open only to men even though the membership included women. That changed when, at the prodding of Helen Thomas of UPI, President John F. Kennedy said he would not attend the dinner unless the ban on women was dropped.
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