This time around, the comedian in question was Michelle Wolf, who I wrote about last week. She’s funny, sharp, and has been doing biting commentary about those people and subjects on “The Daily Show,” so what the hell did the WHCA expect? I assume she was hired because of all of that, plus her HBO special, which only enhanced her reputation in my house. But still, the complainers were out in force, starting with the post-game reviews on CNN and MSNBC, which both carried the evening’s proceedings live. Naturally, they had a panel of the uninvited who were called upon to issue an opinion on what they’d just seen. Most of them take everything far too seriously, which means they’re just alligators sitting in the swamp waiting to hear anything provocative so they can move in and chomp on it.
Here’s what Michelle Wolf should say now: “If you didn’t want me to do my thing, you shouldn’t have hired me to do your thing.”
I’ve actually used that line on radio station management that brought me in, put me under contract, paid me a lot of money, and then tried to change my act. When they did, the result was failure by sabotage — but when they let me do the thing they hired me to do, the result was a ratings and financial success. Every time.
That said, let’s talk about one section of Wolf’s act on Saturday night, in which she went pretty hard after Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (who deserves no less than any other target of Wolf’s routine). The problem was Wolf’s remarks about Sanders weren’t funny — they were just mean. If you’re going to do roast-like material, you have to land the jokes (maybe run them by Jeffrey Ross first!). These fell flat. What made it worse was that Sanders was sitting just a few feet away on the dais, and the C-SPAN cameras caught her grimacing at each line about her. That created sympathy for Sanders, not antipathy, which I’m sure isn’t what Wolf intended.
It also gave the Trumpkins yet another reason to denounce the media and the WHCA for hiring Wolf in the first place. They can’t see the hypocrisy of going after her while defending the man who used “it’s just locker room talk” as an excuse for his own utterances. Remember, he’s the most powerful person in the world (not named Putin or Xi) whose words have international implications, while Wolf is merely a comedian, albeit one who will now get lots of extra bookings and bigger paychecks as she moves a couple of notches up on the comedy career ladder.
I’ve never been a fan of roasts or any other kind of insult humor. It’s one thing to make mild jabs without drawing blood, but when your goal is to create pain — by not just poking someone in the chest, but sticking a knife between their ribs and twisting it — you’ve left the comedy department and entered the cruelty room. I’m not saying Wolf shouldn’t have made fun of Sanders or anyone else, but she should have found a way to make it so funny that the subjects would have no choice but to laugh.
Okay, maybe it’s impossible to make Sarah Huckabee Sanders laugh, just like the Ego-In-Chief and everyone else in his administration whose comedy heroes include Rob Schneider. But how much better would it have been if the already-viral video of that night had included Sanders unable to contain herself when Wolf said something so funny an unlikely grin broke out?
Of course, at Monday’s press conference, Sanders would lie about having enjoyed it, no doubt echoing the bile being spouted by the angry pundits for whom comedy is as foreign a concept as a Latino person in Trump’s cabinet. On the other hand, Sanders would become one of the all-time First Amendment heroes if she took to her podium and paraphrased Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I disapprove of what Michelle Wolf said, but I will defend to the death her right to say it.”
Here’s my suggestion for the WHCA. Next year, hire Dennis Miller. He’s a right-winger who used to be a contributor to Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News Channel. I haven’t seen him do standup in a very long time, but he would certainly be much tougher on Democrats, especially if they re-emerge with some power in Congress after the mid-term elections. I’d also like to see how he handles Trump and his acolytes, or whether he’d hold back because he’s a fan.
That would also flip from red to blue the Angry Mob Of Loudmouths who would critique the headliner’s material afterwards, giving Miller a chance to reply with the same line Wolf should use: “If you didn’t want me to do my thing, you shouldn’t have hired me to do your thing.”