My brother Seth (the Acting Secretary Of Labor) was at the White House Correspondents Association dinner Saturday night and tells me that both President Obama and Conan O’Brien killed in the room. It’s always hard to tell via the C-SPAN telecast because they don’t bother to mike the audience, so viewers only get to hear the response via the speaker’s own microphone, and in a space as cavernous as that ballroom, the laughs don’t translate to the TV soundtrack, so we can’t judge the crowd’s true reaction.
My review of the two was mixed. Although Obama has a very good sense of timing, I thought he was funnier in previous years (particularly last year, when he and Seth Meyers were merciless in their attacks on Donald Trump, who sat in the audience stone-faced and steaming). As for Conan, he seemed to be shouting his way through a script he barely took his eyes off, as if he’d had little to do with preparing the material for that night while trying too hard.
My problem with the entertainment at the annual “Nerd Prom” is that in the last several years, it has seemed more like a Comedy Central Roast. Every line has to be a jab at some politician or media person in the crowd. If that’s what the WHCA wants, they might as well go all the way and let Jeffrey Ross be next year’s performer.
As I mentioned Saturday, I thought the evening was much more enjoyable in 1998, the year I attended — not for my presence, but because the comedian was Ray Romano, who didn’t do anything political, yet had the crowd in hysterics for the full half-hour. Considering that the president historically gets in plenty of jokes at the expense of those in the room, it was a refreshing departure to have the next act not tread the same ground.
However, I do have to admit that one of Conan’s bits this weekend did have me laughing out loud:
It’s no surprise that John Boehner isn’t here tonight. Speaker Boehner and President Obama are still struggling to get along. President Obama and John Boehner are kind of like a blind date between Anderson Cooper and Rachel Maddow. In theory, they understand each other’s positions, but deep down, you know nothing’s ever going to happen.
The highlights of this year’s dinner were neither of the headline performers, though, but rather two pre-recorded segments. One of them was Steven Spielberg explaining the odd casting choice he made for the lead in his movie about Obama…
The other was a parody of the Netflix series “House Of Cards,” starring Kevin Spacey, Ed Henry of Fox News Channel, and a slew of other Washington insiders…