I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that the United States of America is one of the best countries in the world right now. As an American, I may be
slightly bias awesome, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be critical of planet Earth’s funk mothership when I need to be. While I try to steer away from politics on this site (with the sole exception of endorsing Fred Thompson for President, solely for Die Hard 2-centric reasons) I think the interesting pop culture clustershark known as the White House Correspondents’ Dinner’s best and worst moments warrants coverage. Beginning in 1921 AD, it was the first major attempt to bring the political climate and celebrity culture together. Once then-President Calvin Coolidge began attending in 1924, it became Washington’s lightest night of the year. Due to many of these not being broadcast because of widespread home recording not being available, it would be impossible to do a ‘Best-of’ of this event. So, to give you a good approximation of how far the pendulum swings on this event, we have three great and two awful moments from the dinner here so let’s jump right in to this latest installment of I Got 5 Honest: Five Memorable White House Correspondents’ Dinner Moments!
1) Norm MacDonald – 1997
Looking back on it, we were all really fortunate to have our formative years developing our senses of humor augmented by Norm MacDonald’s masterful performances as the anchor on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. Starting during the show’s absolute worst season (the 20th season of ’94-’95, now available for your waterboarding needs on Netflix!) he shined like a beacon and brought a fresh style of humor to the late 90s. Proving he could hang outside the glowbox, the conservative Canadian MacDonald lit the room on fire with jokes that were cutting edge and crowd-pleasing, setting the standard for all WHCDs to come!
2) Stephen Colbert – 2006
Probably the most famous WHCD performance, Colbert took the podium and raised the bar for satire, skewing the heavily guarded and protected President Bush right in front of his face. With his show a mere four months old at the time, Colbert was nowhere near as synonymous with biting political humor as he is today, a reputation this performance helped him cement. As uncomfortable as it was daring, Colbert cemented his status as a major pop culture player of the Bush Era by being simultaneously ballsy, polarizing and hilarious. Is it telling that President Bush refused to shake his hand after? Perhaps. Is the real time reaction video of Bush to the speech incredible? Absolutely.
3) Rich Little – 2007
While Rich Little’s performance here isn’t particularly interesting, the circumstances certainly are. One year following the controversial Stephen Colbert performance, the powers that be allegedly wanted the least offensive performer possible so as not to repeat the previous year’s debacle. Enter Rich Little. At the ripe old age of 69, Little returned for his second WHCD performance (previous performing in 1984) to get a few chuckles and that’s it. While I don’t believe people necessarily need to be making political points with their comedy, Little was so far purposely hitting the other end of the spectrum that the Administration’s reasons for booking him were painfully transparent. This was never more apparent than Little’s opening remarks specifically stating that he “wasn’t here to make a point” and making it clear he “wasn’t a satirist” but an “impressionist.” Bless his heart, it was a largely outdated act something that came as no surprise to anyone who read Little’s New Yorker interview before the event, where he said he favorite *young* comic was 59-year-old Robin Williams, adding “that guy is off the wall!” Couple this with the Dinner falling four days after the Virginia Tech tragedy, and you have a room nearly impossible to laugh. While Little had a handful of general guffaws, the performance largely squashed allegation that the previous year was something of a failure, particularly when a frustrated Little whimpers “and you thought Colbert was bad.”
4) Karl Rove Raps – 2007
While this technically was at the Radio-Television Correspondents’ Assistants’ Dinner, the events are close enough to show exactly how awkward these political-celebrity mash-ups can get. When Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood of TV’s beloved “Whose Line is it Anyway?” pulled Bush Administration mastermind / Sentinel Mastermold Karl Rove onstage for some wacky hijinks, no-one would have guessed it would result in the most awkward thing since awkward came to Awkwardtown. Taking standard improv information and banking heavily on how much “Rove” rhymes with (SPOILER ALERT) “Treasure Trove” (#swag), the alias “MC Rove” was born. Non-partison nerdery ensued.
5) Barack Obama – 2010
For a good chunk of the country, this past weekend’s assassination of infamous goofball Osama bin Laden was reason enough to re-elect President Barack Obama in 2012. For many more, it was his decision the previous night to come out at the correspondents’ dinner to the sounds of Rick Derringer’s immortal Hulk Hogan theme “Real American.” As impressive as taking out Osama was, Barack’s absolute obliteration of Donald Trump is the stuff of legends. Following the absurd hubbub over the Commander-in-Chief’s birth certificate being released the previous week, Barack used the situation to effortlessly end any remaining shred of remote credibility in Trump’s campaign in one night. Bodybag.
We give White House Correspondents’ Dinners a Four Out of Five
So until next time… let’s agree to agree!