The White House Correspondents' Association (aka Nerd Prom) is bringing comedy back to its annual dinner. This is an event that brings together about 3,000 people that span the world of journalism, politics and an assorted group of power players beyond the Beltway.
This annual event began in 1914 and was supposed to be a friendly gathering to celebrate political journalism, but in recent years it has become a schmooze fest where journalists and Hollywood players try to establish relationships in order to influence the most powerful politicians to support their personal causes. Not surprisingly, this event has drawn criticism for its fostering of increased coziness between the White House press corps and the current serving administration. The dinner’s basic agenda in recent years has typically included a live or video skit by the sitting U.S. president in which he mocks himself for the amusement of the press corps. The press corps, in turn, hobnobs with administration officials, even those who are unpopular and are not regularly cooperative with the press. After the 2007 dinner, New York Times columnist Frank Rich announced that the Times would no longer participate in the dinners and wrote the dinner had become “a crystallization of the press’s failures in the post-9/11 era” because it “illustrates how easily a propaganda-driven White House can enlist the Washington news media in its shows”.
Other criticism has focused on the amount of money actually raised for scholarships, which has decreased over the past few years. The public has become more aware as the dinner’s profile has been elevated because of its growing “more Hollywood” guest list. The attention given to the guest list and entertainers often overshadows the intended purpose of the dinner, which is to “acknowledge award-winners, present scholarships, and give the press and the president an evening of friendly appreciation”. Now, it has become an event for most to “see and be seen”.
Two years ago, Michelle Wolf performed and caused a stir for her funny and no holds barred routine that reflected on the past year’s political news that drove a few news cycles as both conservatives and liberals either vented or celebrated the comedy portion of the event. Of course, Trump allies claimed the jokes went too far and proved liberals (and by extension the press corps) hatred of Trump. Of course, the President was not at the event but that didn’t stop him from tweeting that the dinner was “embarrassing” and the event was “dead.” Judge for yourself.
On the flip side many writers, activists and comedians defended Wolf for roasting both the administration and the news media. Unfortunately, the correspondents' association caved and apologized and expressed regret that Wolf’s jokes overshadowed the dinner. After that fallout, the president of the association the following year, Olivier Knox of SiriusXM, and others decided to book a historian instead of a comedian. Famed author Ron Chernow was the featured speaker at last year’s dinner. Chernow only mentioned Trump by name once, but the president’s “enemy of the people” rhetoric came up repeatedly. “When you chip away at the press, you chip away at our democracy,” Chernow said. Chernow’s speech was well-received, but many observers felt that by scrapping the comedian on dais was a form of capitulation to Trump.
In a break with decades of presidential tradition, Trump boycotted the dinner for three straight years. Instead, he opted to counter-program by holding rallies. So, it’s unlikely Trump would the attend this year. ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, this year’s president of the association, said “Every president since Calvin Coolidge has attended the dinner. I have no idea whether President Trump intends to come this year.”
Headlining this year’s 99th annual White House Correspondents Dinner (WHCD) will be some much needed comedic relief to journalists and correspondents and all Americans in this tense moment in the country. The dinner will be hosted by actor and comedian Kenan Thompson, the longest-tenured cast member of “Saturday Night Live.” Hasan Minhaj – host of “Patriot Act ‘’ – will again serve as the featured entertainer. He also headlined the event in 2017. The event will be on Saturday, April 25, 2020. Thompson is the sixth African American entertainer and fourth comedian since the single entertainer era began in 1983. He follows in the footsteps of stand-up comedian David Adkins, known professionally as "Sinbad,” singers Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Cedric the Entertainer, and comedian Wanda Sykes. He is also the sixth SNL writer or cast member to host, as Conan O'Brien, Al Franken, Darrell Hammond, Seth Meyers and Cecily Strong also hosted between 1994 and 2015.
“Kenan and Hasan are two of the most engaged and engaging entertainers in America. I’m thrilled they’ll help us celebrate the role of a free press in our democracy,” Karl, also president of the WHCA, said in a press release. “We’re looking forward to a lively evening honoring the most important political journalism of the past year.” Check out Hasan’s routine from the last time he hosted the event.
Check out comedians from past dinner events