The traditional White House Correspondents’ Dinner has often been called “nerd prom,” bringing together as it does a collection of press folks, policy wonks and a comedian to roast the president, who usually presides over the whole affair. This year, though, was different. The actual dinner, which was skipped by our thin-skinned president and multiple news outlets, was outshone by another event held in DC yesterday. Determined that there should be no normalization of the man currently holding the office, Samantha Bee announced in early February that that her show Full Frontal would hold a rival event called “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”
The event took place on a hot afternoon at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. As Peaches played her theme song “Boys Wanna Be Her” live, Sam Bee walked out on stage, her hair down and a white pantsuit over a black tee, and the crowd gave her a spontaneous standing ovation. Bee was visibly moved by the reaction from the crowd, telling them that she has never played to a crowd this large. It was one of those strange moments when you realize that, even though millions of people watch her on television every week, she’s never played to an audience this large.
The crowd roared throughout the dinner, with laughs drowning out many of the jokes that followed, but here are some of the best jokes that I heard.
The show opened with a filmed sequence with actress Allison Janney, who played press secretary C.J. Cregg on The West Wing, taking questions from the assemblage of so-called reporters who have been granted press credentials to Trump’s White House. Cregg selects a young man, saying, “You’re eighteen and wearing you’re father’s suit. You’re obviously from Breitbart.”
“Doesn’t having a female host for this event demonstrate a clear anti-white male bias?”
Cregg responds, referencing Trump’s February remark to journalist April Ryan: “Absolutely not. Sam Bee doesn’t have anything against white guys. She just can’t tell you apart and thinks you all know one another.”
Ashley Nicole Black joined other field reporters in giving out shout-outs to news organizations who have done yeoman’s work this year reporting on the Trump administration. A huge cheer rose from the audience when she started to praise Teen Vogue. Black quipped, “Teen Vogue is so great. Can someone create a Teen Maxim so guys don’t have to spend all their time on 4Chan being turned into assholes?”
Samantha Bee did a long segment in which she mourned what has become of CNN. She blamed it on Jeff Zucker, the head of CNN Worldwide. She aired a clip of Zucker saying: “You can call it entertainment. You can call it a reality show. But there was news in it almost every time.”
Bee’s response: “Almost every time? CNN gives you news like your shitty boyfriend gives you orgasms. Either way, you wind up lying in the wet spot and he’s snoring.”
Alongside Bee’s monologues the show aired various filmed pieces. Some of these segments were from previous (fictional) White House Correspondents’ Dinners where Bee played people who were famous at the time of the dinner. For the dinner for Ronald Reagan, she dressed up like Madonna, and performed a series of jokes that would’ve been topical in the mid ‘80s.
The Madonna character tells a series of jokes that are bombing, and are intended to be. She’s supposed to be the provocative feminist who is the wrong guest at this specific event. She mentions Reagan’s infamous line about the “most terrifying words in the English language” being “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Her response: “I always thought the scariest words were ‘I have AIDS and the government doesn’t care.’”
Madonna again: “I’ve been reading about Iran-Contra. Every day we find out more. This story has more wrinkles than the president’s nut sack.”
Madonna again: “Just remember kids, if someone with AIDS asks you for help, JUST SAY NO.”
One of the funniest pieces was Steve Buscemi playing a scientist explaining facts. He was demonstrating Schrodinger’s Cat by placing a cat and Trump’s twitter feed in the same box and closing the box. As soon as that happens, the tweets start spilling forth, including reaction tweets. Buscemi is so horrified, he removes the cat from the box and declares “facts is facts.”
A note runs along the bottom of the screen that says “No cats were harmed by actually being exposed to Trump’s twitter stream.”
Samantha Bee made fun of the idea that people voted for Trump because liberals were so “mean.” She showed photos of Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter and talked about how “nice” those conservatives were. She said that Trump had run away from Vietnam, and he had run away from the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The reason he wore baggy golf pants she said was so that you couldn’t see him constantly shitting himself. “Donald Trump proved that pussies can get elected as long as he doesn’t have one.”
At the Richard Nixon Correspondents’ Dinner, a Phyllis Diller-y Sam Bee says, “Roger Ailes believes that the press has a liberal taint, but how would he know? He’s too busy licking Nixon’s.”
Bee did a piece on Rupert Murdoch and Fox News, which has made all news question itself and made them paranoid, asking if the suits they wear make them look too liberal.
Bee said: “Fox and Friends is now engaged in a long-distance circle jerk with Trump. But what’s the story? So a 70-year old white guy from Queens watches Fox. Stop the presses.”
All throughout the show, Bee promised a special guest, and as part of that, she mocked how the cable news stations will show an empty podium where they’re expecting Trump to appear, and will keep showing that empty podium and talking about that empty podium while minimizing the “real news” in a tiny screen in the corner. So, for a couple of minutes, the show was projected with Sam in a tiny corner and the empty podium.
When the special guest came out, it was Will Ferrell as George W. Bush.
The first thing he said was “How do you like me now? I’m the prodigal son.” Only it’s clear that he doesn’t know what prodigal means.
“History has proven kinder to me than a lot of you thought,” he said. “I was the worst president in history. But this new guy has taken the title in 100 days.”
“The press was always asking me hard questions. You guys would always sneak up on me with gotcha questions like, ‘Why are we going to war?’ Gotcha. ‘Why did you not respond to Hurricane Katrina?’ Gotcha. ‘What is your middle name?’ Gotcha.”
He added, “I just wish someone had told me all you had to say is ‘fake news’ over and over again.”
“Helen Thomas scared the shit out of me,” Ferrell as Bush said. “I didn’t realize that she had been dead since 1954. Cokie Robert wheeled her in and propped her up. But I tell you what. Helen Thomas asked tougher questions as a dead woman than any man over at FOX news.”
“I don’t know why any of you go to journalism school anymore. Now you can just post angry, racist tweets on Twitter and hope Breitbart hires you.”
Bush continued telling the members of the press that he doesn’t know why they’re staying in the profession. He says:
“I gotta be honest with you. I don’t know why anyone would become a journalist right now. It’s like being on the Titanic in this room. . . The iceberg is coming, and you guys are hanging on to your journalistic integrity, playing the violin as the ship goes down. You guys should do what they’re doing at Fox and Friends. Those guys are dressing up as women and children and stealing the lifeboats!”
The last filmed correspondents’ dinner segment saw Samantha Bee hosting a White House Correspondents’ Dinner after Mike Pence becomes president. She came out as “Mrs. Jason Jones,” tripped over her words, and is generally very timid and struggles to talk normally.
“I didn’t think you’d make a good president at all, Mike Pence, but I’m coming around, so, in at least this case, the conversion therapy is working.”
“It’s nice that after a disastrous year of Trump, we can finally stop demonizing immigrants and minorities and focus on the real enemy: gay children.”
Then she holds up her shirt to reveal an iron chastity belt. “Father, will you please come unlock me?”
Lorraine Berry writes about cultural issues at LitHub, The Guardian, Signature and other outlets. Follow her on Twitter @BerryFLW.