Wolf Blitzer isn’t worried at all. In less than an hour, a handful of the 71-year-old’s closest friends and colleagues will roast the veteran news anchor in front of a crowd at the National Press Club on Wednesday night. But nerves? What nerves?
“These are all good people,” Blitzer said of the folks who’d be skewering him at the annual gala for the American News Women’s Club. That night, “The Situation Room” anchor would be honored with the club’s Excellence in Journalism award, joining a distinguished class that includes Gwen Ifill, Katie Couric and Walter Cronkite.
“But they know a lot about you,” we countered, hoping to get some admission of anxiety out of the notoriously unflappable broadcaster. “They do,” Blitzer said before posing for more pictures with the good people he would later joke were now his “former friends.”
But turns out Blitzer was right. It’s hard to roast a man who seems loved by every person who comes in contact with him. Dana Bash, the night’s emcee, was the first to take a stab (let’s call it a Facebook poke, actually) at the leader of “the Wolf pack.”
Blitzer, Bash said, is a creature of habit. He wakes up every morning at exactly 6:55 a.m. He then hits the treadmill for exactly 60 minutes — not 59 or 61. Then, Blitzer grabs a suit from the front of the line in his closet and heads to work to buy a cup of yogurt for breakfast from the cafe near CNN. Sometimes he adds candy-coated raisins. “That,” Bash said, “is Wolf Blitzer gone wild.”
So, not a lot of racy material to work with when it comes to the man that Bash described as “the menschiest mensch on television.”
Perhaps the most surprising Blitzer anecdote of the evening came from his “best friend in Washington,” former BET executive Paxton Baker, who was single-handedly responsible for Blitzer’s cameo at the 2010 Soul Train Awards.
According to Baker, Blitzer specifically asked to be a part of the awards show because “Soul Train” had meant so much to him as a kid growing up in Buffalo “I was the hippest white boy in my class,” Baker recalled Blitzer telling him. Baker thought his friend was joking, but a year later, Blitzer ended up onstage with co-hosts Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard doing “the dougie” dance move with rapper Doug E. Fresh. It was a moment.
Jay Shaylor, Blitzer’s longtime executive producer, went with a sharper approach, actually attempting to roast and not just lightly singe the man of the hour. “What can you say about Wolf Blitzer that he hasn’t said about himself over and over and over?” asked Shaylor, who also took jabs at his fellow moonlighting comedians. But when Shaylor turned his sights on the night’s surprise guest, CNN’s Ana Navarro, she issued a warning: “Be very, very careful. I bite.”
When it was her turn at-bat, Navarro’s bite was decidedly not that bad. She kissed Blitzer on the head before taking the mic and declared that there is no word in Spanish for a comedic roast. “We don’t think that’s funny,” she explained. “I don’t know how to roast anything but prime rib and Donald Trump.” If the crowd expected a takedown of a defender of the First Amendment, well, they should “go to a Trump rally,” Navarro added. “If you ask me to roast Sean Hannity,” she said, “I could do it two languages.”
Instead, she spoke about the news anchor’s parents, who fled the Holocaust and made a new life in New York. According to Navarro, Blitzer’s father once said, “Seeing you on TV, seeing you be a success, is the biggest revenge I could get against Hitler.”
After enduring nearly two hours of praise and punchlines, Blitzer himself stepped to the microphone. He offered a few jokes of his own — like one about being repeatedly rejected for membership in the News Women’s Club — but for the most part stuck to the serious stuff, especially the attacks on the press.
“These days we aren’t going to win any popularity contests,” he said of the news media, which is often accused of bias and being blacklisted by the president. “We are not the enemy of the people,” Blitzer added. “We are the people and we love the American people.”