The Washington Post

Why do comedians often bomb at Correspondents’ dinner?


US President Barack Obama and US comedian Joel McHale share a laugh at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Gala at a hotel in Washington, DC (EPA/Olivier Douliery)

Okay, maybe it’s different when for the first time in a couple of decades you’re watching the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner on C-Span, rather than in the Hilton ballroom. But from the cheap seats we thought comedian Joel McHale pretty much bombed on Saturday night.

Sure, he had a few good shots at the press, and he’s not the first to go lame — nothing could have been worse than Rich Little back in 2007. But, overall, it was painful to watch.

One problem for comedians is that the president is always, far and away the star. No one will ever top Ronald Reagan. And who can forget Bill Clinton’s video (riding the bicycle, running after Hillary’s car with a sandwich), George W. Bush or Barack Obama (especially the hysterical send-up of Donald Trump’s birther goofiness, made only better by Trump’s presence in the room.)

Even Dana Carvey, known for his great impersonation of George H.W. Bush on”Saturday Night Live,” was excellent — but upstaged by Bush when the president did a spot-on impersonation of Carvey doing that routine.

Stephen Colbert’s roast of President Bush was surely the most memorable. Even if you take out those harsh hits considered by many to be way over the top, it was still hysterical.

It could be that Hollywood folks, or those not truly attuned to the politics and dynamics of this town, simply can’t satirize it — and shouldn’t try. They end up, as McHale did, reading from their notes.

For example, comedian Ray Romano, in 1998, faltered badly at the outset with some Washington-centric material, but he was great when he got into his usual stand up material about his kids and such.

McHale was said to have solicited guidance from several predecessors who had to close for a president. Admirable, but akin to checking with Jayson Werth or Bryce Harper about hitting a fast ball. You’re still going to whiff badly when the 95 mph heater comes at you.

Meanwhile, if we’re on the topic of celebrities “getting” Washington, we heard Robin Wright went on a nasty rant in the Hilton ladies’ room about my colleagues’ attempt to interview her, crowing about how she wouldn’t give any “straight answers” to “your girls,” and bragging that it was just “so funny” because they were “so mad.”

Maybe she was channeling Claire Underwood? Or maybe her icy television persona isn’t so far from reality.

 

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
New Hampshire has voted. The Democrats debate on Thursday. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Philip Rucker and Robert Costa say...
For Trump, the victory here was sweet vindication, showing that his atypical campaign could prevail largely on the power of celebrity and saturation media coverage. But there was also potential for concern in Tuesday's outcome. Trump faces doubts about his discipline as a candidate and whether he can build his support beyond the levels he has shown in the polls.
The Post's John Wagner and Anne Gearan say...
Hillary Clinton, who was declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses last week by the narrowest of margins, now finds herself struggling to right her once-formidable campaign against a self-described democratic socialist whom she has accused of selling pipe dreams to his supporters.
Quoted
People have every right to be angry. But they're also hungry for solutions.
Hillary Clinton, in her New Hampshire primary night speech
Quoted
I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.
Donald Trump, in his New Hampshire primary victory speech
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
See results from N.H.
Most Read

politics

in-the-loop

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.