This year’s Washington Press Club Foundation’s congressional dinner, an annual event where lawmakers and the journos who cover them throw on nice suits and chuckle at amateur standup comedy acts, had something unusual going for it.

Every year, the members of Congress doling out the jokey monologues inevitably conclude their routines with a shout-out to the assembled fourth estate (since, after all, the event benefits scholarships for women and minority reporters). This year, those tributes to the media seemed, well, sincere.

Should we have our hearing checked?

The terrorist attacks on Parisian magazine Charlie Hebdo prompted a little extra love for the free press, despite the sometimes prickly relations between elected officials and the scribes who cover them.

“You won’t believe me, but I am incredibly grateful for the members of the press who cover us and cover the world, especially after the recent events in Paris,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, the Colorado Republican who was one of the evening’s headliners. “It’s a reminder that not everyone respects this right. I hope you’ll keep doing what you’re doing.”

Rep. Charlie Rangel started out sarcastic in addressing the media-heavy crowd gathered in a ballroom of the Mandarin Oriental hotel: “All the mean things I said about you in the heat of anger … I meant,” he joked. But then he softened. “Freedom of the press means people like me who came from nowhere could act like I’m someone and get away with it,” he said.

That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of barbs, too — mostly from Gardner, who brought down the house with a comedy routine that was actually funny — no small accomplishment at the annual dinner, where lawmakers often underscore just how hard standup comedy can be (and the value of sticking to one’s day job). Expectations were low for the modest freshman senator, but he drew lots of laughs, often at the expense of members of his own party.

On Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid’s recent accident on exercise machine: “Say what you will but that never, never happens to leaders like Chris Christie.” And in poking fun of the collective age of the Senate, where he says he’s come to enjoy “Hip Replacement Thursdays,” Reid said: “Thad Cochran came up to me in the cloakroom and asked ‘do I come here often?'”

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