On the night of the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, tux- and gown-clad journos will be packed, as usual, into the ballroom of the Washington Hilton, even as fewer celebs flock to the evening of glitzy-meets-wonky glad-handing. But who will be on the dais?
A comedian traditionally acts as the evening’s headliner, delivering a joke-filled monologue, along with the president, who does the same. But it’s not clear whether President Trump even plans to come to the April 29 affair — and the White House Correspondents’ Association has yet to announce who will be this year’s “talent,” which the organizers typically would have had locked down weeks, if not months, ago.
Getting a high-profile comedian for the gig has been particularly tough this year, with entertainers taking pains to distance themselves from the divisive president (for evidence of this phenomenon, witness the decidedly D-listy lineup for inaugural events). James Corden reportedly gave the correspondents’ association a “no thanks.” And look for more boldface names across town at comedian Samantha Bee’s anti-WHCD dinner/comedy fest at the Willard.
Asked for a status report, WHCA President Jeff Mason said he had “no updates” on the entertainment plans and urged us to “stay tuned.”
But past emcees are publicly urging their funny brethren not to turn up their noses. Former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, who hosted the black-tie confab in 1997, said the scholarships for which the dinner raises money are “still a good cause.” But in a TMZ interview last week, he allowed that “people have to follow their hearts; they have to follow their conscience.”
Wilmore, who took to the Hilton stage with an edgy act last year, called the gig a “huge opportunity” for a comedian with a message. Former Obama speechwriter David Litt, who’s now the head writer for Funny or Die’s Washington office, agrees. “If your goal is to be liked by everybody, it’s hard to see why you’d want to take the risk,” he says. “But if your comedy’s rooted in a point of view, and you’re looking for a national stage on which to express it, the dinner’s a great opportunity.”
And if the association still hasn’t booked an act, a couple of comedians have raised their hands. Stand-up comic Jeff Ross told TMZ that he’d consider doing the dinner his “patriotic duty.” And he boasted, in Trump-ian terms, “It would be the greatest White House Correspondents’ — it would be huge!”
Likewise, “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah told the Hollywood Reporter that he’d be up for the job, although he hadn’t been asked.
One past board member noted that booking top acts has long been a challenge — well before the White House was occupied by a rabid tweeter who doesn’t exactly enjoy the kind of ribbing that comics dish out. “A lot of comics don’t need the dinner,” the dinner veteran says.