“Daily Show” correspondent Hasan Minhaj will perform at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner this month, taking on the traditional role of cracking jokes about the president and the fourth estate for a black-tie-clad crowd stuffed into the Washington Hilton.
Association President Jeff Mason said the choice of Minhaj, whose comedy is often laced with social and political satire, underscored the dinner’s more serious tone this year, with President Trump and his aides skipping the dinner and the usual crowd of Hollywood imports staying home.
“We were not looking for someone to roast the president in absentia — that’s not fair and it’s not the message we want to get across,” Mason said during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday. Mason said he thought the comic would entertain, but also “speak to” the dinner’s themes of celebrating the first amendment and journalism. “I’m confident he’ll be able to … strike the right balance.”
It won’t be Minhaj’s first Washington rodeo. Last year, his performance at the Radio and TV Correspondents Association’s annual dinner drew laughs — and headlines. He ripped Congress for inaction on gun laws and the outsize influence of the NRA in an unusually biting monologue. (He also called Trump a “racist Cheeto.”)
In a statement following the announcement mimicking Trump’s Twitter parlance, Minhaj proved that he’s not above taking more swipes at POTUS. “It is a tremendous honor to be a part of such a historic event even though the president has chosen not to attend this year,” he said. “SAD!”
“I’m not there to try to skewer people,” Minhaj has said of his comedic style. “I’m just trying to come at it with some human empathy. I consider myself to be an angry optimist.”
Stand-up comic Minhaj has an upcoming hour-long special on Netflix and a regular “Daily Show” gig, but he’s certainly lower profile than other WHCD headliners, who have in recent years included Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Jay Leno and Joel McHale.
The job of entertaining the WHCD crowd, already considered a tough one (members of the media and pols have notoriously thin skins), is even more fraught this year. With Trump’s absence, jabs at the White House run the risk of coming off as mean — previous comedians at least had the optics of the president laughing along with the crowd.
And Minhaj will have competition: Funnywoman and prominent Trump critic Samantha Bee is hosting something of a rival event, taping a special edition of her TBS show “Full Frontal” across town at the “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”
There’s been little interest by celebrities in attending this year’s dinner, unlike in years past, when A-listers angled for tickets and the casts of shows like “Scandal” and “Veep” walked the red carpet.
Organizers have spun the relatively low-glitz tone as an intentional return to what the dinner was always nominally about: celebrating the first amendment and journalism, and raising money for scholarships. “It’s a different dinner,” Mason said today. Minhaj “brings comedy chops but also heart.”