Amid the jokes in “Daily Show” comic Hasan Minhaj’s performance at Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner — which took aim at the absent President Trump as well as some of the media folks filling the seats in the ballroom of the Washington Hilton — there was a funny moment. Odd, that is, not funny ha-ha.
Early in his burn-laced act, Minhaj implied his hosts told him not to roast Trump. “I was explicitly told not to go after the administration,” he said after launching his first jab at the president, looking over at White House Correspondents’ Association president Jeff Mason with a look of exaggerated apology. (An item in Saturday’s New York Post hinted at a similar embargo, citing “a source who saw the comic” at a Manhattan gig, claiming organizers had declared POTUS off-limits, “because Trump is so thin-skinned.”)
Mason disputes that — and even tried fact-checking the comedian during his act. “You were not told that,” Mason can be heard saying, with a wry smile, as Minhaj claimed he’d been gagged.
Mason told us on Sunday that he was confused by the bit, since he “absolutely” never instructed Minhaj to steer clear of Trump. The two did talk about the theme of the evening, he said, which was to honor the work of the White House press corp and the importance of the first amendment. “I had said all along that I wasn’t looking for someone to roast the president in absentia,” Mason says.
But WHCD headliners are not required to have their remarks approved, and Minhaj didn’t submit his act ahead of time, says an individual familiar with the process.
So maybe it was just a gag? Or the comedian trying to cop the swagger of a rule-breaker?
Or maybe, in the words of He Who Should Not Be Named, it’s just one more example of “FAKE NEWS.”
Otherwise, Minhaj’s act generally got a collective thumbs-up. That’s from both outside the room, meaning the folks watching on C-SPAN, and the notoriously thin-skinned media types inside the room who he had just blasted.
Following the dinner, the comic got a warm welcome at the swanky NBC/MSNBC after-party. There were “tons of compliments” for the Comedy Central funnyman, says one partyer who spied the Minhaj looking relieved and relaxed as he mingled and chatted in a corner with MSNBC President Phil Griffin.
Who knows, maybe one of the jokes in his monologue will turn out to be prescient: “I had a lot more MSNBC jokes,” Hasan said from the dais, after ribbing the network. “But I don’t want to just ramble on, otherwise I might get a show on MSNBC.”
Praise came from outside, too. “Late Night” host Seth Meyers, who headlined the WHCD in 2011, and so knows just what a tough gig the night can be, congratulated Minhaj in a Sunday tweet. “At a WHCD with an extremely high level of difficulty he was excellent,” he wrote.
But of course, because some of his harshest humor singed Trump, some of the president’s backers were in Camp Haterade. YouTube stars-slash-Trump loyalists Diamond and Silk gave Minhaj a pan. “Obnoxious & Reprehensible,” they opined in a tweet. “His Career will probably tank like Larry Wilmore!”