With just two months to go until its annual dinner, the White House Correspondents’ Association on Thursday announced the big event’s headliner: comedian Michelle Wolf.
“Our dinner honors the First Amendment and strong, independent journalism. [Wolf’s] embrace of these values and her truth-to-power style make her a great friend to the WHCA,” said Margaret Talev, president of the WHCA, in a statement. “Her Pennsylvania roots, stints on Wall Street and in science and self-made, feminist edge make her the right voice now.”
“This is true news,” Wolf tweeted in response to social media posts about her newest gig.
It’s the second year in a row that the dinner — long a venue for A-list comics with established brands such as Bob Hope, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel — has turned to entertainers still on the cusp of fame.
Like last year’s host Hasan Minhaj, Wolf is a presence on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.” She also released an HBO stand-up special, “Nice Lady,” in December and, just earlier this month, signed on to host a late-night show on streaming giant Netflix. She helped write jokes for Chris Rock’s 2016 Oscars gig and performed on HBO’s “Night of Too Many Stars” last year.
Headlining the dinner has always been a challenge for comics, who have to muscle through a monologue in front of a notoriously tough crowd, but it may be even more so with President Trump in the White House. The proliferation of late-night comedy shows and the dizzying pace of the news cycle means comics doing topical humor have to be able to quickly write timely material, as well as jokes that stand out in a crowded field of professional joke-tellers on TV and amateurs on social media.
The Trump administration is familiar comedic fodder for Wolf, especially during her “Daily Show” appearances. “I realized it’s easier to become president than it is to become Miss America,” she said on a September 2017 episode about the pageant’s regulations. “You know what the qualifications are for president? Thirty-five and born here. That’s not qualifications! That’s the search terms of a sad lady on a Match.com profile.”
Critics have heralded her first special as one of 2017’s best. In it, she doesn’t take direct aim at Trump, and instead jokes about feminism, the sound of her voice and broader societal expectations of women, a through-line she connects directly to former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“A lot of us are trying to figure out how Hillary lost. I have a theory: I think it’s because no one likes her,” Wolf jokes, after saying she voted for Clinton. “And you shouldn’t like Hillary. … We’re never going to have a nice lady run for president. Nice ladies aren’t in charge of things. And if you’re in charge of something, and you think you’re a nice lady — no one else does.”
Wolf could also be a powerful comedic voice in addressing a room of Washington types about the Me Too movement, as she did during a live “Daily Show” taping shortly after several exposés were published about allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein. Her solution to the culture of enabling sexual harassment? “Every time a guy gets caught sexually harassing someone, you just don’t fire him, you have to replace him with a woman,” she said.
It was the comedian’s particular take on broader cultural issues that drew Talev, the person tasked with selecting the dinner’s headliner.
“She has been primarily a cultural rather than political comedian, and much of her work has centered on women and society’s perceptions of women, which resonates amid the national reexamination from Hollywood to the corporate and sports worlds to government and of course our own profession of the treatment of women and girls,” Talev said in an interview.
Wolf will be the fifth woman to step up to the lectern at the black-tie dinner. The last woman to host and roast the media and the president was “Saturday Night Live’s” Cecily Strong in 2015, who was preceded by Wanda Sykes in 2009, Elayne Boosler in 1993 and Paula Poundstone in 1992.
After studying kinesiology at the College of William & Mary, Wolf went on to work for the investment bank Bear Stearns, according to a profile in the Daily Beast. Around the time of the financial collapse, she began improv classes and eventually found a job with flexible hours to throw herself into stand-up.
After a year of doing comedy full-time, “Late Night with Seth Meyers” hired Wolf as a writer in 2014. Meyers famously took the stage at the 2011 correspondents’ dinner, aiming several punchlines squarely at Donald Trump, then a guest in the ballroom.
The White House correspondents’ dinner will be held at the Washington Hilton on April 28. The president and first lady traditionally attend the annual affair, which features a stand-up routine performed by the commander in chief that is then followed by a professional comedian.
Months before last year’s dinner, Trump, who has had a hate-hate relationship with many of the media organizations that fill out the ballroom, announced via Twitter that he would not be in the building. But he delivered the bad news with a spoonful of sugar: “Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!”
The jury is still out on whether he’ll don a tuxedo and head to the Hilton for this year’s annual rubber chicken roast. But whether in the room or not, Trump won’t be able to dodge the punchlines that will inevitably be lobbed in his direction.