It’s been less than 48 hours since Michelle Wolf said at the White House correspondents’ dinner that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders burns facts and uses the ash as eye shadow.
In that time, Wolf has been lauded as a political and comedic hero and decried as a cruel and offensive bully. Her routine has been dissected, commented on, examined, praised and trashed in hundreds of articles by seemingly everyone with a keyboard.
Former press secretary Sean Spicer implied that her performance was a “total disgrace” (to which Wolf tweeted “Thank you!”). It even led to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman and comedian Kumail Nanjiani bickering on Twitter (first about Wolf’s performance and then about who unfollowed whom).
Really. This is a real news story that is really happening. And throughout it all, Wolf hasn’t said much, aside from a few tweets.
The comedian finally — though “finally” is a poor word choice because, again, it’s been less than two days — weighed in on the situation in an interview with Terry Gross on WHYY’s “Fresh Air.” The full interview will be available Tuesday afternoon, but NPR released some choice excerpts from the conversation Monday.
So, the question on everyone’s mind: Does Wolf regret her routine and the cyclone of controversy that followed? No, not even slightly.
“I wouldn’t change a single word that I said. I’m very happy with what I said, and I’m glad I stuck to my guns,” she told Gross.
She added that before her performance, a friend handed her a note that said: “Be true to yourself. Never apologize. Burn it to the ground.”
And burn it to the ground she did.
Though her routine — which you can read in full here — was littered with edgy one-liners, one joke about Sanders stood out: “She burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”
It was one of many that ripped into Sanders, and the punchline of all these jokes shared a common idea — in Wolf’s view, Sanders lies to the media. But many critics took it to be a comment on the press secretary’s physical appearance, rather than her integrity. And, as many noted, Sanders was mere feet away from Wolf, watching the comic with a fairly blank (certainly not pleased) expression.
Wolf told Gross that “having the ability to laugh at yourself is important.” As an example, she pointed to former president Barack Obama: “There’s plenty [of moments] where you could look back and the camera was on Obama when people were making pretty aggressive jokes about Obama and he was laughing.”
Furthermore, she said Sanders wore the same displeased expression throughout the night, not just during her routine.
“Another part of the dinner that wasn’t televised is they were giving out awards and everyone was standing to congratulate the people who were getting awards and Sarah was sitting,” Wolf told Gross. “CNN reporters got awards, I cannot remember the exact award they got, but they came up to accept them and she sat the whole time while we all stood and shook their hands. I would say if this is about celebrating the media, she wasn’t there to celebrate the media.”
That said, Wolf didn’t expect the routine to be quite so divisive — but she doesn’t mind that it was.
“I wasn’t expecting this level [of controversy], but I’m also not disappointed there’s this level,” she said. “I knew what I was doing going in. I wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to cater to the room. I wanted to cater to the outside audience, and not betray my brand of comedy.”
That brand, Wolf explained, isn’t always “nice.”
“I think sometimes they look at a woman and they think, ‘Oh, she’ll be nice,’ and if you’ve seen any of my comedy you know that … I’m not,” she said, “I don’t pull punches. I’m not afraid to talk about things. And I don’t think they expected that from me. I think they still have preconceived notions of how women will present themselves and I don’t fit in that box.”
And that’s exactly what she hoped to bring to the correspondents’ dinner. The event, to her, “seems like it’s a much more serious environment [than in previous years] and to kind of not go after the big issues and just have a little fun in the room seemed just not as exciting to me.”