The last time I wrote a post on the White House Correspondents’ Dinner was in 2014 in What Joel McHale Can Learn From President Obama. I hated McHale’s speech. While I don’t feel that strongly about Larry Wilmore’s speech this year, I did expect better from him.
What is it with good comedians doing poorly at these events? I think part of the answer is that they forget the context. They use the same type of humor that they usually use in their routines. However, addressing a room filled with the top brass from the press, entertainment, and political arenas, including the President of the United States, is not the same as facing a friendly audience filled with fans.
The content has to fit the context and the content must not go too far. Decorum must be placed above humor. I will talk more about this later, but in the meantime, I can say that this is something that neither McHale in 2014 nor Wilmore this year seem to have understood. When Wilmore asked President Obama who he was killing this year (a reference to Osama Bin Laden’s mission happening at the same time as the 2011 WHCD), the President clearly didn’t like the joke. He also didn’t seem to appreciate Wilmore saying, “Saw you hanging out with NBA players like Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors. That was cool. That was cool, yeah. You know it kinda makes sense, too, because both of you like raining down bombs on people from long distances, right?”
As McHale, Wilmore was sometimes downright mean, like when he said that Wolf Blitzer was a drone and asked what he was still doing on television. His remark about those in the print journalism industry being over 70 wasn’t very funny and could be called ageist, as well as his jokes about Bernie Sander’s age. Chris Christie’s weight was, unnecessarily, discussed again.
Of course, Wilmore peppered his speech with references to blacks and racism. This was to be expected as he made his career with this kind of material. He started his speech by saying “Welcome to Negro Night,” which I didn’t find very funny. He also really picked on Ben Carson, which I did find funny, probably because I really don’t like Carson:
“All I’m saying is that in less than eight years, Mr. President, you’ve busted two time-honored stereotypes. Black does crack, and apparently once you go black, it looks like we are going back. Thanks, Ben Carson.”
Following shortly after with:
“Ben Carson was also against Harriet Tubman replacing Andrew Jackson on the 20-dollar bill. He praised Jackson, saying he was a tremendous president. From the grave, Andrew Jackson replied, ‘What did that jigaboo say?’”
Ironically, Wilmore was at his best when he turned serious and said:
“Thank you for being a good sport, Mr. President, but all jokes aside, let me just say how much it means for me to be here tonight. I’ve always joked that I voted for the president because he’s black. And people say, ‘Well, do you agree with his policies?’ And I always said, ‘I agree with the policy that he’s black.’ I said, ‘As long as he keeps being black, I’m good.’ They’d say, ‘What about Iraq?’ ‘Is he still black?’