Unofficially known as Nerd Prom, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is the biggest political social event of the year. Held in the nation’s capital, it's probably the only event in which you are likely to see a “Glee” actor sitting next to the ambassador to Israel or an actor who plays the president on TV hob-knobbing with the real secretaries of Homeland Security and the U.S. Treasury.
The dinner, which takes place Saturday, is celebrating its centennial with comedian Joel McHale as its emcee. McHale, who stars on NBC’s “Community” and is the host of “The Soup” on E!, promised on Twitter when he took the job that his “material will be equally offensive to all & over within 30 minutes—just like a Congressional work year.”
Despite that bluster, when the 42-year-old comedian appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman” he seemed a little nervous about lampooning the world’s most powerful people as they sit right in front of him but joked he was “just gonna wing it, see what happens.”
In recent years, the event has been criticized for going too Hollywood, with media organizations vying for the hottest celebrities to feature at their tables. This year, for example, Time/Fortune landed Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, Fox News can count Sir Patrick Stewart as a guest, and Diane Lane will be seated at the CNN table. Athletes, too, have become coveted guests: Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman will sit with The Huffington Post, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will join Reuters, and Olympic gold medalist snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg is an NBC guest.
McHale's anxiety is understandable; not only is he cracking jokes before a who's who of celebrities and politicians, he's carrying on a pretty impressive hosting legacy. Previous comedians to helm the unofficial roast include Seth Meyers, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart and Jay Leno. Even President Obama gets to perform a little comedy himself.
However, McHale will do just fine if he follows these pointers:
You can outperform the President:
After Obama skewered Donald Trump over the birth certificate conspiracy in 2011, host Seth Meyers said the president had ruined his best jokes. But that was far from the truth. Meyers managed to poke fun at the president and Vice President Joe Biden but his Trump arsenal was his best: "Donald Trump has been saying he will run for president as a Republican, which is surprising since I just assumed he was running as a joke." Trump didn’t crack a smile as Meyers went on: "Donald Trump often appears on Fox, which is ironic because a Fox often appears on Donald Trump's head."
Go ahead and state the obvious:
“Late Late Show” host Craig Ferguson noted in 2008 that the Bush administration was already entering its “lame duck” period and Vice President Dick Cheney “is already moving out of his residence. It takes longer than you think to pack up an entire dungeon.”
You can even defend political figures:
A year later, Wanda Sykes went on the defense of the First Lady Michelle Obama.
“How dare you people give her grief over showing her arms,” she joked. “The country’s broke! Sleeves cost money! She has beautiful arms. Some of the previous first ladies, they needed the sleeves. Some of them needed the ponchos.”
Don't be afraid of the issues that matter to the American people:
Jimmy Kimmel didn’t hesitate to bring up a hot-button issue in 2012.
“Mr. Gingrich, how you can you be against gay marriage? When you yourself are a child of a gay marriage: the Michelin Man and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.”
Don't pull any punches but don't make people want to walk out:
Depending on the proclivities of those watching Stephen Colbert in 2006, his blistering tribute to President Bush was the funniest thing ever on television or the most uncomfortable. Republicans actually left the ballroom; members of the media criticized the Comedy Central comedian for going too far. True to his fake conservative talk show host persona, Colbert gave Bush all the mock praise he could muster.
"I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers, and rubble, and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message that no matter what happens to America she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo-ops in the world."
C-SPAN will cover the event live, including celebrity arrivals, the awards presentations, scholarships, and the after dinner speeches. The coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. EDT and is expected to end by 11:15 p.m.
First published May 1 2014, 1:14 PM