WASHINGTON — Look out "nerd-prom" there's a new party in town.
Late-night TV host Samantha Bee will deliver her counterpunch to the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner Saturday night. The "Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner" promises to be a tongue-in-cheek play on the real bash — complete with a Trump-themed roast.
But Bee said she ultimately wants the night to be a celebration of the press in the Trump-era.
"We routinely dismantle Trump on our show, we don't really feel the need to do that too much tonight," Bee told NBC News' Ali Vitali. "But we do need to celebrate the journalists who make our show possible and that's why we're throwing a party for them — I hope they come!"
When asked if she had a special message for the president, Bee's voiced dripped with sarcasm.
"Have a great rally — you deserve it, you've earned it!" she said, with a tight-lipped smile.
President Donald Trump tweeted in February that he would be skipping the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) gala. No president had declined an invitation from the association since Ronald Reagan did so in 1981 when he was recovering from an assassination attempt. Still, Reagan phoned in some friendly, humorous remarks.
But Trump's absence hasn't stopped Washington from rolling out the red carpet — or in Bee's case, a purple one — to celebrate the power of comedy and free speech.
At the taping of the program, comedian Will Ferrell returned to his "Saturday Night Live" portrayal of President George W. Bush, telling the crowd: “How do you like me now? The prodigal son has returned.”
"Quick presidential update, I'm doing quite well," Ferrell as Bush said. "For quite some time I was considered the worst president of all time," Ferrell said, adding that the current president snagged that title in 100 days.
A video was shown of Hillary Clinton and Bee presented an alternate reality in which the former Secretary of State won the presidency — and the New England Patriots lost the Super Bowl; a faux "in memoriam" was held for ousted Fox News bigs Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, with the words "Gone Too Late"; and a montage of guests talking over each other on CNN and MSNBC poked fun at cable news.
Bee in her opening said the “failing” New York Times and Buzzfeed was in attendance, and quipped: “As I promised on the invitation, I will get Mexico to pay for all of your drinks."
Actress and comedian Ana Gasteyer said she feels audiences are drawn to Bee's unique blend of news and sarcastic whit because it's a marriage of the humorous and the insightful.
"There's a sense of the absurd right now," she told NBC News. "We had an extreme election, we have an extreme administration and, as a result, you're going to have an audience that wants to find what's interesting and funny about that."
Jeff Mason, the WHCA president, told the Associated Press that this year's event would have been different even if Trump had attended, "based on the tension that has existed in the relationship and some of the things he has said about the press. We were preparing for a different dinner either way."
Instead, WHCA organizers wanted to put the focus on the First Amendment and the role of the press in democracy. The scheduled headliners are Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, set to present journalism awards. Woodward told The Washington Post the two planned to speak about "the First Amendment and the importance of aggressive but fair reporting."
The correspondents' group, as usual, booked a master of ceremonies: Hasan Minhaj of "The Daily Show." Broadcast coverage was to begin at 9:30 p.m. ET on C-SPAN, followed by Bee's event airing on TBS at 10 p.m. ET.
Trump has called the media "fake" and "dishonest" and even "the enemy of the people." In an emailed fundraising appeal before leaving for Pennsylvania, Trump cited among the accomplishment over his first 100 days, "We fought back against the media's lies."
Tegan, of the pop duo Tegan and Sara, she said the president’s frequent attacks on the media have only heightened the need for a strong free press.
“Now more than ever before we need journalists to be on top of things and not to become apathetic and just feeding us whatever the government wants us to say, or think, or feel,” she said. “I think it’s a really good time to celebrate the journalists who are doing great work.”
The White House Correspondents' Dinner began in 1921 and provides scholarships to journalism students. Last year, for President Barack Obama's final appearance, the crowd included Will Smith, Emma Watson, Kerry Washington, Helen Mirren and model Kendall Jenner.
Most trace the development of including celebrity guests to 1987, when then-Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Kelly brought Fawn Hall, the secretary at the center of the Iran-Contra affair.