WASHINGTON — DC stands for “Death of Comedy,” so the old beltway joke goes.
Comedian Samantha Bee sought to change that on Friday night.
The late-night host of TBS' “Full Frontal” visited Washington for the second year to roast President Donald Trump at the “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” Bee’s alternative to the annual black-tie White House Correspondents’ Association gala.
Speaking to a room full of reporters and celebrities sipping on specialty cocktails such as “The Yellow Russian,” Bee thanked reporters “for holding the president and all of us accountable” and applauded the hundreds of stories journalists have reported since Trump was elected president.
The event will air on TBS at 10 p.m. Saturday night, the same time as the actual correspondents' gala. Proceeds from Bee’s event were to benefit the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Bee did not initially plan to hold another counter-programming dinner after 2018. But when the WHCA decided to break with the years-long tradition of inviting a comedian to host and instead gave the coveted slot to historian Ron Chernow, she felt compelled to bring back her event.
Bee said she thought the WHCA caved into criticism that comedian Michelle Wolf’s 2018 set went too far in making fun of administration officials, particularly White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. Bee herself has faced pushback from White House officials for her comedy. Last year, she apologized for a crude joke on her show about Ivanka Trump.
“I really believe that the current president should have to face someone once a year who calls him on his s---,” Bee said at Friday's dinner. “So Donald, I am going to roast you as if you were here tonight.”
“You’re the most powerful person in the world, and you can’t listen to a comedian roast you for five minutes?” Bee continued before listing names of people she deemed to be braver than Trump, including undocumented immigrants and Christine Blasey Ford — the California professor who testified that now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.
Trump, along with other White House officials, will not attend the actual WHCA dinner Saturday night for the third year in a row. He is the first president since Ronald Reagan to skip the gala (Reagan missed the event because he was recovering from a gunshot wound).
At Bee's roast, journalists weren't spared, either.
Her set included a skit featuring professors and critics, such as New York University’s Jay Rosen, that chided the media for its obsession with appearing fair and balanced and the need to always show two sides, even when covering climate change. She also performed a segment making fun of reporters’ overuse of terms such as “racially charged” and “racially insensitive” to describe acts that, Bee says, should just be called “racist.”
“Racially charged is not a thing,” Bee exclaimed.
The "Full Frontal" show team handed out awards to journalists on Friday night, with the help of Bradley Whitford, who played Josh Lyman on “The West Wing.”
MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, recently married, were awarded “Best On Screen Romance” and FOX News’ Shep Smith won “The Loneliest Boy at FOX News.” CBS’ Gayle King received the title of “The Robert Word,” given to the journalist who says “Robert” the most, a reference to King’s interview with Robert Kelly, more commonly known as the musician R. Kelly. The "Full Frontal" team also recognized Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer for their investigative reporting on #MeToo.
But the biggest applause of the night came during a surprise guest appearance by actor Robert De Niro, a prolific critic of the president.
“Turns out you’re not enemies of the people, you’re heroes,” De Niro said to the reporters in the room.