As a general rule, I don’t watch the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The truth is that I think it’s dangerous. What the event says is that the media and the political world are just one happy family that puts on a hell of a show for the American people. Well I think that’s bunk. The politicians are supposed to be doing the work of the people. And the media are supposed to be reporting on and probing that work. You want to know why Benghazi is so big in the right wing world? Because it’s entertainment. It is no different than Finding Bigfoot or similar shows based upon nothing but the delusions of kooks.
But I heard all weekend just what a terrible job Joel McHale did at the dinner so I had to check it out. I’ll admit, I went into it as an iconoclast: I wanted to disagree. I wanted to say everyone just didn’t get him. And I think that is largely true. The material was quite strong. But there is no doubt that his performance was weak. He blew a number of otherwise good jokes. But above all, he spent 70% of his time looking down at his cards. I went back and watched Stephen Colbert’s 2006 performance, just to make sure this was not how it was done. And it was not. I’m not sure what was wrong with him.
The best joke of the night was not about politics at all. McHale noted that Robert De Niro was in the audience. He said that he couldn’t do a De Niro impression, but that he did De Niro’s agent. So he reached out and grabbed a pretend telephone and put it to his ear. Then he said very excitedly, “He’ll do it!” That goes along with what seems to have happened to his career. At one time he took great roles. Now he’s just making money.
But the show was filled with some sharp attacks. For example, he said, “Julia Pierson, the new director of the Secret Service, is here tonight. Under her leadership Secret Service agents can no longer consort with prostitutes thanks to their new ‘too drunk to make it to the brothel’ program.” And then there was this, “CNN is desperately searching for something they’ve been missing for months: their dignity.” This elicited boos, to which McHale responded, “Totally!” He continued, “At this point, CNN is like the Radio Shack in a small strip mall: you don’t know how it stayed in business this long, you don’t know anyone that shops there, and they just fired Piers Morgan.”
He made a number of what I thought were cruel jokes about Chris Christie, and that’s saying something because I despise the man. But he did pay it off with what was the high point of his performance, satirizing Christie’s 9 January press conference:
The best part of the evening was not McHale, however. Nor was it Obama, who I thought was rather stilted. It was this fun Veep sort of parody with Joe Biden and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I’ve actually never seen the show, but I loved to see Joe Biden playing a cleaned up version of his super-cool character in The Onion:
But for the record, this is the real Joe Biden:
So it’s all kind of silly and bad for the country. But it has its moments.
Here is the whole thing, if you dare: