Comedians cause an uproar at the White House

Michelle Wolf sparks unease at Correspondents’ Dinner despite doing her job

Sadhana Sarma, Design Editor

“Like a porn star says when she’s about to have sex with a Trump, let’s get this over with”; this is how excited comedian Michelle Wolf was for her performance at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner (WHCD) on April 28. With the amount of backlash she received after the show, her opening remarks must resonate with her more than ever. Wolf has continued to stick by her jokes, however, since it is in her job description to poke fun at people.

The WHCD is the annual gathering of the White House Correspondents’ Association, an organization of journalists who cover the White House and the President of the United States. Typically, the President and Vice President are in attendance, but in both 2017 and 2018, President Donald Trump did not attend. In his place this year was Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, for whom Comedian Michelle Wolf had some pointed jokes.

Historically, the WHCD has not been a widely sought after gig for entertainers. In 2017, comedian Hasan Minhaj opened his performance by explaining that he was only there because “no one wanted to do this so, of course, it lands in the hands of an immigrant. That’s how it always goes down.” His feelings are justified. Performing at the WHCD is no easy feat. For starters, the audience is usually very dry-witted. A combination of being on television and being very tense makes for a group of people who seldom laugh. On top of that, making fun of prestigious politicians and journalists must be done in a very cautious manner. Though Minhaj and those before him faced backlash from crowds that could not take a joke, Wolf faced far worse criticisms after her speech.

“I think the only difference between this year and previous years is that there has been a lot more to make fun of about the President, specifically, and his administration, which is perhaps why there was more backlash than previous years,” said Improv Night participant and junior Zayhaan Batlivala.

Wolf told provocative jokes, making fun of everybody from President Trump and the media to Kellyanne Conway. Her use of obscene language and references left many viewers uncomfortable and angry.

“There might have been points where she did push it too far, but that is kind of what comedians do,” said U.S. Government teacher Mike Williams. “It is a roast. Even if it was too obscene, I would argue that the Trump Administration and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as a representative at the mouthpiece, have put themselves in this position for people to talk out and communicate the level of disgust they feel.”

Though there are numerous jokes to which the public is reacting negatively toward, the strongest reactions are to the one directed at Sanders.

“I actually really like Sarah,” said Wolf. “I think she’s very resourceful. She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”

The backlash surrounding this comment focuses on many feeling that it is wrong to criticize Sanders’ appearance. Sanders was so angry that she refused to take photos with Wolf after her performance. President Trump even tweeted calling Wolf a “so-called comedian” who “bombed.” But the public is missing the point; the joke has underlying meanings that go beyond Sanders’ appearance.

“Typically speaking, people wear makeup to make something appear different than it would otherwise appear,” said Williams. “In that sense, the comment is pretty wicked smart as it is not putting down her looks, but rather is a comment on the administration’s lies. People are missing the satire of it and are trying to dumb it down so it means something different for people who don’t want to think critically about what was said.”

Wolf’s critics need to recognize that she was doing her job as a comedian. She was hired to go up on stage and make fun of various politicians and news outlets. Entertainers at the WHCD have been doing just that for many years. The audience is always unresponsive so that it may uphold its reputation. Since the President is usually there, the backlash toward the event is typically stifled by the fact that the President is not responding negatively. By not attending the WHCD, President Trump has opened up the door for vast criticisms of Wolf made by people who forget that she is a comedian.

“The comedian at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is there to make you laugh, but also comedy is about responding to political issues in a funny way to spread awareness,” said Batlivala.

Michelle Wolf and Hasan Minhaj provided speeches to prompt positive change from the influential people in their audiences. Instead, the on-looking politicians and journalists responded with a lack of enthusiasm and, in Wolf’s case, hate. As comedian Stephen Colbert pointed out, “being mad at [Wolf] for doing her job is like accusing the valet of briefly stealing your car.” Wolf did what she was hired to do: be funny, tell the truth as she sees it and make powerful people uncomfortable so that they may make positive change.