Tonight, Larry Wilmore proved exactly why he was the perfect choice to host President Barack Obama’s final White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Even if the crowd of journalists in attendance didn’t seem to agree.
More than ever before, the president was an impossible act to follow. Not only did Obama deliver a slew of jokes at Donald Trump’s expense but he also presented an elaborate Curb Your Enthusiasm-style video that included an epic John Boehner cameo.
Wilmore began by welcoming the guests in the house once again to the event, “or as Fox News will report, two thugs disrupt elegant dinner in D.C.” He introduced himself as “a black man who replaced a white man who pretended to be a TV newscaster,” before adding, “so yeah, in that way Lester Holt and I have a lot in common,” to groans from the crowd at Brian Williams’s expense.
He was even more harsh to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, saying, “Hey, Wolf, I’m ready to project tonight’s winner: Anyone who isn’t watching The Situation Room.”
As promised, Wilmore did not hold back on Obama either, remarking that it makes sense that he was hanging out with Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry recently “because both of you like raining down bombs on people from long distances.” Pivoting to Obama’s aging appearance, Wilmore borrowed a theme from Joel McHale’s speech two years earlier.
“Your hair is so white, it tried to punch me at a Trump rally,” Wilmore joked. “The president’s hair is so white it keeps saying ‘All Lives Matter.’” Then, he added, “All I’m saying is that in less than eight years, Mr. President, you've busted two time-honored stereotypes, black does crack, and apparently once you go black, it looks like we are going back. Thanks, Ben Carson.”
Wilmore continued to elicit groans from the crowd, not unlike the ones Stephen Colbert received during his scathing monologue at George W. Bush’s expense 10 years ago. But this time, it was Wilmore’s criticism of the media that seemed to burn most from the audience of journalists.
He noted that MSNBC “actually now stands for ‘missing a significant number of black correspondents.’” after letting go of Melissa Harris Perry and canceling Joy Reid’s show. “They put Chris Hayes on probation because they thought he was related to Isaac Hayes,” Wilmore joked. “MSNBC got rid of so many black people I thought Boko Haram was running the network.” He also gave a shout-out to some of “America's finest black journalists” in the house. “Don Lemon is here, too,” he added, prompting the CNN host to flip him the bird on camera.
Another bit that that drew groans was Wilmore’s take on Ben Carson praising “tremendous president” Andrew Jackson, who is about to be replaced by Harriet Tubman on the $20. “From the grave, Andrew Jackson said, ‘What did that jiggaboo say?’” he joked.
He did better when he started going in on the Republican presidential candidates toward the end of his speech. “Chris Christie was supposed to be here tonight,” Wilmore said. “I don’t know if he made it. He RSVP’ed for three: him, his wife, and Donald Trump’s dry-cleaning.”
“Frankly, Donald Trump, his campaign is inspiring,” he said, pausing for effect. “Mass violence. And whenever I turn on the TV, I see Trump’s family campaigning for him, gushing all over him. Or as it’s also known, as Morning Joe.”
An extended riff on the Ted Cruz / Zodiac killer rumors did not play as well.
If the uneven reception was affecting Wilmore, he didn’t let it show, powering through to the end when he decided to turn serious for a moment.
“All jokes aside, let me just say how much it means for me to be here tonight,” he said. “I’ve always joked that I voted for the president because he’s black.”
“But behind that joke is the humble appreciation for the historical implications for what your presidency means,” Wilmore added. “When I was a kid, I lived in a country where people couldn’t accept a black quarterback. Now think about that. A black man was thought by his mere color not good enough to lead a football team. And now to live in your time, Mr. President, when a black man can lead the entire free world.”
“Words alone do me no justice,” he said. “So, Mr. President, if I’m going to keep it 100,” Wilmore said, before pounding his chest. “Yo, Barry, you did it, my nigga!”
It is not hard to predict how that line will play on Fox News next week.