The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner is a celebration of the role of the press in upholding American democracy. The day after the dinner, however, has evolved to be a celebration of a different sort: a circle jerk of self-serious bad comedy opinions, and an annual reminder that the political press is, collectively, a gaggle of unfunny dorks who should probably be forced to watch somebody smarter than they are make fun of them more often.
There’s been a lot of whining since Saturday. Some observers have whined that the night’s headliner, Daily Show correspondent Michelle Wolf, was “mean” to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders by saying that her makeup was made of lies, that she was like Uncle Tom (but for women who disappoint other white women), that she was softball coach-like.
“Watching a wife and mother be humiliated on national television for her looks is deplorable,” whined Mika Brzezinski, via Twitter. “I have experienced insults about my appearance from the president. All women have a duty to unite when these attacks happen and the WHCA owes Sarah an apology.” (This is the sort of feminist criticism a person might level if their only experience with feminism was watching an ad for Dove soap with the sound turned off.)
“Apology is owed to @PressSec and others grossly insulted by Michelle Wolf at White House Correspondents Assoc dinner which started with uplifting heartfelt speech by @margarettalev - comedian was worst since Imus insulted Clinton’s,” said the famously hilarious Andrea Mitchell.
“Being funny is one thing,” noted CNN’s Chris Cillizza, the least funny man in the world. “Bullying people because you can is another. And Wolf’s treatment of Sanders was bullying.”
No. Opposite. Sanders earned that and every joke aimed at her last night. She’s an adult with a very important job. She can handle it. To treat her with kid gloves because she’s a wife and mother would be condescending and sexist. And all the sucking up from people who could stand to gain professionally from sucking up to her is a unique brand of Washington tiresome. (Furthermore, I’m sick of having everything that matters to me as a feminist ridiculed and discounted by centrists and conservatives who nonetheless expect people like me to defend conservative women when somebody makes a benign joke at their expense, but I digress).
No, we shouldn’t “unite” around Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ imaginary hurt feelings about her goddamn eye makeup. We should be cheering Michelle Wolf, because she perfectly eclipsed the speech Trump was giving at the same time. And unlike a Sarah Huckabee Sanders-helmed press conference, Wolf’s set at the Correspondents’ Dinner contained no lies.
I suspect that much of the umbrage over Wolf’s treatment of Sanders was actually a smokescreen for issues observers had with the uncomfortable truths Wolf said to a room full of people complicit in and profiting from the current awful state of American politics. For example, Wolf noted that Brzezinski’s relationship with her co-host Joe Scarborough was “like when a #MeToo works out.” Mean, but true.
Wolf pointed out that cable news was oversaturated with Trump. Also not a lie. And that every show involves “a panel of four people who remind you why you don’t go home for Thanksgiving.” Also not a lie. (Full disclosure: I frequently appear on cable news panel shows, and do not go home for Thanksgiving. Make what you will of that.)
Wolf was right about there being no clean water in Flint, that Fox News has been a haven for sexual misconduct, that Megyn Kelly is a little embarrassing, Ivanka Trump is full of shit, that Donald Trump seems like a guy who is bad in bed. True, true, true, true, and gross but true.
Additionally, criticism of Wolf’s set makes it clear that most in the political class don’t really watch much comedy at all beyond the cold open of Saturday Night Live.
In her regular sets, Wolf tells jokes that are much meaner than the ones she told Saturday night, and it’s not as though she’s some underground comic. She’s got an HBO special. She’s on The Daily Show. She’s got a Netflix series coming out. She’s around.
An average roast contains jokes that are much crueler than anything unleashed last night, and nobody follows those up with conversation about how amazing it is that the joke’s foil didn’t get up and storm out of the room.
Nor did observers seem familiar with the content of jokes these days. Cillizza had big issues with Wolf’s “don’t knock it till you try it” bit about abortion. “Does anybody think this joke is funny?” Cillizza wrote. “Does anyone celebrate abortion—even jokingly?” (My dude, every female comic working in New York and L.A. right now has at least a tight five on abortion. Watch some comedy. Any comedy. Actually, better yet, stay the hell away from comedy.)
The pearl-clutching over Michelle Wolf’s set at the WHCD this year, once again, exposed the gap between what the political press thinks they represent to America and what they really represent to America. Wolf’s set gave voice to the anger of people from outside of the beltway—people who pay attention to politics, but who aren’t in a symbiotic relationship with Trumpian chaos. All of the things she said last night, those people outside of the ballroom knew. The people in the ballroom think they are fooling people outside, the people like Wolf. They aren’t. They know exactly how those in the ballroom fucked up, and they’re pissed off.
Michelle Wolf is the sort of acid honesty that America needs right now. And if the group that fancies itself the guardians of the republic is so weak that they can’t handle a roast from a stand-up comedian, then we’re in even more trouble than I thought.