I admit it: I had never heard of Michelle Wolf before her prickly performance at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
Of course, I had never heard of Hasan Minhaj either, before he did the dinner last year. Both comedians were more caustic than funny and, for that, I blame Donald J. Trump. I blame Trump for just about everything.
When “Daily Show” correspondent Minhaj took on the WHCA chores last year, he wasn’t kidding when he started by saying, “I would say it is an honor to be here, but that would be alternative fact. It is not. Uh, no one wanted to do this. So, of course, it lands in the hands of an immigrant.”
No established comic wants to step into the middle of the uncivil war between Trump and the press corps, because there is no way to be funny, no way to win. Trump is such a humorless parody of himself that he makes it impossible to make fun of him without it coming off as mean-spirited. The reason every president before Trump, except maybe Nixon, could be roasted and could give back as good as they got is that they had a sense of humor and the ribbing was good-natured, if barbed. But people hate Trump, so all satire comes off as hateful.
Trump was not man enough to attend the Washington, D.C., dinner last week. Instead he was in Washington, Michigan, at one of his Neverending Ain’t I Great Campaign Rallies. So Michelle Wolf, another “Daily Show” veteran, strode into the empty lion’s den and proceeded to beard the comb-over lion.
Noting that Trump has been called “a racist, a misogynist or xenophobic or unstable or incompetent or impotent” and doesn’t care, Wolf said she figured she could “really get him” by questioning whether he was really rich, which is the only qualification Trump supposedly has for being president.
“Like, I think you might be rich in Idaho, but in New York, you’re doing fine,” Wolf said. “Trump is the only person that still watches ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ and thinks, ‘Me.’”
But what a lot of the finger-pointing and back-lashing about Wolf’s routine fails to acknowledge is that she was a non-partisan, equal-opportunity insulter.
On Congress: “I’m here to make jokes. I have no agenda. I’m not trying to get anything accomplished. So everyone that’s here from Congress, you should feel right at home.”
On Hillary Clinton: “It is kind of crazy that the Trump campaign was in contact with Russia when the Hillary campaign wasn’t even in contact with Michigan.”
On Democrats: “People think you might flip the House and Senate this November, but you guys always find a way to mess it up. You’re somehow going to lose by 12 points to a guy named Jeff Pedophile Nazi Doctor.”
On Megyn Kelly: “She’s so white, cold and expensive, she might as well be the Winter Olympics.”
But the ire of the thin-skinned was mostly raised by Wolf’s zingers aimed at Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, sitting uncomfortably close on the dais. First she compared Sanders to Aunt Lydia, the enforcer in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Margaret Atwood’s tale of a cruel patriarchal theocracy. Then she had the audacity to make a joke about Sanders’ kohl-eyed appearance.
“Like, she burns facts, and then she uses the ash to create a perfect smoky eye,” quipped Wolf in a mock Maybelline moment. “Like, maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s lies.”
Several commentators, including broadcasters Andrea Mitchell and Mika Brzezinski, suggested that someone owed Sanders an apology. Seriously? Look (as Sanders begins every response), Sarah Huckabee Sanders has chosen to be the mouthpieces for the King of All Sexist Pigs. She deserves no apology.
Wolf’s most biting barb of the night, too true and not too funny, was aimed at the White House press corps itself.
“You guys are obsessed with Trump,” Wolf charged. “Did you used to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn’t sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric, but he has helped you. He’s helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off of him.”
Yes, Trump is a monster the media created and now he’s beyond its control. I bet no one you’ve ever heard of dares to take on the 2019 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, if Trump hasn’t evicted the press by then.
Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.