The headliners at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner tend to vary pretty widely in the level of vitriol they bring to the stage; some years, you get Stephen Colbert setting the fucking stage on fire, and others you have to settle for Jay Leno, trotting out his most weathered of monologue jokes. That dipping energy hasn’t been helped for the last two years by Donald Trump’s decision to resolutely refuse to participate, opting instead to go somewhere else and hear people say nice things about him, instead. (Which, honestly, we kind of get, given how hostile everyone involved would almost certainly be towards him, but it definitely robs the event of some of its most intoxicating tensions.) In this case, though, Trump missed a particularly, wonderfully nasty performance, courtesy of a blistering, dare-ya-to-boo set by Daily Show correspondent and stand-up Michelle Wolf.
After sitting through a bunch of earnest journalism awards, the comedy stylings of can’t-be-a-has-been-too-soon Paul Ryan, and the whisper-soft punches of the inexplicably Colbert-produced Our Cartoon President, Wolf probably could have said anything and still felt electric and alive. But, like the best WHCD performers, she seemed to get a charge out of the awkwardness of the event, lobbing early shots at the vice president (“Mike Pence is what happens when Anderson Cooper isn’t gay”) and the Democrats’ inability to beat GOP candidates with names like “Jeffpedophilenazidoctor.”
She seemed to really come alive, though, when it came time to turn to the subject of the White House’s personal representative in the room, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Wolf refused to pull punches just because her target was scowling from a few feet away; after a few low hits at Sanders’ appearance—“I love you as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale!”—she went straight for the jugular, joking that Sanders makes her signature makeup by burning the facts and collecting the ash. “Maybe she’s born with it,” she chipperly joked. “Maybe it’s lies!” Sanders, for the record, didn’t seem to especially enjoy this line of joking (and neither did the ever-tepid Washington crowd; Wolf’s description of the press secretary as an “Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women” pulled the only real boos of the night).
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As is traditional, Wolf also took the opportunity to hold the press’ feet to the fire, too, joking at one point, “Fox News is here. Ladies, you know what that means: Cover your drinks,” and viciously describing Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski’s romantic relationship as being like “when a #MeToo works out.” She more-or-less dropped the jokes for her most cutting indictment, though, noting that, for all the press’ public hatred of Trump, just about everyone in the room with her had profited mightily from their coverage of his presidency and the attendant, chaotic spectacle he brings. Having dropped that particular little nod toward the media’s complicity in Trump’s rise, she made a swift exit, pausing only to drop a quick “Flint still doesn’t have clean water!” on her way out.
In fact, Wolf didn’t even stop to promote her new Netflix show The Break, presumably because it would have seemed gauche; luckily, we’re under no such compunctions, so here’s the new trailer for, just released today, in case the Dinner set hadn’t already sold people on her enough.