Did Joel McHale's White House Correspondents' Dinner Speech Kill His Possible Late Night Future?
We all know that Joel McHale can hold his own when it comes to roasting people from his long-standing hosting stint on E!'s The Soup. But did that help properly prepare McHale to joke about the President of the United States and a variety of politicians at this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner? Based on the audience and Twitter's reaction to the actor, the answer to that question is: No. Or yes. Or sort of. Because, though previous hosts like Jimmy Kimmel were universally applauded for their stints at the White House Correspondents' Dinner podium, McHale invited mixed reactions from not only the room, but those watching from their sofas as well.
But, really, we should have seen that coming. Though we hoped the WHCA dinner would be hosted by a woman this year — it's been five years since Wanda Sykes killed it — as soon as McHale was named host, it was hard not to get excited to watch him bring the same brand of humor he does on The Soup every week, when he rips reality show schmucks to shreds. But, on Saturday night, he proved he treats politicians no differently. But here's the problem with that approach in this atmosphere: Biting works well when it comes to reality TV celebrities. They voluntarily go on TV and do crazy things to get attention so making fun of them is fair game and hilarious. But when it comes to politicians, that same style or humor becomes a bit too harsh to handle. Here are a few examples of McHale's more controversial ribs:
“I promise tonight will be both amusing and over quickly, just like Christie’s presidential bid. I’ve got a lot of these tonight, so buckle up Chris Christie… excuse me, extender buckle up.”
(About Chelsea Clinton's pregnancy): “It also raises the question… when the baby is born, do you give Bill Clinton a cigar?”
Ben Stein certainly wasn't the only person to have found McHale's speech "mean-spirited" after many of the actor's jokes focused on the physical appearance of celebrities and politicians. But here's the funny thing about the "mean comedy" complaints: Why would the White House Correspondents' Association ask Joel McHale to host its dinner if its members didn't already know about his brand of humor? Wouldn't they have done their homework? McHale's performance should not have surprised anyone who has heard the comedian take on Tila Tequila.
But McHale's speech might have hurt more than just crowd reaction. Before McHale's speech, when the comedian was chosen to host the White House Correspondents' Dinner, the industry whispered about the possibility of the Community star potentially taking over for Craig Ferguson as the new host of The Late Late Show. Now many people are singing a new tune:
If McHale's humor was this divisive with just a speech, imagine what kind of comments an hour-long, five-day-a-week show would get? (That said, his type of humor would be a nice change of pace on CBS, which is clearly looking for a change of pace, having hired Colbert.)
But it's difficult to get the White House Correspondents' Dinner host speech right, and it's even more difficult to be universally appreciated. Look at Stephen Colbert's hosting gig in 2006. Though audiences at home loved Colbert's bold speech that he gave as his TV-show alter ago, many people in the President Bush-camp at the event that night were disappointed, confused and even a left the room before the comedian finished. And that hardly kept him from locking in The Late Show eight years later. But was that a case of time healing all wounds? Is there too little time between McHale's speech and his possible late night bid? It's tough to say definitely that McHale was brilliant or that he bombed. But it's definitely a speech that will be talked about for a quite a while. Or at least until Chris Christie does something else stupid.