9 White House Correspondents’ Dinner Hosts That Really Brought The Fire
On Saturday evening, one of the more festive annual traditions for the political world in D.C. will take place. And though the event used to mark an occasion for politicians and reporters to hear speeches from White House Correspondents' Dinner hosts, the event this year will be starkly different for a number of reasons. Maybe the biggest factor is that the host will not be a comedian — and given how many memorable WHCD hosts there have been in the past, it's pretty inevitable that comparisons will be drawn.
For decades, the WHCD has been known as a signature occasion in which high-profile politicians endure roasts and jabs from well-known comedians. Presidents like George W. Bush and Barack Obama have sat through playful and occasionally not-so-playful jokes about their presidencies. Meanwhile, comedians like Stephen Colbert and Wanda Sykes have held no punches during their routines. And while it seems likely that this year's WHCD will contain far fewer jokes than it has in years past, it will be flat-out impossible for people to forget the humor-filled history of the event.
Since the WHCD host this year doesn't have a background in comedy, it's worth taking a look at some of the memorable hosts that have run the show over the years:
Stephen Colbert, 2006
Stephen Colbert's 2006 hosting job at the WHCD was described by The Washington Post in 2015 as the "most controversial Correspondents' Dinner speech ever." That's largely because Colbert performed the roughly 30-minute speech under the guise of a conservative alter-ego who "defended" George W. Bush's presidency.
“I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least,” Colbert joked, “and by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.”
Craig Ferguson, 2008
Time's Michael Scherer actually described Craig Ferguson's 2008 hosting as "toned down" compared to his usual comedy routine. However, one of his jokes in particular seems to make every "best jokes at the WHCD" roundup on the internet: At one point, Ferguson noted that the Bush administration was entering its "lame duck" period. He added, "[Cheney] is already moving out of his residence ... It takes longer than you think to pack up an entire dungeon."
Wanda Sykes, 2009
In 2009, Wanda Sykes' commentary on Republicans like John McCain, Dick Cheney, and Sarah Palin was absolutely cutting. But what she said about Rush Limbaugh had her asking the audience if it was "too much":
Rush Limbaugh, one of your big critics — boy, Rush Limbaugh said he hopes this administration fails. You know, so you're saying, I hope America fails. You're, like, I don't care about people losing their homes or jobs or our soldiers in Iraq. He just wants the country to fail. To me, that's treason. He's not saying anything different than what Osama bin Laden is saying.
Seth Meyers, 2011
Seth Meyers' Correspondents' Dinner speech was notable for one reason in particular that has not only stood the test of time, but has also become increasingly relevant in recent years: He roasted Donald Trump for the then-businessman's apparent political aspirations. Meyers said at one point, "Donald Trump has been saying he will run for president as a Republican, which is surprising since I just assumed he was running as a joke."
For obvious reasons, Meyers' 2011 roast of Trump has become utterly topical in 2019. Oh, and Trump didn't appear to be a fan of the dinner's tradition back then, either.
Jimmy Kimmel, 2012
Kimmel's 2012 WHCD speech was filled with pithy remarks directed at Chris Christie, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich — not to mention Obama, himself. At one point, Kimmel said, "Hey Mr. President, do you remember when the country rallied around you in hopes for a better tomorrow? That was hilarious."
Conan O'Brien, 2013
For Conan O'Brien's 2013 hosting role, he told New York Magazine that he wanted to emulate Seth Meyers' work two years prior. O'Brien also pointed out that he had a particularly difficult job of performing after Obama gave a speech. He said, "He’s like the coolest president we’ve had ... So when I first went up, it felt like: He’s the headliner. He’s very kindly calling me the headliner but he’s the headliner."
Though O'Brien's speech was relatively mild, as far as WHCD hosts go, he did fit in a good number of sharp jabs, saying at one point in the evening, "To any U.S. senators here tonight, if you would like to switch either your dessert or your position on gay marriage, please signal a waiter."
Cecily Strong, 2015
In 2015, Saturday Night Live performer Cecily Strong headlined the WHCD. The comedian told a number of jokes around Hillary Clinton's then-presidential campaign, as well as jokes about reproductive rights.
At one point, Strong said, “I’m excited about Hillary running, though I’m not sure she’s excited about having to run. I imagine she feels the same way Meryl Streep feels when she’s asked to audition for something.”
Hasan Minhaj, 2017
Hasan Minhaj was selected to be the 2017 host of the WHCD. At one point during the dinner, Minhaj joked, "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."
It was only after the speech that Minhaj revealed how prepared he had been to give an entirely different speech than the one he gave. Specifically, a speech for if Donald Trump actually showed up. While on Stephen Colbert's show, Minhaj said, "I was expecting [Trump] to, like, burst through the double doors like a professional wrestler ... I had a card called ‘DEFCON Orange’ in case he showed up. But I was waiting. I was sitting up there with my salmon like, 'You never know.'"
Michelle Wolf, 2018
At this point, it's hard to imagine anyone doesn't remember parts of Michelle Wolf's 2018 speech at the WHCD, where she famously roasted Sarah Sanders and the entire Trump administration.
"I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. She burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye," she said. "Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies."
Following the dinner, Wolf gave an interview with NPR and said she didn't regret any part of her performance. She explained, "I wouldn't change a single word. I'm very happy with what I said, and I'm glad I stuck to my guns."
Of course, just because there will likely be far fewer jokes at this year's dinner than previous ones, that doesn't mean you can't find some more laughs from years past.