November 16, 2018

Event Coverage Highlight

The First Woman on Late Night TV Celebrates the First Amendment

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images, courtesy of TBS

By Brian Byrd

The White House Correspondents Dinner, now 103 years old, is long considered to be a high point of Washington’s spring gala season. For more than 100 years, this has been the ultimate insider’s event, where an invitation is the equivalent of securing Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. But there is a new kid in town, one who while extolling the virtues of journalism, was not shy in taking the media to task. And that new kid is Samantha Bee and her Not the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Ms. Bee, a former “correspondent” for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, now has her own weekly TV show, Full Frontal. Like the Daily Show, Full Frontal delivers insightful and biting commentary on current events, often highlighting the hypocrisy of politicians, public figures and the media. It is the perfect blend of insight, honesty and ironic humor, publically voicing what many of us say in private.

Held at the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) Constitution Hall, roughly two miles from the location of the actual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, nearly 2,600 people attended the “alternative” dinner, making it one of “Washington’s hottest tickets.”

The audience was an interesting mix of fans, journalists and celebrities; of Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials, all of whom generated a high level of energy throughout the venue. Just as in her TV show, videotaped segments featuring Allison Janney (reprising her role from TV’s The West Wing), Steve Buscemi, Norman Lear, Patton Oswalt, Kumail Nanjiani, Carl Reiner, and Billy Eichner. There were also fake “excerpts” from previous White House Correspondents Dinner roasts, all featuring Samantha Bee dressed in clothing reflective of the decades. During the short breaks between filming segments, large monitors displayed “Great Moments for the Press and the Presidency.” My favorite described the time FDR admonished a reporter by giving him a dunce hat and instructing him to stand in the corner. Borrowing from The Man in the High Castle, there was a segment in which Ms. Bee receives an illegal video that shows an alternative reality after Hillary Clinton wins the election. It was both provocative and poignant.

One special guest, whose identity was kept secret until he walked out on stage, was Will Ferrell, reviving his George W. Bush impersonation. “How do you like me now?” he began, after extinguishing a cigarette. “History’s proven to be kinder to me than many of you thought … I was considered the worst president of all time. That has changed. And it only took 100 days.”

The after party at the W Hotel rooftop space, was another mixture of fans, celebrities and journalists. There were three specialty drinks on hand: The Bad Hombre, The Nasty Woman, and the Orange Russian. By my count, the first one was most popular. Arguably, the highlight was a concert by Elvis Costello and the Imposters.

All in all, this was a celebration of good journalism and free speech, which raised more than $200,000 for the Committee to Protect Journalists. But, by boiling down complicated issues into digestible and entertaining segments, it also served as a cautionary intervention. “Your job has never been harder,” said Bee in her opening monologue. “POTUS has convinced 88 percent of his fans that you are the enemy of the people.”