As a game of sorts on the red carpet for Samantha Bee’s Not The White House Correspondents’ Dinner, I decided to pose a question to some of the attendees: What are their accomplishments, great or otherwise, in Trump’s first 100 days? Robin Thede, formerly of The Nightly Show, had a professional triumph to tout, noting that she got a late-night show on BET. “I would say I’ve done more than the president in the first 100 days. Hands down,” she said. Ana Gasteyer explained how she’s become more politically active. She and her “SNL girlfriends,” as she called them, took to tagging each other to donate to different causes. John Early turned to his bowels. “Really just kind of understanding the nuances of my anxiety-based IBS,” he answered. “And how it’s fluctuating with this administration and their choices.” He promised he was feeling good that afternoon for Bee’s big event, which was hosted at the stately Daughters Of The American Revolution Constitution Hall on a sweltering Saturday.
The experience of attending Not The White House Correspondents’ Dinner only highlighted its contradictions. The title itself posed it as an alternative to the actual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, but it was certainly not that. Bee and others were supportive of WHCD host Hasan Minhaj, and given that the TBS program taped at 3 p.m., on-air personalities like Van Jones could hop from one shindig to the next. (Matthew Modine, of all people, apparently did the same.) In a pre-taped segment for the broadcast, Jake Tapper even joked that the guests weren’t served a real meal. Indeed, the breadsticks and hors d’oeuvres looked tasty, but not exactly filling. And as for the content of the special, it was assumed, once again based on the antagonistic name, that Bee would be issuing a hearty “fuck you” to the president. But when I asked Bee if she was disappointed that Trump was skipping the festivities she couldn’t be bothered. “I do not care what he does on any level,” she said. “I do from a global perspective but in a personal way he can just go have a ball at his rally.”
This isn’t to say there weren’t some good jabs thrown in his direction—especially thanks to Will Ferrell’s Bush impression—but the media itself was the main subject and the tone was largely congratulatory. Bee even called it a “super-sized show on a theme.” (Our Laura M. Browning, in her review of the final product, felt like Bee was watered down.) T-shirts reading “Free Press” abounded. During the short breaks between filming segments, the monitors displayed “Great Moments For The Press And The Presidency,” most of which involved the latter party taking advantage of the former, like the time FDR made a reporter wear a dunce cap. Bee and her team praised hardworking reporters, while also crucifying Jeff Zucker and Fox News. Full Frontal correspondent Ashley Nicole Black told me later that night: “I think one of the most emotional things for me today was watching the audience cheer for those journalists. They work so hard. We rely on their work so much. I hope that they felt the love in the room.” Black herself certainly should have felt it. A cry of “We love you Ashley” echoed from the stands during the taping.
In recent years, the WHCD—affectionately or gratingly called “nerd prom”—has been dinged for being a circle jerk between the elite of D.C. and the elite of Hollywood. The tone was bound to change this year—and, according to The New York Times, it did—but it seemed Bee swooped in to claim the title of hot ticket for (relatively) famous people. (Okay so the star-power was arguably not as big.) The Not The White House Correspondents’ Dinner festivities were, yes, aimed at celebrating and raising money for journalists, but, aside from the proximity to the White House, it could have been held in New York and the vibe would have been likely the same. Sure, in that case the after-party may not have been held at the W Hotel with a perfect view of the Washington Monument, but it’s likely you could have seen Jessica Williams and Padma Lakshmi wandering around. Elvis Costello probably would have still played multiple sets. After first hitting the stage around 9 p.m., Costello returned at approximately 11:30 a.m. declaring, “Is it too late to announce my candidacy?” Certainly, the Drunk Dial Your Legislator phone booth station would have been a nice touch no matter where it was located. (I, regrettably, did not partake.)