When former Daily Show correspondent Michelle Wolf took the stage at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday, the first thing she said was, “Here we are the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Like a porn star says when she’s about to have sex with a Trump, ‘Let’s get this over with.’ Yep, kiddos, this is who you’re getting tonight.”
When a speech starts out like that, it’s pretty easy to believe that it’s going to be controversial.
As The New York Times noted, Wolf’s roast-style speech probably wouldn’t have been given a second look if it were given at a comedy club. Of course, it wasn’t given at a comedy club. It was given at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and compared to the speeches typically given at this dinner, it was a bit racy.
One of the first jokes she made was, “After Trump got elected, women started knitting those pussy hats. When I first saw them I was like, ‘That’s a pussy?’ I guess mine just has a lot more yarn on it.” In another joke, Wolf said, “Trump is so broke Southwest used him as one of their engines. I know, it’s so soon. It’s so soon for that joke.”
Wolf has been most heavily criticized for the jokes she made about women in particular. At one point, she said, “We should definitely talk about the women in the Trump administration.” She then proceeded to name various women in the administration and individually roast them.
“If a tree falls in the woods, how do we get Kellyanne [Conway] under that tree?” Wolf asked. “I’m not suggesting she gets hurt. Just stuck. Stuck under a tree.”
Wolf also mentioned Sarah Huckabee Sanders, comparing her to Aunt Lydia from Handmaid’s Tale and following that with, “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. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”
Although Republicans weren’t the butt of all of Wolf’s jokes (at one point she said, “It is kind of crazy that the Trump campaign was in contact with Russia when the Hillary campaign wasn’t even in contact with Michigan”), the insults definitely tended to fall along partisan lines.
Supporters of Wolf say it’s not fair to criticize a comedian for her jokes when our own president has made arguably more offensive comments. The Atlantic reminded readers of Trump’s comments about then-rival Carly Fiorina during his presidential campaign. At that time, he said, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?! I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?” Trump also retweeted a photograph that made fun of Heidi Cruz, Ted Cruz’s wife, appearance.
As Paul R., a New York Times reader, posted on the New York Times Facebook page, “Ms. Wolf is a comedian whose act bombed. She gave a performance that many viewed as tasteless and insulting. But at the end of the day, she is just a comedian, with no power to change anything or impact anyone’s life. Our president, on the other hand, also gives performances (like Saturday night’s as well) that many view as tasteless and insulting. But he is the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES with great power to impact peoples’ lives. It would be nice if an equal amount of outrage that has been directed towards Ms. Wolf would be directed towards the president.”
Other supporters of Wolf point out the whole point of the Correspondents’ Dinner: to celebrate the First Amendment. As reader Jacqueline Hicks Grazette said in a letter to the New York Times, “Michelle Wolf’s comments did what the fictional Mr. Dooley famously urged the press to do, ‘afflict the comfortable.’ Ms. Wolf did that well, evidenced by the stony silence from many of the dinner’s participants. Watching journalists and politicians squirm in their fine tuxes and gowns as their deeds are called out is the perfect visualization of Mr. Dooley’s quote.”
Y. I really hope the @whca doesn’t stop having comics at the dinner to serve as roast master. It’s one of the few occasions the most powerful people in the world (including the President) are held accountable via comedy. It’s an important tradition. It’s an important message.
— Kathy Griffin (@kathygriffin) April 30, 2018
Still others note the sexism in the public’s harsh criticism of Michelle Wolf. The New York Times reader Mick said, “Jokes that would seem average at any other correspondence dinner come off as especially threatening when said by a woman – especially to other women. Nobody balked when Seth Meyers made fun of Trump’s appearance. Why is this any different?”
However, critics of Wolf claim it’s hypocritical to condemn Trump’s crude remarks and then praise Wolf for similar remarks. James Adler said in a letter to the New York Times, “Defenders of Ms. Wolf ask why journalists don’t criticize Mr. Trump’s coarseness. But they constantly and rightly do. The journalists aren’t hypocritical for criticizing Ms. Wolf’s speech but instead would be hypocritical for failing to when at the same time they criticize Mr. Trump.”
As always, Trump was quick to offer his opinion on the situation. He didn’t attend the dinner, but he tweeted, “Everyone is talking about the fact that the White House Correspondents Dinner was a very big, boring bust…the so-called comedian really ‘bombed.’”
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is DEAD as we know it. This was a total disaster and an embarrassment to our great Country and all that it stands for. FAKE NEWS is alive and well and beautifully represented on Saturday night!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 30, 2018
On Sunday night, the White House Correspondents’ Association president Maargaret Talev released a statement that read, “Last night’s program was meant to offer a unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press while honoring civility, great reporting and scholarship winners, not to divide people. Unfortunately the entertainer’s monologue was not in the spirit of that mission.”
Whether or not you’re a fan of Wolf’s speech, her Netflix original series “The Break” is coming out soon, so you’ll have a chance to see a lot more of her.