Comedy crosses political divide at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

By Sanaa Khan, Columnist

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner took place Saturday night, an annual event when, as President Obama dubbed it, “Washington celebrates itself.”

With this being the president’s last year in office, and with the current political climate, the event’s speakers had plenty of material to work with. Over the past eight years, Obama has increasingly established himself as someone with comedic skill and timing. And his last correspondents’ dinner speech was no exception. Obama addressed, or in this case, roasted, the media, celebrities, current presidential candidates and even himself.

“Eight years ago I said it was time to change the tone of politics,” Obama said, reflecting on his time in office. “In hindsight, I really should have been more specific.” 

Humor often serves as a way to address inconsistencies, hypocrisy and particularly opposition. Hinting at recent debates such as the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland, Obama sassily remarked: “For months now congressional Republicans have been saying there are things I cannot do in my final year. Unfortunately, this dinner was not one of them.”

Of all the jokes successfully landed, most notable was Obama’s closing statement: “Obama out,” followed by a mic drop.

Obama arguably outperformed his following act: the professional comedic speaker for the night, Larry Wilmore.

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner has long been criticized for becoming more about which Hollywood guests are in attendance rather than serving its actual purpose of presenting awards and scholarships. This has led many to question the close relationship between the White House Administration and the journalists who cover them as part of the White House Correspondents’ Association.

Regardless of its criticisms, the dinner serves as an invaluable opportunity for issues to be brought up in a comedic platform. It’s an effective means for addressing topics that would likely be ignored in a more serious setting.

For example, speaking of Donald Trump, Obama noted, “There is one area where The Donald’s experience could be useful, and that is closing Guantanamo — Donald knows a thing or two about running waterfront properties into the ground.” 

Over the years, the dinner has also given the president a chance to address more sensitive issues. Whether it’s making a reference last year to claims he is secretly a Muslim or responding to the birth certificate demands a few years ago — “I happen to know that my approval ratings are still very high in the country of my birth”  — Obama has entertainingly put his critics to rest

It’s difficult to get people interested in politics, but being funny has been proven to garner that interest.

This connection was evident when Obama made an appearance on comedian Zach Galifianakis’s web series, “Between Two Ferns,” to discuss the Affordable Healthcare Act. It became the number one source of traffic to the website Healthcare.gov.

With the video having over 11 million views, traffic to the health care website increased by more than 40 percent, leading thousands more between ages of 18 to 34, including many college students, to sign up for healthcare. 

Just as we have seen Obama making appearances and giving interviews on cable news networks, we have seen him reading mean tweets or slow jamming the news on late night television. Yes, it’s been for media coverage, but it has also been for promoting matters such as passing a bill to prevent raising interest on student loans.

Comedy has long been a way for politically concerned individuals, elected officials and presidents to get their messages across and gain attention. In a time where people seem more ideologically divided than ever, laughs are something we can all share.

Sanaa is a freshman in Business.

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