As I predicted back in February when the White House Correspondents’ Association announced that Conan O’Brien would be returning to host their annual dinner, O’Brien’s routine on Saturday was a fairly tame one that took harder aim at the media than at anyone in power. But in between his bit:
and President Barack Obama’s routine:
there were some decent gags. Here are ten of our favorites:
1. On President Obama’s college drug use: President Obama got in a double jab at the changing media landscape and himself when he mused that “I remember when BuzzFeed was just something I did in college around 2AM.” We’re a long way from President Clinton’s frantic parsing about not having inhaled—but it would be nice if President Obama’s willingness to joke about his youthful drug use was paired with a commitment to rationalize our drug laws.
2. On CNN: CNN’s offered up some serious softballs this week, and both President Obama and O’Brien teed up on them. “I admire their commitment to cover all sides of a story, just in case one of them happens to be accurate,” Obama said of the network. And O’Brien, who noted that he’s from Boston towards the end of his speech, recalled watching MSNBC and seeing “Chuck Todd stopped a pundit from speculating on unverified information. There’s no joke here. I’m just letting CNN know you can do that.”
3. Steven Spielberg’s Obama: It helps to pull this kind of spoof off when you can call in almost anyone you want from Hollywood to work with you, but the joke was still executed strongly. “Who is Obama? I mean, we never got his transcripts nd they say he’s kind of aloof,” Spielberg joked for the video. Obama played Daniel Day Lewis playing him, explaining “The cosmetics are challenging. You wouldn’t believe how long it took to put these ears on.” And maybe best of all was an appearance by Tracy Morgan that provided the best joke about the Vice President of the evening, and the best reference-to-30 Rock joke, when Morgan credited Day-Lewis with his success when Morgan said “Without him I never could have played Joe Biden. Literally.” We’re still waiting for Tracy Jordan’s Jefferson, though.
4. On Wayne LaPierre: I thought this was one of O’Brien’s strongest jokes, particularly for the way it riffed on conservative fantasies of gun use. “Everything you ate tonight was personally shot by Wayne LaPierre,” he told the crowd. “Don’t worry, it was during a home invasion, though. The fish came in through the window. That wasn’t peppercorn. That was buckshot.”
5. Conservative anxieties about hip-hop: Walking in to “All I Do Is Win,” President Obama joked “Rush Limbaugh warned you about this. Second term, baby. We’re changing things around here a little bit.” And later, talking about Jay-Z and Beyonce’s trip to Cuba and rumors that the Obama administration facilitated it in some way, he mock-complained: “I’ve got 99 problems, and now Jay-Z’s one. That’s another rap reference, Bill.” It’s remarkable that conservatives remain anxious about a forty-year-old musical genre, a fear that’s actually more remarkable now than the fact that the President of the United States—or a wannabe rising star like Marco Rubio—has Jay-Z on rotation.
6. On Sheldon Adelson and independent expenditures: In another twofer, Obama got at both the futility of independent expenditures in the 2012 election—and at his wife’s skepticism of life in the White House. “You could buy an island and calling it Nobama for that kind of money,” he said. “Sheldon would have been better off offering me $100 million to drop out of the race. I probably wouldn’t have taken it. But I would have thought about it. Michelle would have taken it. You think I’m joking.” Of course he’s not, though. And who can blame her?
7. On Bob Woodward: This was extreme inside baseball even for a dinner that’s the very definition of Washington insiderism. But it was still funny to hear O’Brien crack on Bob Woodward, who threw a temper tantrum earlier this year in claiming that the Obama administration threatened him, when really his correspondent was offering him some gently-worded advice. “Earlier, a waiter asked Woodward if he wanted regular or decaf and he said ‘Stop threatening me!'” O’Brien joked. I wouldn’t be shocked if some version of this hasn’t played out in a Georgetown restaurant for real.
8. On Kamala Harris: While President Obama spent a lot of his routine playing with paranoid assumptions about him, one area where he actually made an error that he needed to acknowledge was in his compliments of California Attorney General Kamala Harris based on her looks. Obama tried to make light of it, saying “As you might imagine, I got trouble when I got back home. Who knew Eric Holder was so sensitive?” But O’Brien did him one better in showing how ridiculous Obama’s remarks would be if they were applied to man, sighing over “That stone fox, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. I like the cut of his jib.”
9. Skeet shooting: President Obama’s team has an eye for things that will go viral, and they must have had a lot of fun compiling this image of their boss shooting skeet from on top of the GoDaddy racecar, accompanied by an eagle and backgrounded by a rainbow.
10. On Taylor Swift: Sure, it’s cheap at this point. But Obama was right about the politics of the sequester, at least, when he said “Republicans fell in love with this thing and now they can’t stop talking about how much they hate it. It’s like we’re trapped in a Taylor Swift album.” Now we wonder if Swift, who seems rather thin-skinned about criticism, will complain that there’s a special place in hell for Presidents who don’t help pop stars.