Michelle Wolf hunts down the white house at the Correspondents Dinner

Poking fun at politicians may be poking holes in our democracy


Nathan Stevens

While I love the White House Correspondents Dinner for its celebration of young journalists and the First Amendment, I can’t help but look forward to the yearly roast of Washington’s A-list as well. Comedy, especially political comedy, allows me to laugh about the unbelievable stories that I’ve grown accustomed to hearing.

Like most years, I hadn’t heard of the comedian scheduled to host the event — Michelle Wolf — so I spent a few minutes looking her up and discovered her HBO special from 2017, “Michelle Wolf: Nice Lady.” In it, Wolf seemed blunt, but honest; vulgar, but progressive; her sense of humor was the honest, uncensored truth. I was already in love. After taking a few minutes to recover from laughing so hard, I switched channels and started watching the Correspondents Dinner.

Maybe it was because I was already warmed up and laughing, or maybe it was because the humor was at The President’s expense, but I absolutely loved the sketch. Of course, it wasn’t perfect; some jokes fell flat or simply went over my head, but that’s to be expected.

I thought Wolf was spot on, and if you haven’t watched her sketch yet, I would highly recommend it, or just check out the best moments from the event here. From her equally harsh attacks on the press and democrats, to the shocking and blunt references to Stormy Daniels, Wolf didn’t pull any punches. So when I heard the panel on CNN criticizing her performance and calling her an utter and complete failure, I was in dismay.

I can understand that people have varying tastes in comedy. But to hear an overwhelming majority of people both there at the dinner and on the news saying Wolf’s comedy was offensive was something unexpected. Some even walked out during the dinner, finding it too uncomfortable to stay. I was only more surprised to hear why they found her performance so terrible.

“Disrespectful.” “Tasteless.” “Divisive.” “Inappropriate.” These were just some of the comments used to describe Wolf’s monologue.

I understood parts of the criticism. Wolf didn’t hold anything back, going after everyone without mercy, so everyone may not have been prepared for her intense attacks. And while she did go after Republicans more than Democrats, that should be expected under a Republican President — a President who skipped the dinner for the second year in a row.

But what I heard over and over again, especially from politicians and members of the press corps, was that her performance was out of line. I have a lot of issues with that argument.

Wolf is a comedian, and comedians by nature are not going to play nice and poke fun. It’s their job to make fun of the people in the room, both politicians and journalists alike, and that’s exactly what she did. To those appalled by her humor, I’m not sure what they were expecting, maybe friendly banter and some light hearted teasing. But that’s never been the case, and that’s not the kind of comedian Wolf is.

Some people think it’s because she’s a woman who’s making graphic and controversial jokes. Others feel her teasing of Sarah Huckabee Sanders crossed the line. That issue in particular feels a little far-fetched. The main joke people had a problem with was Sander’s comparison to Aunt Lydia from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” — a character that aids the oppressive government in their suppression of women — a reference that seemed to go over many critics’ heads.

And while both of those may have played a part, I believe the criticism that came after Wolf’s skit is directly because of our acceptance of this administration’s unacceptable behavior.

When the President calls African nations “shitholes” and allegedly pays a porn star to keep quiet about their relationship, it makes the news and people upset, but we shrug it off. Nothing changes. We’ve become desensitized to it — to the truth. So when the unfiltered truth is thrown in our faces through harsh comedy, it can feel like a lot at first. But it’s up to us to learn from our reaction and understand what we’re really upset about.

I think it can be easy to forget the true purpose of comedians and the press in this politically confusing time. At their heart, they are in direct opposition to the government and public officials. While many members of the press corps and politicians have developed close relationships working together, these relationships cannot be maintained when the government assaults the freedom of the press and blatantly attacks reporters. The same can be said for Wolf and comics in general.

Comedy, especially political comedy, will always be divisive. Wolf’s sketch was no exception. But to call a skit shameful simply because you disagreed with it isn’t just wrong, but against the spirit of the whole event.

The White House Correspondents Dinner has always been about honoring the journalistic achievements of the year and celebrating our first amendment right to produce those stories. In bringing together two often adversarial groups — the press and politicians — conflict is certain. No one should be surprised by that. But the outrage at this year’s roast is very surprising.

It’s important to keep in mind, especially for those who were genuinely offended by Wolf’s performance, that her material is based on fact. Considering the countless controversial and offensive comments coming from the White House, Wolf barely even scratched the surface of what she could have said.

So I have just one question for the people calling Wolf and her jokes a national disgrace: are we really holding a comedian to a higher standard than the President?