Biden returns to White House Correspondents’ Dinner — here are the pitfalls of presidential humor

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Washington DC’s annual tradition of hosting a party with celebrities, journalists and politicians returns on Saturday after taking a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the dynamics of mixing humor and politics haven’t exchange.

The 2022 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner will see entertainment stars descend on the nation’s Capitol to mingle with news personalities at the event, which will be hosted by Trevor Noah of The Daily Show. .

On Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki joked about a humorous speech President Biden plans to deliver: “And I’m going to lower expectations and say it’s not funny at all . Just kidding. You see?”

The WHCA comes as the Biden administration faces a number of challenges, including rising inflation and fears of an economic recession, a crisis on the southern border, low approval ratings and a path difficult to maintain Democratic majorities in Congress.

FILE – Trevor Noah appears at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on March 14, 2021.
(Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

Biden’s return marks the first time a sitting president will address the WHCA event after former President Donald Trump notably declined to attend. In 2019, Trump called the gala “so boring and so negative,” choosing to hold a rally instead.

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“Seeing the President of the United States return and dinner return, I think, signals more than a pause in the pandemic,” said Harold Holzer, author of The Presidents vs. The Press,” to the Associated Press. “We are safe to talk to each other again.

The return of celebrities in 2022 recalls the administration of former President Barack Obama, when George Clooney, Charlize Theron and Viola Davis attended the annual gala with politicians and journalists. Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson are expected to attend dinner on Saturday.

President Barack Obama claps late night comedian Jimmy Kimmel during the White House Correspondents' Dinner, Saturday, April 28, 2012 in Washington.
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President Barack Obama claps late night comedian Jimmy Kimmel during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Saturday, April 28, 2012 in Washington.
(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

“I think that relationship — even though it’s a one-night stand thing where witticisms are exchanged and people make fun of each other and each other — it’s a very healthy thing,” he said. Holzer.

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Mixing politics and humor has an age-old place in Washington, presidential historian and Bipartisan Policy Commission member Tevi Troy told Fox News Digital in a statement.

“Political humor has a purpose. At a minimal level it humanizes the politician, but good humor does more,” Troy said.

Former President Bill Clinton’s appearance on the Johnny Carson show after an embarrassing first speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention showed he could crack a joke and even salvage his presidential ambitions, Troy said. Carson had never had a politician as a guest, but Clinton was brought in and played the saxophone.

US President Joe Biden

US President Joe Biden
(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

When former President Ronald Reagan joked about the Soviet Union, it highlighted the superiority of the American system and the flaws of the Cold War adversary.

But the ideal presidential humor must be delicately calibrated between humor and scoring political points.

“Good political humor should be self-deprecating or mild,” Troy said.

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An example of the right balance would be Reagan’s joke about then-New York Governor Mario Cuomo, Troy said. “I have good news and bad news for Mario Cuomo. The good news is that polls show Americans prefer an Italian for president. The bad news is that it’s Lee Iacocca,” Reagan said at the dinner. 1986 WHCA.

More recently, Obama joked about Trump in 2011, a routine that was supposed to bring down Trump, who was in attendance. “Oops,” Troy commented.

“Obama’s Trump routine was too harsh. It showed great comedic timing, bad comedic judgment. Every time the president goes after someone, even a billionaire, he punches,” Troy said.

During the Trump administration, several WHCA dinner comedians were criticized for being too tough and mean. Michelle Wolf’s biting jokes drew criticism in 2018, and the following year’s event featured historian Ron Chernow.

In general, political humor on late-night television was more balanced, according to Troy. “He leans more to the left now. Carson was careful to hit both sides. We lost something when that balance went away,” added Troy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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