This year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner didn’t go exactly as planned—or maybe it did.
The show featured a relatively unknown comedian, who just happened to grow up in central Pennsylvania.
Apparently the Correspondents Association, hosts of the dinner, hadn’t vetted their entertainer very well.
What they got, when Michelle Wolf finally took the stage, was a barrage of foul-mouthed one-liners, including vulgar references to female anatomy and a line about abortion that outraged pro-lifers and made pro-choices cringe.
Her routine was so raunchy that C-SPAN radio reportedly cut away fearing FCC guidelines on indecency might have been crossed.
The biggest problem, as for any comic, was that she wasn’t funny.
Not recognizing that she’s was bombing, Ms. Wolf ramped it up and got mean.
She called members of the Trump Administration liars, something that’s not generally likely to make folks laugh. Then she decided it was time to go after the personal appearance of Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Even in the too often vile culture of Washington, D.C., going after the way a woman looks is way out of bounds.
The audience reaction told the story. The body language of folks at the head table and in the audience spoke volumes. To say that they looked uncomfortable is a dramatic understatement. People seated at the head table looked like they wished they could crawl out of sight as fast as possible. Some notable Washingtonians walked out.
In the aftermath came shock and outrage. Journalists from Andrea Mitchell to Mika Brzezinski criticized Wolf for going after Sarah Sanders. A former president of the Correspondents Association called it, “…disgusting, despicable…” and suggested that an apology was in order. The Left was united with the Right in their condemnation, at least initially.
Slowly the farther left elements began not come to Wolf’s defense. They parsed some of her words and overlooked others to suggest that it really wasn’t all that bad but just good “clean” fun.
The left then hit their default button, declaring that it was all Donald Trump’s fault.
Tina Fey, another woman from the commonwealth, defended Wolf, saying that her brand of humor was in keeping with “the culture we’ve built now…” She right and that’s the biggest condemnation of all.
Roasts are tricky things. They generally work best when the roasters and the roasted actually know each other. Then the humor, even when sharp, is taken for what it is. Those old enough to remember the old Dean Martin roasts know what that looks like.
If the White House Correspondents Association wants a more modern example of how things can work, they should head north for the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents “Gridiron Dinner.” Sure, they go over the line from time to time, but it’s generally enjoyed by all, it’s rarely, if ever, been mean and both sides take their share of pot shots.
For her part, Michelle Wolf told NPR that she wouldn’t change a single word. That’s says a lot.
Wolf will now cash in on her new-found “fame.” She’s a no-name no longer. She did what she wanted to do for herself.
That means she’ll get television appearances, maybe a show of her own, book opportunities and wads of cash to go with it all. That’s what she was aiming for.
In our modern media age, “edgy” sells. It attracts attention and ratings. The more outlandish the performance, the more likely you are to get noticed and sell your stuff.
Edgy sells. Edgier gets even more. Even over the edge, as with Michelle Wolf, gets short term gains.
The sad part is that it corrodes our culture, devalues our communities and disrupts real conversations that could lead us all to a higher and better place.