When incendiary standup Michelle Wolf took the stage at last year’s White House Correspondents Dinner, she was hoping to kill. It probably didn’t occur to her that she’d end up killing the event itself.
Well, technically, that’s not accurate. Wolf wasn’t the one who killed the tradition of comedians making a roast-filled speech at the event. That would be the cowards in the White House Correspondents Association, who caved in to the blowback that followed Wolf’s performance, distancing themselves from her and ultimately installing a historian for the next WHCD, which will take place this weekend.
Now that a year has gone by, it’s worth investigating exactly what happened. Why was Wolf’s speech deemed so outrageously offensive? What was it that led conservative viewers to bombard the FCC with tattletale complaint calls? What made the people who seemingly aren’t moved by kids being kept in cages stand up and walk out of Wolf’s speech in righteous fury? Which jokes were the ones that proved too spicy for the people who guffaw whenever the president calls a woman “horseface” or tweets a video of himself body-slamming the very concept of CNN?
It’s important to note, of course, that it wasn’t just the MAGA faithful who were mad about Wolf’s speech. Legacy reporters like Andrea Mitchell and Mika Brzezinski tweeted their outrage specifically over Wolf’s jokes about White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Indeed, Wolf’s Sanders jokes ended up being a flashpoint for her performance altogether, often leading to the false claim Wolf had made fun of Sanders’ appearance. (She hadn’t.)
Let’s take a look back through 13 representative jokes from Wolf’s WHCD performance, and see how they play now with a year’s distance. Revisiting them is interesting both in how well some of them still hold up, and how they look now with a year’s worth of new information.
1.) “I’m here to make jokes. I have no agenda. I’m not trying to get anything accomplished. So everyone who’s here from Congress, you should feel right at home.”
As of this date, the Trump administration’s greatest legislative achievement has been a tax cut that mostly benefitted billionaires and corporations; one which Trump himself celebrated by telling friends at Mar-a-Lago, “You all just got a lot richer.” PolitiFact’s Truth-o-Meter rates this joke: Accurate as hell.
2.) “Thirty-two [Wolf’s age] is a weird age: 10 years too young to host this event and 20 years too old for Roy Moore.”
Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee personally endorsed Roy Moore, even after the cascade of credible pedophilia accusations against him came to light. Now, he is reportedly poised to run again in the next race. Amazing to think how people who aren’t offended by credible pedophilia accusations can be so offended by jokes!
3.) “It’s 2018 and I am a woman, so you can not shut me up… unless you have Michael Cohen wire me $130k. Michael, you can find me on Venmo under my pornstar name: Reince Priebus.”
The WHCD took place shortly before Michael Cohen’s downfall. It’s amazing how much the American public knows about Trump’s $130k payoff to Stormy Daniels at this point, and that he has still eluded any consequences for it. Again, it’s amazing that there were people offended by jokes like this one but remain not offended by the events that spurred the jokes. The cognitive dissonance it must take to be a Trump supporter who gets offended by things!
Also worth noting here, when was the last time you even thought of the name Reince Priebus? Astonishing how quickly some major one-time players in the Trump administration get consigned to the dustbin of history,
4.) “When I first saw those pussy hats I thought, “That’s supposed to be a pussy? Guess mine’s just got a lot more yarn on it… Should’ve done more research before you got me to do this.”
Here’s where it’s clear, both how some people could have been offended by seeing Wolf’s jokes in prime time, and also how Wolf herself is aware that it’s a little odd that an awesomely non-family friendly standup such as herself booked this gig in the first place. What the tag here should hint at to sensitive viewers is that Michelle Wolf had given it a lot of thought just how dirty or mean to get with these jokes, and that they could’ve been way harsher.
5.) “There’s a lot of people that want me to talk about Russia and Putin and collusion, but I’m not going to do that because there’s also a lot of liberal media here and I’ve never really wanted to know what any of you look like when you orgasm.”
Simply a great joke, even (or especially!) post-Mueller report, and it comes at the expense of the same mainstream media that the right absolutely despises. Michelle Wolf was trying to bring us all together!
6.) “It is kind of crazy that the Trump campaign was in contact with Russia when the Hillary campaign wasn’t even in contact with Michigan. It’s a direct flight; it’s so close.”
Again, great joke (depending on how hotly one’s emotions run on the topic of Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy) and another effort at making appeals beyond any perceived liberal bubble.
7.) “Mr. President, I don’t think you’re very rich. I think you might be rich in Idaho but in New York you’re doing fine. Trump is the only person that still watches Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and thinks, ‘Me!’ Trump is so broke he had to borrow money from the Russians and now he’s compromised and susceptible to blackmail and possibly responsible for the collapse of the Republic.”
This joke comes from an entire run centered around Trump’s (exaggeratedly low) finances, the unspoken subtext being that nobody knows just how much money Trump does have or where it comes from because he absolutely refuses to disclose his taxes, despite several in his circle being convicted of financial crimes. Here we are, a year later, and Trump still inexplicably incurs zero pressure from any prominent Republican politicians to reveal his taxes. The age we live in is ridiculous, and you have to laugh to get through it, but sometimes it’s so hard. Wolf does a great job here and elsewhere expressing that exasperation with “jokes” that are really just sad laments.
8.) “Mike Pence is very anti-choice. He thinks abortion is murder, which, first of all, don’t knock it till you try it. And when you do try it, really knock it. You know, you’ve got to get that baby out of there. And yeah, sure, you can groan all you want. I know a lot of you are very anti-abortion, you know, unless it’s the one you got from your secret mistress. It’s fun how values can waver, but good for you.”
This is the joke that likely triggered a bunch of those FCC calls. Whether you’re anti-choice or otherwise, abortion is an extremely sensitive subject. Considering her audience, Wolf is playing with fire here.
9.) “I did have a lot of jokes about Cabinet members, but I had to scrap all of those because everyone has been fired. You guys are going through Cabinet members quicker than Starbucks throws out black people.”
10.) “Democrats are harder to make fun of because you guys don’t do anything. People think you might flip the House and Senate this November, but you guys always find a way to mess it up. You’re somehow going to lose by 12 points to a guy named Jeff Pedophile Nazi Doctor. Oh, he’s a doctor?”
Well, the Dems did manage to beat Jeff Pedophile Nazi Doctor and flip the House, but so far they have not figured out how to fight back against Team Trump just flat-out refusing their subpoena power. Point: Wolf!
11.) “We are graced with Sarah’s presence tonight. I have to say I’m a little star-struck. I love you as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale. Mike Pence, if you haven’t seen it, you would love it. Every time Sarah steps up to the podium I get excited, because I’m not really sure what we’re going to get—you know, a press briefing, a bunch of lies, or divided into softball teams. “It’s shirts and skins, and this time don’t be such a little bitch, Jim Acosta!” I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. She burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies. And I’m never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders, you know? Is it Sarah Sanders, is it Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is it Cousin Huckabee, is it Auntie Huckabee Sanders? Like, what’s Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh, I know. Aunt Coulter.”
Looking back at Wolf’s Sanders material, it’s mainly notable for its volume. Wolf joked briefly about Kellyanne Conway and Ivanka Trump and then went so hard against Sarah Sanders. Of that trio, however, Sanders is in the most public-facing position–or at least she was, until she stopped holding press briefings–and she used her appearances to spread lies and propaganda while belittling reporters. Post-Mueller report, after the public now knows that when pressed under penalty of law to defend one of her many, many lies, Sanders could not do so, it’s infuriating how mad so many people got at Wolf for calling her a liar to her face.
12.) “What would I do without Megyn Kelly? Probably be more proud of women.”
Of course, Wolf got to find out along with the rest of us what a world without Megyn Kelly would be like, when she got fired for defending blackface. Unfortunately, the situation proved to be lucrative for her.
13.) “Like an immigrant who was brought here by his parents and didn’t do anything wrong, I’ve got to get the fuck out of here. Good night.”
Wolf closed her set on a note that was funny, poignant, and even a bit prescient in that Trump ended up making the midterm election entirely about immigration, and Republicans were soundly trounced. (At least in the House.)
So there you have it. Michelle Wolf’s White House Correspondents Dinner speech had a couple of racy jokes and a lot of accurate observations about the objectively batshit era we’re currently living through. Taken without the accompanying outrage, it’s hard to see why so many got so heated about these jokes, other than that other people told them they should.
A year later, Donald Trump still refuses to attend even the defanged version of the WHCD. Here is what Michelle Wolf said when asked to comment on that outcome:
“He’s probably just really busy. You know, he’s got to golf. And honestly I don’t know if anyone really wants to watch him eat, so I think it’s for the best.”