The White House Correspondents Association throws an enormous annual dinner that's a pillar of the Washington, D.C. power-elite scene. The correspondents hire a comedian and the president comes to be mocked a little...or a lot. Reporters still adore Stephen Colbert for ripping into George W. Bush in 2006, still using his fake conservative idiot alter ego.
So this year, the dinner hosts picked Colbert's Comedy Central replacement, Larry Wilmore. He was seriously unfunny, and he knew it. "From a pure comedic point of view, I know that I lost the room early," he admitted to The Washington Post. But the media coverage made it clear that Wilmore suffered badly in comparison -- not to Colbert, but to his opening act, comedian-in-chief Barack Obama.
For starters, look at who was awarded the comedy sound bites in the media. On the morning, evening and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS and NBC, we counted 35 Obama jokes replayed. Wilmore had two sound bites, and one of them wasn't a joke -- it was Wilmore gushing to Obama: "When I was a kid, I lived in a country where people couldn't accept a black quarterback. ... And now, to live in your time, Mr. President, when a black man can lead the entire free world."
ABC cut this Wilmore soundbite off so they could show the president's triumphant "Obama out" microphone drop.
Obama is not a lame duck to these people; he is still described as if he were a beautiful swan. On "Good Morning America," ABC's Nick Watt declared, "President Obama's correspondents' dinner finale, and Hollywood was here to witness history." Even Watt's jokes are "historic." Watt turned to attendee Bill Nye and suggested, "Funniest president of all time?" Nye replied: "My understanding was Abraham Lincoln was pretty funny, but I never saw him perform." Watt concluded: "One thing is for certain. The comedy world is happy that Barack Obama is gone. As a standup comic, he is a hard act to follow."
This hard-act-to-follow sentiment was in heavy rotation on TV "news." When Wilmore was mentioned, it was only to note he'd been crushed. On "Today," NBC business correspondent Olivia Sterns said: "It was phenomenal. I thought he was a lot funnier than Larry Wilmore." Then, "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd uncorked the pity: "And as usual, the poor comedian gets to come on after the president." Poor Larry Wilmore.
Poor Larry was asked by The Washington Post, "Who was better, you or Obama?" He confessed: "Oh that's easy -- Obama. He killed in the room, and he killed outside of the room. His humor was on point. His slides were funny. He was great."
After nine incredibly lame jokes referring to Sen. Ted Cruz as the Zodiac Killer --the infamous serial killer whose murder spree happened before Cruz was even born -- Wilmore concluded his oration with the salute: "Yo, Barry. You did it, my (N-word)."
For his part, Colbert tried to help Wilmore out by saying he bombed because "People in Washington aren't used to seeing two black men speaking at the same event." But the truth is, Colbert became a hero for trashing Bush. This is the same reason the media adored candidate Obama, whose Bush-bashing orations were celebrated as "less a speech than a symphony." You'll never become a hero for trashing Obama.
The only part of Wilmore's routine the media liked was the Obama gush at the end. ABC's Watt honored it as a "serious note on an historic presidency." To Obama critics, it might recall a 30-year-old George Will metaphor. Wilmore's gush was the "tinny arf" of a lapdog.