After the last two weeks, is it time for a laugh?
April 26th, 2013
02:59 PM ET
1 year ago

After the last two weeks, is it time for a laugh?

(CNN) - President Barack Obama has had to give some tough speeches in the past couple of weeks. From consoling Boston and West, Texas to scolding Congress for failing to pass gun control legislation, the president's messages have been heavy.

As he gears up to speak at the White House Correspondents' Dinner–a typically light-hearted Beltway event that brings Hollywood to Washington–will the president deliver the traditional comedic routine? Or will he play it straight, as presidents have done in the past during times of tragedy.

Since the 1980s, comedic performers in addition to the president have consistently performed at the dinner, held each year to raise scholarship money for journalism students. Talk show host Conan O'Brien will headline this year's event for the second time. He first performed in 1995 during President Bill Clinton's first term.

Saturday's event marks Obama's fifth dinner. Wanda Sykes, Jay Leno, Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel spoke at the previous events.

The president has received high praise in the past for his delivery the one-liners typically given at such events. Last year he made light of the Secret Service scandal in Colombia, the lavish spending at a government conference and real-estate titan and reality star Donald Trump.

But with the last two weeks marked by the terror attack in Boston, the plant explosion in Texas, an earthquake in China, a devastating building collapse in Bangladesh, and an ongoing investigation over who mailed a ricin letter to the president, the normally-festive dinner this weekend comes amid bleak headlines.

Presidents in the past have taken different tones during such dour periods. In 2003, President George W. Bush delivered a solemn address, paying tribute to two journalists who were killed in Iraq: Michael Kelly and David Bloom.

A year later, Bush gave a few zingers but mostly kept things low key. Five of the eight minutes he spoke were devoted to a serious message about the service of Americans - in the news media and the military - in what the president called "a period of testing and sacrifice."

Democrats had charged Bush "crossed the line" a month prior when he gave a stand-up performance at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents' dinner, including a comedic slide show about his search for WMDs.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton gave a mostly-serious speech, as the dinner came 10 days after the Oklahoma City Bombing, which left 168 dead–including 19 children under the age of six–and injured more than 600 others.

"You know, I practiced for this night. I had all this humor and everything but...the book of Proverbs says 'A happy heart doeth good medicine, and a broken spirit dries the bones.' And I believe that. But I think you will all understand that–and I hope my wonderful comedy writers will understand–if I take a few minutes tonight not to be too funny."

He went on to acknowledge the recovery efforts still underway at the time and expressed appreciation to the press for their coverage of the disaster.

"I think you have made an extraordinary effort to capture both the horror and the humanity in the situation," he said, urging the media to return to Oklahoma and share the stories of those overcoming the tragedy.

Regardless of Obama's approach this year, it's likely he'll be criticized for not being funny, being funny to begin with or not being funny enough.

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. California

    I laugh at democrats all the time.

    April 26, 2013 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  2. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House

    Haters are going to hate regardless. The President's past routines have been hilarious. And even the light of the recent tragedies, humor is good for the soul. However, nothing is funnier than the news that John Boehner's daughter is getting married to a pot smoking, dreadlock rasta. I would love to be at their house for Thanksgiving dinner.

    April 26, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  3. PJ

    I will always remember GWB looking for WMDs during one of his Correspondent's Dinner speeches. It was
    tasteless, and still they laughed.
    Not laughing now, I hope.
    Anyway, whatever President Obama says or does, it is true–some will criticize him. They know nothing else.
    But he will be outstanding anyway.

    BTW, Sanford has nothing to worry about now. I heard the lovely Rand Paul endorsed him.

    April 26, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  4. Boo

    Sure..conservatives are funny....stupid...but funny.

    April 26, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  5. lottie

    the last line of article sums it up . somebody will find fault. Have a good time Mr. President. Going from one tragedy to another can not be fun. That's your job and you have done it well . But our congress will find something wrong regardless and so will the trolls.

    April 26, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  6. freedom

    Why doesn't he ask the victims who had their limbs blown off? Or is he in denial that this happened on his watch, and that Islam Jihadists are behind it? Time to laugh? Don't think so.

    April 26, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  7. GonzoinHouston

    He needs to get Al Franken to write his speech. I like Obama, but stand-up comedy is just not his thing!

    April 26, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  8. Lynda/Minnesota

    "Regardless of Obama's approach this year, it's likely he'll be criticized for not being funny, being funny to begin with or not being funny enough."

    My thoughts exactly.

    April 26, 2013 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  9. just sayin

    obama is a joke.... a bad joke... on the whole country. milions of unemployed people are not laughing.

    April 26, 2013 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  10. Sniffit

    Know what's funny? That GOPers/Teatrolls think they can fix their demograhic armageddon by lipsticking their ideology and platform. THAT'S funny.

    April 26, 2013 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  11. Tony

    meanwhile Rome burns... Party on dude... party on. While we poor slobs try to survive another day.

    April 26, 2013 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  12. Richard Long

    Economic growth at a sluggish 2.6%...
    Debt-to-GDP 106%...
    Unemployment at 7.7%...
    Guess the joke is all on us...

    April 26, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |