After last year's debacle, in which the White House Correspondents Dinner featured Stephen Colbert being actually funny (video here), the organizers swore nothing like that was ever going to happen again. From here on out, safety would be the watchword. If it came with stupidity and unfunniness, so be it: To these people, boredom is preferable to anyone being challenged.
And Colbert challenged not only the president:
I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound -- with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.
Now, there may be an energy crisis. This president has a very forward-thinking energy policy. Why do you think he's down on the ranch cutting that brush all the time? He's trying to create an alternative energy source. By 2008 we will have a mesquite-powered car!
The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will.
He challenged the press:
But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished. Over the last five years you people were so good -- over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.
But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!
So to avoid making another mistake like that, what did they do? They booked Rich Little:
Rich Little, with shockingly dyed hair, said at the outset that he is "not political" but rather a "nightclub performer who does a lot of dumb, stupid jokes," then proved that.
He started with a couple of Canada (his native country) jokes and a weak Sen. John McCain, which bombed, as did an impression of.Arnold Schwarzenegger, causing him to look at the crowd askance. "You thought Colbert was bad," he finally joked.
Little followed by doing six presidents, including a man he "loved," Ronald Reagan. He put in false teeth to play Jimmy Carter saying that when he was a peanut farmer "I had the biggest nuts in the county."
As the presidents got more recent, the impressions got weaker: George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and then possibly the worst impression of all, the current president. But he closed with the one he is most famous for, Richard Nixon, saying, "Let’s bring him out of the mothballs one more time."
E&P also reports that more people walked out of Little's routine than out of Colbert's. Given the widespread reporting last year that Colbert had flopped horribly, it will be interesting to watch how that one gets spun.