The White House Correspondents Association Dinner, held back in April, was the annual shindig, where a specially selected performer – typically a comedian – gets to ‘roast’ the president and anything or anyone associated with them. Now, the success of the performance of the ‘roaster’ is always relative to the political leanings of any individual or audience. It should go without saying that the Left will support their own and those on the Right will do exactly the same. So, a performance, like the one given by Michelle Wolf at the dinner, can simultaneously spark love and hate, laughter and repudiation, looks of elation and expressions of discomfort, all in the same room. Comedy really is similar to beauty: it is in the eye of the beholder.
For any audience member (fan or not), it is somewhat difficult to just observe and enjoy humor objectively when you feel that you, your political side, and/or worldview are being used as subject matter to elicit a particular response. Some comedians even make it their shtick to make fun of an audience members’s personal appearance, which may cause that particular individual to be uncomfortable, but if it gets laughs from others in the room, then it may be a mission accomplished for the humorist.
With all of this in mind, comedienne Michelle Wolf’s recent performance succeeded in the world of comedy (apparently, she is also proud of what she said at the event per her NPR interview) or by a comic’s standards.
Michelle Wolf: I mean, I’m honestly – I wouldn’t change a single word that I said. I’m very happy with what I said, and I’m glad I stuck to my guns.
She appeared to have given her routine without any awkward pauses or hiccups in the punchlines and she got laughs throughout her stand-up. Plus, now, because of the controversy that resulted from her bit on White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she has gotten even more attention and notoriety, which may lead to infamy that could pay huge dividends for her monetarily in the future. Still, in spite of what seemed like a triumphant comedic act, it still fail to make believers out of everyone in the room, which is not to say was Wolf’s goal or even a real possibility in the world of comedy anyway.
For example, American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp and his wife apparently left the event after not being happy with the comedienne’s material for the event. There have been reporters who were not supportive of Wolf’s style as well and even a Washington-based publication will be dropping out of future White House Correspondent’s Association dinner events, due to the vulgarity that took place at the event. Furthermore, the White House Correspondents Association actually released a statement affirming that the comic’s routine was not in the spirit of the association’s mission.
While some conservatives may feel as if the entertainer deserves some sort of comeuppance for her remarks, one must remember that comedy of this kind is not new. This brand of comedy is never civil because it has always been about delivering cringe-worthy observations for reactions. If the association really wanted ‘civil comedy’ to have been displayed, then they should have researched Wolf’s work beforehand or given her or any comic a list of standards to adhere to.
At the same time, some conservatives are reminding others on the Right to remember that even our own president has spoken in unpleasant terms. Many may not want to hear this response to their disappointment in Wolf’s words, but it is vitally important that we remain consistent when dealing with any kind of behavior. Why be mad about inappropriate words this time while not being bothered by some of Trump’s past statements about people and/or their spouses?
In the end, Wolf’s set successfully won her supporters and critics. Her words brought on a small controversy, which has garnered her more attention than she would have even thought. Her name is everywhere and how can that be bad for her? It has been said before that controversy is good for business. Well, for Ms. Wolf, this kind of controversy may have just given her even more of a platform to have longevity in the business of comedy.
Jerome Danner is a member of Project 21, an initiative of The National Center for Public Policy Research. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook for more of his thoughts and commentary. For more of Jerome’s writing, please check out his website. For any inquiries, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.