The White House Correspondents dinner took place last night, and it was noteworthy, chiefly because the leader of the White House, Donald Trump, was absent.
Having dubbed the media public enemy Number one, it’s no surprise Trump wasn’t there. But this didn’t stop the Daily Show’s Hasan Minhaj from delivering an astounding speech. In fact, the undercurrent tension and overall polemics may have helped him.
The speech was great because it took a shot at all sides, both conservatives and liberals, turning the zingy speech into astute political commentary.
Not that it all went down smooth as cream cheese. Everyone in the room got an earful, rendering large sections of the room silent, or groan-laden. Aggrieved faces all around, faces caught in tense, uncomfortable smiles. Heads were tilted, teeth were clenched alongside chests and assholes.
It was all part of a successful diatribe. As Slate’s Matthew Dessem put it, Minhaj ‘did score a few shocked silences and appalled gasps, which in that room mean a lot more than laughs,’ making it one hell of a performance.
Dessem concluded with a list of quotes from the speech, bringing his point home. ‘Here are some of the jokes that bombed hardest,’ he wrote, ‘which is another way of saying they’re most likely to be true:
‘It finally happened: Bill O’Reilly has been fired. But then [Fox News] gave him a $25 million severance package, making it the only package he won’t force a woman to touch.’
‘In O’Reilly’s defense, he was told by a close friend, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”‘
‘Sean Spicer’s been doing PR since 1999. He has been doing this job for 18 years. And somehow, after 18 years, his go-to move when you ask him a tough question is denying the holocaust. That is insane—how many people do you know who can turn a press briefing into a full-on Mel Gibson traffic stop?’
‘MSNBC is here tonight, and I’m glad you guys are here tonight. That way if I’m bombing, Brian Williams will describe it as stunning.’
And here’s a couple of jokes Dessem didn’t list:
‘You know, even Hillary Clinton couldn’t be here tonight. Hillary Clinton couldn’t—I mean she could have been here, but I think someone told her that the event was in Wisconsin and Michigan. What? What? You guys, Nate Silver told me that joke would kill. He said there was a 74.1 percent chance of that joke killing. I believed you, Nate. Did you hear that groan, Nate? I can’t believe I believed you, man.’
‘Jeff Sessions couldn’t be here tonight. He was busy doing a pre-Civil War reenactment. On his RSVP, he just wrote ‘No’—just ‘No,’ which happens to be his second-favorite N-word.’
Too close for comfort?
Here is Minhaj’s full speech:
Spin Doctor applauds the speech, praising not just its content but also the intellect of its performer, but perhaps even more important than that I’d like to applaud the spherical approach of Minhaj’s whole endeavor. Dishing it out to both sides of the aisle at times like these is exactly the kind of approach that makes an impact. It may not earn everyone’s approval, on the contrary, it invites derision from all sides, to each their own, which is reminiscent of what Socrates suffered when he used the forces of reason to attack everything that didn’t hold up to it.
Minhaj may not be Socrates (is anyone?) but his speech was nothing short of Socratic, and it will be remembered as such, saved for posterity, to be referred to down the line by those looking back at this time in history, trying to figure out what the hell went on here. It will hold up to the tests of time because it rings true and unafraid. The formula is tried and tested. Do not pander to the partisans, hold them accountable. Expose them to serve the bigger picture, addressing long term issues using the surgical blade of logic. Hold their pundit feet to the fire and call them out for their selective application of fairness. Do it without reservation, a true gnat on the hide of institutional complacency, both left and the right, mainstream and populist, old school and new kids on the block, spare no position or side, making critical thinkers everywhere proud.
Well spoken, dear sir, or, as we like to say in formal circles: Zing!
From your loyal-only-to-reason Spin Doctor,
Eyes open, mind sharp.
For the Slate article, click here
For the speech transcript, click here