Jimmy Kimmel and President Obama high-fived their performances. But it was anything but a memorable evening of comedy at tonight’s White House Correspondents Dinner, that annual media-politics-showbiz schmoozefest in Washington DC. After three years in a row of telling funny jokes, President Obama flatlined. And ABC late night host Jimmy Kimmel didn’t fare any better: he was bland to a fault. They also couldn’t get any laughs out of the few Mitt Romney jokes they told, even though the GOP presidential candidate wasn’t in attendance. Here’s the live-blog. Judge For yourself:
UPDATE 7:30 PM: Jimmy Kimmel at the mic now. Just as Obama closed on a mention of the Secret Service scandal, that’s the topic Kimmel opens with. “Mr. President, I know you won’t be able to laugh at any of my jokes about the Secret Service,” Kimmel says looking at the Commander-in-Chief, “so cover your ears if that’s physically possible.” The ABC host continues: “I do have a lot of jokes about the Secret Service. I told them for $800 I wouldn’t tell any. But they only offered $30.” Kimmel is on a roll and tells still more Secret Service jokes.
Then he starts on other subjects. “It’s kind of hard to be funny with the President of the United States sitting right next to you, looking at you. And somehow day in and day out, Joe Biden manages to do it,” says Kimmel noting the Veep’s absence. Praising the popular First Lady and her anti-childhood obesity campaign, Kimmel makes a joke about the girth of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who laughs when the talk show host reminds that the state’s slogan is “not the Olive Garden State”. He raises the Democratic strategist’s comment who criticized Mitt Romney’s wife Ann for “not working a day in her life”. Then the crowd loves it when Kimmel uses that to make fun of tonight’s guests “Kim, Lindsay, etc” for not knowing anything about current events.
Kimmel’s digs at the press are the first real lulls in his performance. “What’s black and white and read all over?” he asks. His answer of “Nothing any more” gets public groans from the mediacentric audience. A boo is heard. “Really?” Kimmel asks in response. “The Christie jokes are OK, but not [that]?”
After a joke about Abraham Lincoln killing himself falls flat, Kimmel asks, “Is the Fox table laughing or did Rupert Murdoch hack into all my jokes already? … Some people think Rupert Murdoch was intentionally trying to appear to be confused when he testified in front of the British government recently. I don’t know. The man is 81 years old. I think you have to know how to use a cell phone before you can know how to hack into one.”
Kimmel starts on the campaign fundraiser which George Clooney is hosting for President Obama at the actor’s home in Los Angeles on May 10th: “I for one have always dreamed of eating a Hot Pocket with the President of the United States and Batman,” quipped the comic.
Kimmel is now weighing in on a wide range of targets. Some are observations, like this: ”Here in one room we have members of the media, politicians, corporate executives, advertiser, lobbyists and celebrities. Everything that is wrong with America is here in the room tonight.” He jokes that Kim Kardashian is as big a threat to America as Osama Bin Laden, which doesn’t go over well. His other jokes are about gay marriage, Keith Olbermann, Current TV (“Channel 1,000,000″), pot-smoking, Michelle Bachman’s husband (and his sexuality), Benjamin Netanyahu’s name (shortening it to “Yahoo!”), Midest peace (“a mutual love of Falafel and terrible dance music”), and the Obama healthcare plan. “I think I’ve figured it out,” Kimmel says, addressing the President. “you’re not from Kenya. It’s even worse. You’re from Canada.”
Finally Kimmel gets around to Mitt Romney yet can only muster the bland joke that the GOP presidential candidate was “picked out of a Land’s End catalogue”. And this one. “You can’t have a beer with him because he doesn’t drink. You can’t have a cup of coffee with him because he can’t have caffeine. You can’t even play Monopoly with him because he keeps trying to put the dog on the car.”
Kimmel closed with, ”I’d like to thank Jake Tapper for writing all the jokes you didn’t like.” (Reference to the ABC White House correspondent.) Kimmel’s routine ends after about 40 minutes with a high five of the President.
UPDATE 7:00 PM: The President starts off with a live mic joke of him lamenting tonight’s dinner and tolerating he has to “open for Jimmy Kimmel”, or the cast of Glee being invited. Then the President says to the audience: “Delighted to see the cast members of Glee out here. And, Jimmy Kimmel, it’s an honor, man.”
Obama continues, “We gather during a historical anniversary. Last year we finally delivered justice to one of the world’s most notorious individuals.” Of course everyone thought he meant Bin Laden. But the audience howls when a picture of Donald Trump is shown on the screen.
Later, a photo of Morgan Freeman is shown on the same screen because it’s what Obama thinks he’ll look like in a few years. Joke gets less laughs. Obama noted about the dinner itself, “Our chaperone for the evening is Jimmy Kimmel, who is perfect for the job since most of tonight’s audience is in his key demographic – people who fall asleep during Nightline.” That didn’t go over well. The President’s digs at Kimmel’s past on The Man Show, or U.S. Congressional hearings on contraception, got more laughs.
The President’s jokes about GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney include a Hunger Games reference to the current harsh political climate. “I guess Governor Romney is feeling pretty good about things because he took a few hours off the other day to see The Hunger Games. Some of you have seen it. It’s a movie about people who court wealthy sponsors and then brutally savage each other until only one contestant is left standing. I’m sure this was a really good change of pace for him.” Obama adds: “I have not seen The Hunger Games. Not enough class warfare for me.”
More Romney. “Recently his campaign criticized me for slow jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon,” Obama said in reference to his April 25th appearance on the NBC late night host’s show. “In fact, I understand Gov. Romney was so incensed that he asked his staff if he could get some equal time – on The Merv Griffin show.” The President mocked Romney’s wealth. “It’s great to be here this evening in the vast magnificent Hilton ballroom — or what Mitt Romney would call a little fixer-upper.
Other stunted subjects were Sarah Palin guest-hosting the Today Show recently. And a reference to eating dog when he was a child in Indonesia. Maybe this explains why he wasn’t as funny tonight as in previous years: “I had a lot more material prepared,” closed the President, “but I have to get the Secret Service home for their new curfew” Obama in all spoke for about 15 minutes.
UPDATE 6:30 PM: Dinner is over and the official program has begun. A video is expected next and then the President and finally Jimmy Kimmel.
UPDATE 5:45 PM: White House Press Office confirms that “spotted in the crowd: George Clooney, Kris Jenner and Kim Kardashian, Sofia Vergara, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Leon Panetta, Steven Spielberg, Rick Santorum, David Gregory, Holly Robinson Peete, Al Sharpton, Lindsay Lohan, Tom Joyner, Susan Rice, Johnny Galecki, Ann Curry, Claire Danes, Eric Cantor and Kathleen Sebelius.” Also see Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann, Kevin Spacey, Elizabeth Banks, Tim Daly, Lindsay Lohan.
UPDATE 5:15PM: President Obama is at the head table, laughing and joking with fellow guests. The First Lady is there too, so is Jimmy Kimmel. The band is playing. Reuters’ Caren Bohan, the WHCA President, just gave the formal introductions.
UPDATE 4:32PM: The White House says the President and First Lady’s motorcade arrived at the Washington Hilton.
In the hotel’s lobby, here comes the second wave of the 98th annual White House Correspondents’ dinner guests. Kate Hudson, Kerry Washington, Parks and Recreation’s Rashida Jones, Zooey Deschanel, Lindsay Lohan and Charlize Theron, a guest of Politico, have all shown up. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein of IFC’s Portlandia are here too, but they avoided the press line. Someone looking remarkably like Kevin Spacey also came down the escalator. The ballroom is already starting to fill up. Kim Kardashian and her mother Kris Jenner, guests of Fox News, are looking for their table.
Guests have started arriving today at the Washington Hilton Hotel for the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner which as usual includes Hollywood heavyhitters among the more than 2,700 guests joining the President, First Lady, and headliner Jimmy Kimmel. President Obama is scheduled to speak around 7:30 PM followed by Jimmy Kimmel at approximately 7:45 PM.
The rope line crunch has already begun in the Washington Hilton’s lobby. Modern Family’s Julie Bowen has arrived, as has Desperate Housewives’ Eva Longoria and The Help’s Viola Davis, who is a guest of Newsweek/The Daily Beast. Also Goldie Hawn is here, with CNN’s Piers Morgan. Diane Keaton, former AOL boss Steve Case, Ivanka Trump, and Sigourney Weaver right behind former Secretary of State Colin Powell, came with the first wave of guests. Reese Witherspoon has arrived, too.
It’s always a guessing game if Hollywood comedy pros helped the President with his remarks. “As in previous years, there’s been a team effort among the very clever members of the White House speechwriting team,” Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest revealed on Air Force One on Friday. As for Kimmel’s remarks, an insider told Deadline they’ll be “reminiscent of his legendary upfront presentations”. Kimmel brought his parents and other family members along with him to DC, and then skipped the parties last night after getting a private tour of the White House.
Headlining the WHCA dinner is a political balancing act. After the partisan barbs of Wanda Sykes shocked the audience in 2009, Jay Leno stayed middle of the road in 2010. Last year, Saturday Night Live head writer Seth Meyers also kept balanced. But the public only found out later that Obama had a lot more than winning over the well-heeled crowd on his mind that night: final preparations were being made for the Navy SEALs’ successful assault the next day on the Pakistan compound where Osama Bin Laden was hiding and killed.
Deadline's Dominic Patten - tip him here.