In his final appearance at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, now it can be said: President Obama is always funnier than the paid comedian.
Larry Wilmore, host of Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show,” kind of bombed, in fact. Let’s just say, he told the “Ted Cruz is really the Zodiac Killer” joke about seven times too many. And it was probably a good thing that his dropping of the N-word came in the sign-off, because the audience might not have stood for more.
But let’s focus on the positive: the best jokes. Mr. Obama had plenty, and in this wild election year, there was a ton of material for his speech-writers. Even Hillary Clinton wasn’t spared, in a way that might not make her too happy. He praised her smarts and experience, then continued:
“You’ve got to admit it, though, Hillary trying to appeal to young voters is a little bit like your relative that just signed up for Facebook,” Obama said.
“Dear America, did you get my poke?” he mocked. “Is it appearing on your wall? I’m not sure I’m using this right. Love, Aunt Hillary.”
Here are some other good ones by Obama:
On “C.P.T”: The president started off with a bang, apologizing for being late (which he wasn’t). “I was running on C.P.T., which stands for ‘jokes that white people should not make,’” he said.
It was a jab at New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, who recently quipped at another political dinner that he had waited to endorse Mrs. Clinton because he was on “C.P. Time” – a racially demeaning term that stands for “Colored People Time.”
On Bernie Sanders, who was in the audience: "Bernie, you look like a million bucks,” Obama said. “Or, to put it in terms you understand, you look like 37,000 donations of $27 each."
On being “snubbed” by foreign leaders because he’s a lame duck: “Last week, Prince George showed up to our meeting in his bathrobe.” (Prince George is two years old.)
On Joe Biden (and Dick Cheney): “I love Joe Biden, I really do. And I want to thank him for his friendship, for his counsel, for always giving it to me straight, for not shooting anybody in the face.”
Obama was referring to the time, in 2006, when then-Vice President Cheney accidentally shot a hunting partner in the face with a pellet gun.
On Senator Cruz: “Ted had a tough week. He went to Indiana – Hoosier country – stood on a basketball court, and called the hoop a “basketball ring. What else is in his lexicon? Baseball sticks? Football hats? But sure, I’m the foreign one.”
On himself: “This is my eighth and final appearance and I am excited. If this material works well, I’m going to use it at Goldman Sachs next year [and] earn me some serious Tubmans.”
And of course, Donald Trump: Obama said he was hurt and surprised that Mr. Trump didn’t come to this year’s dinner.
“You've got a room full of reporters, celebrities, cameras, and he says no?” Obama said. “Is this dinner too tacky for The Donald? What could he possibly be doing instead? Is he at home, eating a Trump Steak, tweeting out insults to Angela Merkel?”
Mr. Wilmore followed Obama, admitting it’s the toughest assignment in comedy. Wilmore, who is also African American, went for a lot of racial humor, always risky but perhaps more so now in these racially charged times.
Wilmore started his remarks in that vein: “Well, welcome to ‘Negro Night’ here at the Washington Hilton, or as Fox News will report, ‘Two thugs disrupt elegant dinner in D.C.,’” Wilmore said. “That’s how they do us, right?”
The folks from Fox News seated next to the Monitor’s table were not amused.
When Wilmore addressed Obama directly, he doubled down on the racial humor: “Your hair is so white, it tried to punch me at a Trump rally,” he said.
“President’s hair is so white it keeps saying ‘all lives matter.’ Alright, fine. Fine, I get it. I get it.”
“No, but man, you came in here looking like Denzel. Now you going out looking like Grady from ‘Sanford and Son.’”
Wilmore also took off after the superannuated Senator Sanders: “I’m surprised, you never come to these things. He usually goes to the White House correspondents’ early-bird dinner.”
And he recalled the White House Correspondents’ Dinner of 2011, which, in retrospect, may be Obama’s most extraordinary performance of all.
“I gotta be careful picking on you, though, Mr. President,” Wilmore said. “Couple years ago during this dinner, you were like killing Osama bin Laden. Remember that?”
We do remember that, and recall that the president’s cool and impeccable comedic timing betrayed nothing of what was happening in another part of the world. Trump was also at that dinner – an occasion that Obama used to rib him mercilessly about his TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” his birth certificate conspiracy, and – yes – about his presidential ambitions.
A year from now, a new president will probably be addressing the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. And who knows, maybe Trump will have the last laugh.