Colin Jost Roasts Biden, the Press and Gets Sentimental at White House Correspondents Dinner

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The annual White House Correspondents Dinner may be dubbed the inside-the-beltway “Nerd Prom” in some circles. Still, this year’s soirée, which took place on Saturday night at the Washington Hilton, was the hottest ticket in the nation’s capital — maybe the entire nation — as President Joe Biden and the First Lady sat alongside the Hollywood elite and senior government officials mingled with actors, rappers and rockers.

They were all gathered to toast free speech and watch the president and Saturday Night Live Colin Jost roast Donald Trump, the state of the media, and in a common theme of the night, the commander-in-chief’s age.

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Before the event began, hundreds of protesters had gathered outside the Hilton in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington to confront attendees and encourage journalists to boycott the event. The demonstrators shouted about the deaths of journalists in Gaza as they covered the ongoing conflict there and held banners while chanting “Free, free Palestine.” Biden was also reportedly confronted by a smaller group of protesters calling for a ceasefire on Israel’s deadly ground campaign in Gaza.

Later in the evening, Biden took to the podium where he fired off a relentless series of gags that went after headliner Jost (addressing the SNL writer’s wife, Scarlett Johansson: “Clearly, you’re the funny one in the family”); his presumed opponent Donald Trump in this year’s presidential race (“My vice president actually endorses me…”); and even acknowledged the hot-button issue of his age, which as the first octogenarian presidential candidate is a central issue for voters (“Yes, I’m a grown man running against a six-year-old”).

Jost took the stage following Biden’s few quips and a quick nod to the sacredness of a free press. His time at the podium in front of Hollywood and Washington’s elite received notably middling reactions, with his jokes (“I have to admit, it’s not easy following President Biden. I mean, it’s not always easy following what he’s saying…”) and jabs at members of the gathered audience (“​Bernie Sanders is here because he’s not the type to pass up a free hot meal”).

This was by no means an absolute disaster for Jost. But his 20 minutes on stage were marked with a notable amount of silence as the gags didn’t land, and the headliner gave far too many pauses for laughter or effect. The prize taker for Jost’s worst gag? “My ‘Weekend Update’ co-anchor, Michael Che, was going to join me here tonight — but in solidarity with President Biden, I decided to lose all my Black support.” The booing came and the silence lingered after that one.

Yet in the end, Jost turned it around with simple sentimentality and by offering a sincere moment directly to the U.S. president. Bringing up his late firefighter grandfather, who died this past year, Jost told Biden that he reminds him of the man who had voted for the president in 2020.

“My grandpa voted for decency, and decency is why we’re all here tonight. Decency is how we’re able to be here tonight,” Jost said. “Decency is how we’re able to make jokes about each other and one of us doesn’t go to prison after — we go to the Newsmax after party.”

“When you look at the levels of freedom throughout history, and even around the world today, this is the exception. This freedom is incredibly rare and the journalists in this room help protect that freedom, and we cannot ever take that for granted,” he added.

Jost followed in the footsteps of previous comedian headliners like Michele Wolf, Roy Wood Jr., Trevor Noah, Jay Leno, Keegan-Michael Key and many others.

The annual event is the major revenue source for the White House Correspondents’ Association’s work, as stated on its website. This includes journalists working to cover the U.S. president, educational events to the First Amendment and a free press, and scholarships to help the next generation of journalists.

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