Since November 9, 2016, the 2017 White House Correspondents' Dinner has seemed like a wild card. Of course, the tone of the proceedings shifts a bit with each new president. Having Donald Trump in office, though, created a lot of uncertainties as to how this year's dinner would go down. Would the perspective swing to the far right to match the beliefs of the current administration? Or, would it swing toward the opposite side, making a statement about where, exactly, all those White House correspondents stand. With the announcement Tuesday that comedian Hasan Minhaj would host, it became clear that the event will do the latter.
Hosted by the White House Correspondents Association, the dinner has always seemed tangential to serious political conversation. But journalists take what happens at the White House and communicate it to the public, and likewise report on the public's reactions to Washington — these reporters are vital to the political process. The dinner is generally hosted by a comedian who provides cutting commentary current politics. The combination of journalism and comedy — a form of entertainment that's increasingly veering closer to journalism itself — makes the event especially relevant. The comedian adds a pop culture appeal to what might otherwise be a stuffy Washington affair.
Donald Trump has made his position on journalists, i.e. "correspondents," abundantly clear. His has repeatedly accused various outlets such as The New York Timesof being faulty news sources. Perhaps most famously, he invoked the term "fake news media" after he referenced a seeming non-story about Swedish immigration during a rally in February. In a seeming effort to spread this sentiment, Trump emailed an anti-media survey to all of his supporters. Trump will not be attending the White House Correspondents Dinner this year, as the president usually does. When this was announced, it seemed to imply that the dinner was headed toward the left. (It could also imply that Trump was hesitant to follow Barack Obama's epic performance at the 2016 dinner.) So, if the cat's away, the mice will enjoy a nice liberal dinner among friends, right?
But then publications made like Trump and sent their regrets. In February, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker pulled out of their various events. When asked why the publication withdrew, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter told The New York Times that it was because of Trump. (He also claimed that he would be fishing in Connecticut the weekend of the dinner and cited the fish as a reason to skip the whole ordeal.) It seemed as if everyone was boycotting the event. Samantha Bee, host of Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, announced that she would host a new event on the same night titled "Not The White House Correspondents Dinner."
With the president and major publications promising to skip it, the dinner ceased to matter at all. Bee joked that the band 3 Doors Down, who played at the inauguration, should do stand-up for the event. Speculation about who would host died down. The event seemed neutral at a time when picking a side was downright imperative, making it irrelevant.
Then came Hasan Minhaj. President of the Correspondent Association Jeff Mason claimed the dinner would be "different" this year and — this is important — that Minhaj would "bring comedy chops" as well as "heart." In addition to being a senior correspondent for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Minhaj is a Muslim and the son of Indian immigrants. Well before he ascended to the presidency, Trump has been decidedly anti-Muslim. Since the election, his actions have been decidedly anti-immigrant. And, brief stint on Saturday Night Live aside, he seems to be anti-comedy as well. Minhaj is armed with a three-pronged anti-Trump spear, and he hasn't even made jokes at the president's expense yet.
On The Daily Show, Minhaj is a wisecracking correspondent — a comedy journalist — and an astute commentator on political events. His lesser-known work is more personal, though. Minhaj wrote and performed in a one-man show called Homecoming King in 2015 about his experience as a child of first-generation immigrants. The show, which evolved from a story Minhaj recounted at the storytelling event The Moth, wasn't all funnies and rim shots, but rather a longform monologue about the viciousness of high schoolers, especially when it comes to the visibly different. There's that heart Mason mentioned.
With the addition of Minhaj, the White House Correspondents' Dinner just became more relevant than ever. It'll be different this year. Donald Trump and Vanity Fair won't be there. But for the first time ever, a Muslim-American comedian will be hosting. It seems perhaps there's a different future ahead for the White House Correspondents Dinner, which has historically been hosted by white funnymen. Here's looking at you, April 29.
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