On Saturday night, President Trump was busy in Harrisburg, Pa., where he gave a performance of Donald’s Greatest Hits, such as “Get him outta here! Get him out!” — this, bellowed at security guards to oust a protester. Yes, 100 days in he’s become really presidential. Trump ran away to Harrisburg to avoid Washington’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Meanwhile, all the cool kids were tuned to TBS, where Samantha Bee was hosting Full Frontal With Samantha Bee’s Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. An hour-plus of anti-Trump hate-glee, Bee’s comedy felt like a relief after watching the president spew more venom than Bee could manufacture with a roomful of staff writers.
Bee performed before an audience that filled the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. “Trump ran away from the Vietnam War, he ran away from two different Republican debates, and now he’s run away from the Correspondents’ Dinner,” said Bee. “I guess we know why he wears those lumpy, ill-fitting old man pants: It’s because he’s constantly s**tting himself.”
She was almost equally unsparing in her criticism of CNN and its leader, Jeff Zucker. Talking in front of a picture of Zucker and Trump hugging during their NBC Apprentice days, Bee said, “Zucker’s greatest success … is filling airtime between car crashes with a reality show loosely based on the news, where loyal, partisan hacks make us measurably dumber by spewing mendacious nonsense while a hologram of Anderson Cooper stands by.”
An “In Memoriam” segment was devoted to Bill O’Reilly and his equally fired Fox News boss, “priapic propagandist” Roger Ailes, who, said Bee, “were taken from us far too late.” She noted that those Fox men, accused of sexual harassment, were “punished with $65 million and age-appropriate retirement — ah, justice!”
The hour was more uneven than a typical half-hour episode of Full Frontal. An appearance by Will Ferrell, pulling his Saturday Night Live impersonation of George W. Bush out of mothballs, went on too long. (It was the kind of performance that, in its broadness and slowness, was designed for the audience in the far seats in Constitution Hall, not for TV viewers at home.) A taped bit with Allison Janney reprising her C.J. Cregg character from The West Wing, conducting a comic press briefing, was also rather flat.
Much better was a Man in the High Castle spoof that imagined an alternate reality in which Hillary Clinton won the presidency — and Bee was seen roasting her, jesting about her giving Anthony Weiner an ambassadorship, and noting that Hillary “raised eyebrows when she put her son-in-law in charge of brokering peace in the Middle East. I’m just kidding! How stupid would that be?”
The best pretaped bits were a series of mini-roasts Bee pretended she had done of earlier presidents. My favorite was her 1960s Laugh-In style “Sock It to President Nixon.” Acting like Jo Anne Worley wielding Phyllis Diller’s cigarette holder, Bee insulted Nixon and “that old war criminal” Henry Kissinger.
There was a serious undercurrent to Bee’s work this night: roiling contempt, anger, and despair for what the absent president has done, and has now set in motion. She saluted her “special guests” in the audience: members of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Airing so soon after the president roused fury from his Harrisburg supporters when he sneered at “the Washington media: their agenda is not your agenda,” Bee’s comedy was a profane corrective.
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