Comedienne Samantha Bee to roast Trump at dinner

Samantha Bee.
Samantha Bee.

NEW YORK • The annual custom of the White House Correspondents' Association dinner suddenly seems uncomfortable, if not untenable: Journalists mingling with Trump administration aides who loathe them, celebrities decrying United States President Donald Trump's White House policies, and an entertainment headliner grappling with the tone and boldness of Trump jokes.

But comedienne Samantha Bee is not waiting to see how this year's soiree unfolds or if those involved decide to hold it at all.

Instead, the host of TBS comedy show Full Frontal With Samantha Bee and her colleagues are planning a counter-event in Washington on April 29, the same night as the association's dinner.

On Monday, she said the Not The White House Correspondents' Dinner is not meant to "comment on or compete with" the existing press dinner, where a comedian traditionally pokes fun at the President. Instead, it will be a night to make jokes about Mr Trump, without pulling punches.

She said over the telephone: "We just want to be there in case something happens - or doesn't happen - and ensure that we get to properly roast the President."

Bee, 47, said she and her producers got the idea for their event after his election in November last year. They had wondered if the association would change during a Trump presidency or if it would even exist. She added: "And then we thought, why don't we just do one, just to do it in the way that we would want it done if we were hosting it?"

The alternative gala will likely air on TBS.

The decades-old association, which advocates press accessibility at the White House and gives out journalism awards and scholarships, has come under scrutiny in recent years, with some regarding it as a too-chummy atmosphere for reporters to hobnob with the officials they are supposed to be covering objectively and adversarially.

It has also been the scene of two notorious incidents.

In 2006, comedian Stephen Colbert delivered a scathing satirical takedown of then President George W. Bush. Colbert's performance, in the guise of the arrogant right-wing political commentator he played on Comedy Central, appeared to offend Mr Bush and several of his aides, though it was widely celebrated by television and Internet viewers.

In 2011, Mr Trump, then a civilian and a guest, sat stone-faced as he was mocked relentlessly by then President Barack Obama and comedian Seth Meyers for having promoted the false theory that Mr Obama was not born in the US.

Given the open hostility that Mr Trump and his administration have displayed towards the news media, some journalists have wondered if the association dinner is a tradition worth preserving. Would Mr Trump even attend and what entertainer could make jokes about him without getting underneath his oft-demonstrated thin skin?

The association "looks forward to hosting our annual dinner this year, as we do every year, to celebrate the First Amendment, reward some of the finest reporting of the past year and recognise promising young student journalists", its president Jeff Mason said in a statement.

Details on the dinner have not been announced, including who will be the emcee. The association used to enlist big-name comedians, including Joel McHale and Meyers, but with celebrities shying away from Trump events, it is unclear if the gig will be hard to fill this year.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'Comedienne to roast Trump at dinner'. Print Edition | Subscribe