It’s been a rocky old few years for the White House Correspondents Dinner. President Donald Trump’s total boycott of the event, Michelle Wolf’s incendiary set two years ago, and last year’s safe but somber lecture have made many question what the point of the whole thing is.
But with the announcement of Kenan Thompson as host for April’s dinner, the association is making a return to comedy and, hopefully, an event that might be worth watching via a YouTube highlights reel the next day. The Saturday Night Live star will be joined by Hasan Minhaj—host of Patriot Act on Netflix—who entertained at the 2017 edition of the event.
“Kenan and Hasan are two of the most engaged and engaging entertainers in America,” said Jonathan Karl, ABC News correspondent and president of the WHCA. “I’m thrilled they’ll help us celebrate the role of a free press in our democracy... We’re looking forward to a lively evening honoring the most important political journalism of the past year.”
It will be a welcome return for jokes at the event dubbed the Nerd Prom. The 2019 dinner saw Ron Chernow, the historian and Alexander Hamilton biographer, deliver a lecture on the history of how presidents have dealt with the media. It was the first time in recent history that the position wasn’t filled by a comedian, though Chernow did manage to land a couple of smirk-inducing observations.
The ditching of comedy was a direct consequence of the controversial performance from Wolf in 2018, who used her spot to harshly ridicule President Trump, his family, and, in particular, then-White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Wolf stunned those in attendance by comparing Sanders to Aunt Lydia from The Handmaid’s Tale, and describing her as “Uncle Tom for white women.”
The set saw Margaret Talev, who was then the head of the White House Correspondents Association, issue a statement expressing regret that the entertainment at the dinner had “divided people.” Talev said at the time that Wolf’s set “was not in the spirit” of the dinner, hence the much more staid affair last year that neutralized the traditionally satirical event.
Thompson and Minhaj represent a return to the dinner’s comedy roots, while also not threatening to cause the same level of controversy as Wolf. Minhaj hit a careful balance during his last spot in 2017, joking: “I would say it is an honor to be here, but that would be an alternative fact. It is not. No one wanted to do this. So of course it lands in the hands of an immigrant.”
He also said, with it being the first dinner that Trump had boycotted: “The leader of our country is not here. And that’s because he lives in Moscow; it is a very long flight. It’d be hard for Vlad to make it.... As for the other guy, I think he’s in Pennsylvania because he can’t take a joke.”
The event’s standing as must-see TV for edgy political humor was forged by Stephen Colbert in 2006, when the late-night comedian in his Colbert Report persona roasted President George W. Bush with brutal jabs about his White House’s failures in Iraq and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In an attempt to give the dinner some more meaning, the association announced some new awards that will be presented at the 2020 event: one for “courage and accountability” and another for visual journalists. They’ll be handed out alongside the Aldo Beckman Award for Overall Excellence in White House Coverage, and the Merriman Smith Award for Excellence in Presidential News Coverage Under Deadline Pressure.
The dinner will be held on the evening of Saturday, April 25.