Will Ferrell! Allison Janney! Steve Buscemi with a cat!
Yes, Samantha Bee’s Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner was packed with surprise celebrity appearances, biting political humor, and live music. But perhaps more than anything, the show heavily featured something considerably less glamorous: hard-nosed media criticism.
With members from the Society to Protect Journalists seated at a front-row table, Bee touched on everything from the recent sexual-harassment headlines roiling Fox News to (in Bee’s eye) the loosening journalistic standards at CNN.
And of course, there were roasts aplenty, and not just of Washington’s current crop of politicians — Bee gleefully dunked on presidents past, going as far back as Woodrow Wilson.
Here are the top highlights from the Not the WHCD.
Allison Janney’s Cold Open
Thanks to Allison Janney’s years-long run as C.J. Cregg on The West Wing, there’s something deeply comforting about seeing her behind a White House podium. Janney found herself back in that role tonight to answer any questions the “reporters” assembled before her might have this whole NotTheWHCD thing. For instance:
White Male Reporter: Doesn’t having a female host for this dinner demonstrate a clear anti-white male bias?
Janney: Absolutely not. Sam is not biased against white men, she just can’t tell you guys apart and thinks you all know each other.
Also: Janney confirms that all women are indeed witches and can shoot lasers from their eyes.
Will Ferrell’s Bush Is Back
“How do you like me now, huh?” opens Will Ferrell as he revives his impression of ol’ No. 43. “History has proven to be kinder to me than many of you thought,” he adds with a sly grin on his face.
Fortunately for everyone, Ferrell was given a generous amount of time to work his George W. Bush magic, producing a great number of gems.
On President Bush’s old tensions with the press: “I wish someone had told me that all you have to do is say ‘fake news’ over and over again.”
On legendary White House reporter Helen Thomas: “Helen Thomas asks tougher questions as a dead woman than any man at Fox News asks today.”
On No. 45’s sartorial decisions: “Here’s a fashion update for you, Mr. Trump: The tie stops at the belt.”
Nixon, Reagan, and Pence
Many of the harshest critiques of the night actually weren’t directed at the current president — they were aimed at past ones. A clever series of videos found Bee time-traveling to the WHCDs of various administrations past (and one in the future) to do the job right. She goes after Woodrow Wilson for the racist policies that recently nearly got his name removed from Princeton’s public affairs school; Ronald Reagan’s “approach” to the AIDS crisis; Nixon’s, um, list-making; and Bill Clinton’s sexual harassment. She even goes after 2018’s President Pence, whom Bee predicts will complete his mission in turning America into a Handmaid’s Tale-esque society where women are stripped of their rights.
Bee and her staffers made sure to carve out some time to honor the important work being done by media outlets that aren’t named CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. That includes embattled local newspapers; KCRW’s (very good) Left, Right, and Center radio show/podcast; Teen Vogue; and even The Weather Channel.
This led to Bee taking an extended jab at CNN, which she referred to as a “man-made disaster.” Using network boss Jeff Zucker’s own words against him, she suggests a new slogan for the channel: “There’s news in it almost every time.”
The War on Fact
This taped bit analyzes the Trump administration’s relationship to facts — and “alternative facts” — by interviewing A) the head of the fact-checking department at The New Yorker, B) current Washington Post media columnist (and former New York Times public editor) Margaret Sullivan, and C) Steve Buscemi. Best (or at least silliest!) line: “If facts is, what is they?”
Celebrity Trump Roast
An impressive cast of comedians — including Billy Eichner, Paula Pell, and Norman Lear, to name a few — show up for a series of impeccable one-liners, such as:
Kumail Nanjiani: “Trump is like that weird high school friend of yours who shows up at the party, doesn’t bring any beer, drinks everybody’s liquor, is weird to all the girls, and on the way out doesn’t condemn hate crimes.”
Carl Reiner: “I was in Ocean’s Eleven, a movie about a casino heist. Trump didn’t find the movie believable because it revolved around a casino that was actually making a profit.”
Billy Eichner: “You ever notice Betsy DeVos and a duffel bag full of orphan bones are never seen in the same room together? Makes you think.”
Sam Bee: “You’re basically the presidential Fyre Festival.”
Fox News Roast
Bee found no shortage of material when she dug into the “Fair and Balanced” cable news network. Sexual harassment, racism, Islamophobia, Fox & Friends: The gang’s all here.
Hillary Clinton Roast
What if Hillary had won the election? Bee plays out this alternate-reality à la Man in the High Castle and gives us a peek at what Clinton’s WHCD might’ve looked like. Among the best lines:
—“What a 2017 it’s been. Hillary Clinton was sworn in as president, the Patriots lost the Super Bowl, Lemonade won Album of the Year, and every print of La La Land spontaneously combusted.”
—“Clinton also raised eyebrows when she put her son-in-law Marc Mezvinsky in charge of brokering peace in the Middle East. I’m just kidding — how stupid would that be!”
—“If anybody needs to go the ladies’ room, please go now — the president’s entire staff is here, so there’s going to be a long line.”
For a full recap of the actual WHCD, click here.