Cecily Strong talks hosting the White House Correspondents' Dinner, 'SNL,' and dad jokes
This weekend, Cecily Strong will take on Washington, D.C. as host of the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. But first, the 31-year-old Saturday Night Live star chats with EW about funny presidents, House of Cards, and dad jokes.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re going to be one of the last people to roast President Obama while he’s in office. What’s your game plan?
CECILY STRONG: There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on right now. I want to go after the religious-freedom laws in Arkansas and Indiana, but who knows if that’ll even be a thing by then? Maybe they’ll turn into very accepting, wonderful, gay places. In two weeks, Indiana is going to do only gay marriages!
Have you been watching past WHCDs for inspiration? Do you have a favorite?
Sure. I actually watched Seth’s [Meyers] anyway back when it happened. And the Stephen Colbert one years ago. It’s tough—I don’t want those two looming over me, because they both did so well. I’d say Colbert’s is my favorite just because it was groundbreaking. But I probably won’t go as harsh as he did. He was very harsh! It even made people watch C-Span. I bet C-Span was so happy, too. They must’ve had a huge party that night.
Is it easier knowing that Obama is a pretty funny guy himself?
I think that makes it worse. It’s hard to follow the funniest president! You don’t want him to be funnier, you know? Which he very well may be. For some jokes, at least. They can’t all be winners.
Is he the funniest president?
Obama is very, very funny. He’s also a very cool president. But for the purposes of comedy, obviously George W. Bush was the best. I don’t know if it’s just because Will Ferrell was so amazing [on SNL], but he was the easiest president to laugh at. Though I find him quite endearing now. I love what he’s doing these days! He softened up.
What was your initial reaction when you got the offer to host?
I didn’t believe it, because it came from my dad. He worked for the Associated Press 30 years ago, and he knows the head of the Correspondents’ Association. She emailed him to get in touch with me. Who would believe that? I don’t know if your dad is as goofy as mine, but I did not believe him for a week. I thought he was saying he had been invited. So I said, “Uh, great, Dad…have fun?” Like, “Yeah, I get it, Dad—you’re cool. You’ve still got it, Bill.”
But then I finally called him to be like, “What are you saying?” And when I figured out this was for real, I was actually hoping it would fall on a show week so I would have a very easy excuse to back out of it. [laughs] But it’s too exciting to say no to. I would kick myself. How many times will I get to do this again? Never—he’s not going to have anymore! He’s done being president now! I’m giving him his last hurrah.
Since your dad knows that world, has he offered any advice?
He sent me one joke. It’s a thing he would post on Facebook and all his friends would be like, “That’s great, Bill! LOL!”
So it was a dad joke?
A truly boring one. It’s light observational humor, which is his style. [laughs] But he can also be very silly. We always loved Wayne’s World together—that was big. I remember watching Wayne’s World in the theater with my dad. And we both have very loud laughs, so hopefully you’ll hear him belly-laughing at the dinner.
What’s your favorite TV version of Washington?
I love the House of Cards version. It feels sort of real. I have no basis to say that, but I take it as real. I think they probably all kill people, are real shady. It feels accurate, right?
If so, then you must be nervous.
I’d better not offend anyone. They’ll make a target of me.
You’re the fourth woman ever to host the dinner. Does that cross your mind as you prepare?
You know, people ask that, but I think it’s more exciting to everyone else than me. I am glad they asked a woman. At least it’ll be something different at the podium—I’ll be in a gown, which they haven’t seen in a while. But that’s really as far as I’m thinking of it. I’m not going as a big statement. Although if people take it that way, that’s pretty cool too.
So I guess that leads to the “State of Women in Comedy” question…
[Laughs] I hope I don’t sound negative. I don’t mean to. I do feel lucky to be a woman in comedy right now. There’s a lot of opportunities that are available to me now that might not have been available 10 years ago or so. People have really… once producers found out they could make money off of women in comedy, it became an asset. So I feel really lucky right now in that sense.
SNL itself has been dominated by strong female performers lately.
And everybody’s really different, which is nice. It turns out not all women are the same, and our show reflects that. Who knew?!
This is your third season on SNL. How would you grade it?
I’ve been loving it. It’s been so much fun because we’re all getting to know each other better—it feels like it’s becoming more of an ensemble. I don’t know if it looks like that to other people, but it definitely feels that way.
And for me personally, it feels very different this season from last season. I’m a lot more comfortable, I think, with the pressure of “Weekend Update” off of me. I feel freer in a way. It feels like a whole different show to me. The free time alone! With the time commitment [of “Update”], it was hard to split it up and give enough time to either of those roles. And once the audience gets to know you a little more, you can try some new things.
The WHCD seems like the perfect event for the Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party.
Oh, totally. And that’s 100 percent how I get a lot of my jokes. I love overhearing people and people-watching. So this is her world. And she’ll have tons of thoughts on next year’s election.
It must make Nerd Prom that much more exciting.
It is all nerds, right? But I still have to work [on SNL], so I can’t party as much as I’d like to. Normally I’d out-party them all. I want you to print that—I need people to know that I’m very cool, that I’m always partying. Please write, “She’s very cool. She’s very much like a rock star, that Cecily.”