Jon Stewart's Speech, 1997
It was a different era in 1997. The Lewinsky scandal hadn’t yet broken; the economy was booming; and a young comedian named Jon Stewart wouldn’t become host of The Daily Show for another two years. But the brown-haired (!) jokester gave a hint of what was to come with his well-received remarks, gamely imitating Washington insiders and making self-deprecating cracks about how he ended up on the podium. (Apparently, both Rosie O’Donnell and Dennis Miller were unavailable.)
Best line: ”I love Senator Kennedy. I think that guy’s the coolest. Although I do think he has kind of an enormous head. Honestly, it doesn’t even look like a head — it looks more like a container for a head.”
Bill Clinton's ''The Final Days'' Video, 2000
How did Clinton spend his last spring in office? Well, according to an amusing video that played at his last Correspondents’ Dinner, his day-to-day activities included sadly walking around the West Wing, packing sack lunches for Hillary, mowing the White House lawn, stealing Kevin Spacey’s Oscar, finally learning how to use the Internet — oh, and reading a certain weekly entertainment magazine. (No, not People.)
Best line: Clinton, learning to use eBay for the first time: ”I wanna buy a smoked ham!”
Ozzy Osbourne Steals the Show, 2002
In an age of reality TV saturation, it’s tough to remember what a big deal The Osbournes was when it premiered in 2002. But by the time the Prince of Darkness showed up for the WHCD, he and his family were a bona fide phenomenon, and when President Bush name-checked Osbourne during his speech, the addled musician stood on his chair and goaded the crowd into clapping and cheering for a full 30 seconds. Take that, politics!
Best line: Bush, as the applause for Ozzy was finally dying down: ”Okay, Ozzy… [Inviting him] might have been a mistake.”
Laura Bush's Speech, 2005
The First Lady upstaged Cedric the Entertainer — and her own husband — with this surprisingly edgy routine, which revealed what it’s really like to be married to Dubya. Apparently, her typical evening goes a little something like this: ”Nine o’clock. Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep, and I’m watching Desperate Housewives — with Lynne Cheney. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate housewife.” Can Laura do a speech every year, please?
Best line: ”George and I were just meant to be. I was the librarian who spent 12 hours a day in the library — yet somehow, I met George.”
Stephen Colbert's Speech, 2006
Colbert was invited to speak by Mark Smith, an outgoing Press Corps president who wasn’t very familiar with the satirist’s work. He proceeded to tear down the president, his administration, and the media itself for over 16 stinging, shocking, utterly hilarious minutes — even as several people walked out in protest. The routine was too much for those who heard it live — but on YouTube, it caught fire, establishing Colbert as one of our most daring comedians.
Best line: It’s tough to choose, but we’ll go with this zinger: ”Guys like us, we don’t pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in ‘reality.’ And reality has a well-known liberal bias.”
Bush's ''Top Ten Moments,'' 2007
The WHCD’s organizers played it safe the year after Colbert’s speech, inviting innocuous impressionist Rich Little to take the stage (after comedians like Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld turned them down). The dinner did have one bright spot: a hilarious ”Top Ten” list of President Bush’s funniest gaffes and bumbling moments, helpfully compiled by David Letterman.
Best line: Bush, in Moment #6: ”…that there be a stable Iran, [an] Iran that is capable of rejecting Iranian influence. I mean, Iraq!”
Craig Ferguson's Speech, 2008
The Late Late Show host was much easier on Bush than Colbert had been — which may have been why the crowd received his remarks more warmly. Ferguson also interspersed jokes about Keith Olbermann and the New York Times (”Shut up, you sanctimonious whining jerks!”) with heartfelt remarks about his own recently earned U.S. citizenship. A funny patriot who still sports a sexy Scottish accent — who can resist that?
Best line: ”The vice president is already moving out of his residence. It takes longer than you think to pack up an entire dungeon.”
Wanda Sykes' Speech, 2009
This Emmy-winner started out strong, ribbing the new POTUS’s many photo ops and a press that was filled with folks who believed Obama could do no wrong. And, overall, her speech was a success. Unfortunately, its legacy may be forever tainted by a few nasty jokes that rubbed conservatives the wrong way. (Example: ”I think maybe Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker, but he was just strung out on OxyContin and missed his flight.”)
Best line: Directed at Obama: ”I know you’re into this ‘transparency’ thing, but, uh, I don’t need to see your nipples. Is there a beach at Camp David? You know, there was never a nipple portrait of Lincoln.”
Seth Meyers' Speech, 2011
By doing a more finely honed version of his usual Weekend Update shtick — and taking extra shots at both MSNBC and CSPAN — Saturday Night Live‘s head writer struck gold. To be fair, he also had an overabundance of material to work with — including the candidates running for the 2012 Republican nomination, a now-battle-weary Obama, and the always amusing Donald Trump. (But more on him in the next slide.)
Best line: Okay, fine, one Trump gag: ”And then, of course, there’s Donald Trump. Donald Trump has been saying he will run for President as a Republican. Which is surprising, since I just assumed he was running as a joke.”
Obama's Speech, 2011
On second thought, why bother inviting a comedian when the President himself may be the funniest man in the room? Like Bush and Clinton before him, Obama has always done well at the WHCD — but in 2011, his remarks were particularly hilarious, thanks to a riff about Donald Trump and the Birther movement. Oh, and his original ”birth video” — which was really an expertly chosen clip from a certain Disney blockbuster.
Best line: After showing a montage from the beginning of The Lion King: ”I want to make clear to the Fox News table: that was a joke. That was not my real birth video. That was a children’s cartoon. Call Disney if you don’t believe me. They have the original long-form version.”
Jimmy Kimmel's Speech, 2012
ABC’s great late night hope gave an address that was funny but safe, focusing several of his Obama jokes on the fact that the commander-in-chief had sampled dog meat as a boy in Indonesia. (”Last week,” Kimmel cracked, ”we learned that the president’s two favorite steaks are rib eye and Seeing Eye.”) Though Obama was amused, Kimmel did run afoul of Keith Olbermann after quipping about the newsman’s recent ousting from Current TV, leading Olbermann to complain that Kimmel’s jokes were motivated by revenge. Eh, can’t please ’em all.
Best Line: To portly New Jersey governor Chris Christie: ”You must be misunderstanding New Jersey’s slogan. It’s not ‘the Olive Garden state.”’
Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, 2013
Yes, official comedy diplomat Conan O’Brien and President Obama himself got in a few good jabs. The dinner’s true highlight, though, was a pre-taped video called ”House of Nerds,” starring the Oscar winner in his latest iconic role. Spacey channeled House of Cards‘ crooked, murderous congressman while acting opposite a variety of real-life Washington bigwigs, including John McCain and Valerie Jarrett. Sure, the spoof is practically the definition of inside baseball — but if you get the references, it’s pretty great.
Best line: To New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, ”You can’t run for mayor again, Mike. That’ll put Anthony Weiner in a pickle, and then he’ll tweet that pickle.”