Obama at the White House Correspondents' Dinner: 'I'm not the strapping Muslim Socialist I used to be'


Video: US President raises laughs at glitzy annual Correspondents’ Dinner

New York

President Obama poked fun at himself and his Republican foes at the weekend, generating early laughs at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner with the line: “I’m not the strapping young Muslim Socialist I used to be.”

The annual dinner brings together the Washington press corps, reigning politicians and a number of Hollywood celebrities for a night of networking and humour during which the Commander-in-Chief takes a brief turn as Comedian-in-Chief. It’s a tradition going back nearly a century. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan phoned in his remarks from Camp David, having survived an assassination attempt just weeks earlier. More recently, in 2000, Bill Clinton marked his final turn at the dinner with the line: “A year from now, I’ll have to watch someone else give this speech. And I will feel an onset of that rare affliction, unique to former presidents. AGDD: Attention-Getting Deficit Disorder.”

This year, fresh from the dedication of the George W Bush presidential library in Dallas, Mr Obama used his speech to turn to plans for his own legacy, saying: “Some have suggested that we put [my library] in my birthplace, but I’d rather keep it in the United States.”

Along with references to the so-called “birther” movement of right-wingers who question whether the President was born in the US, Mr Obama also looked back on his own mis-steps, including his controversial comments about Kamala Harris, the Attorney-General of California. “I happen to mention that Kamala Harris is the best-looking Attorney-General in the country. As you might imagine, I got trouble when I got back home,” he said. “Who knew Eric Holder [the US Attorney-General] was so sensitive?”

Outside the venue there were protesters dressed as devils, and inside some of the jokes also failed to raise a laugh. It’s a particular challenge for the headline act – this year, the honour went to the talk show host Conan O’Brien – whose job it is to roast the most powerful politician in the world. Back in 2006, Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert was thought to have made President Bush uncomfortable with barbs about his administration’s low poll numbers. Referring to staff changes that some had likened to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, Mr Colbert said: “This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg.”  Mr O’Brien didn’t spark any such controversy this year, although many thought the President’s speech was funnier.

Critics did, however, complain about the growing size of the Hollywood contingent at an event that originally was meant to give the city’s powerful a chance to spend an informal evening with those who are employed to report on their affairs. The veteran TV news presenter Tom Brokaw said he would not attend this year’s event because of way the dinner had changed, saying the breaking point for him was the attendance last year of Lindsay Lohan, the troubled actress. This Saturday, in addition to Congressional leaders and senior White House officials inside the Hilton ballroom, Hollywood was represented by Nicole Kidman, Sharon Stone and Steven Spielberg, among others.

Indeed Spielberg was the President’s sidekick for one of  the most well-received jokes of the night, a skit in which Barack Obama played Daniel Day-Lewis playing ... Barack Obama.

The pre-recorded segment featured Spielberg describing how, like his last film Lincoln, his latest project would be an eponymous biopic of another President: Obama. Referring to Day Lewis’s skills as a method actor Mr Obama was shown fiddling with his “prosthetic” ears (“I don’t know how he walks around with these things”) and attempting to mimic his own famous body language. And the segment had another joke with a sting in the tail, when Spielberg revealed how he had come to the idea. “The guy’s already a lame duck,” he said, “so why wait?”

White House wit: Presidential jokes

“This is also the night of the Kremlin Correspondents Dinner in Moscow. That’s when the members of the Soviet media gather to laugh at Gorbachev’s jokes – or else.”

Ronald Reagan, 1986

“You know, the clock is running down on the Republicans in Congress, too...They’ve only got seven more months to investigate me.”

Bill Clinton, 2000

“Our entertainment tonight is Craig Ferguson. You know, this is a small world. Craig was once in a punk band called Bastards from Hell, which is what Dick [Cheney] and I are going to call our band.”

George W Bush, 2008

“This whole controversy about Jay-Z going to Cuba – it’s unbelievable. I’ve got 99 problems and now Jay-Z is one."

President Obama on Saturday

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk