It was not the greatest test of his young presidency, but there was always scope for Barack Obama to fall flat at this first effort as comic-in-chief. But if the verdict after Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner were determined by decibels of laughter, he was a loud hit.
It helps that on this of all occasions, the critical faculties of most of the reporters attending are in pause mode. It’s hard not to respond generously when you are being dazzled not just by the leader of the free world - and his very bright smile - but by the myriad celebrities who find it hard to stay away too.
No one is more aware than Mr Obama himself that America’s political press corps has been more or less kind to his new administration. He said as much. “Most of you covered me; all of you voted for me,” he noted, scanning the 2,000-odd guests in the less than prepossessing ballroom of the Washington Hilton hotel. “Apologies to the Fox table.” (So not quite everyone is fan.)
“I believe my next hundred days will be so successful that I will be able to complete them in 72 days,” he carried on poking fun successfully both at his colleagues, political opponents, once his wife and frequently himself. “And on my 73rd day, I will rest”. While on that theme, he added: “During the second 100 days, we will design, build and open a library dedicated to my first 100 days.
Absent Republicans were not spared his jabs, of course; teasing his predecessors in the White House was always going to work. Thus the room erupted when he deadpanned: “I must confess I really didn’t want to be here tonight. But I had to come. That’s one more problem I inherited from George Bush.”
And so on to former Vice President Dick Cheney. He hadn’t made it to the dinner, Mr Obama told an expectant audience, because he is busy writing a book tentatively titled, “How to Shoot Friends and Interrogate People”. The references to Mr Cheney’s unhappy hunting trip when he accidentally peppered a pal and his enthusiasm for “enhanced interrogation” techniques were not lost on anyone.
Earlier in the spring, Mr Obama demurred when asked to another night of elite journalistic ribaldry, the annual Gridiron Dinner. But the Correspondents Dinner has been attended by every sitting President since Calvin Coolidge. So the hosts on Saturday were glad he showed up, never mind his choice of neckwear. Mr Obama, apparently, is not afraid to don a regular tie with a dinner jacket.
Michelle Obama was at the top table in a bright fuschia dress that of course did nothing to conceal those triceps that are the envy of teachers everywhere. And so along came the joke. The first lady has been tireless in bridging divisions in the country including with those who believe in their right to “bare arms”.
As for he and Hillary Clinton, they could not be closer, Mr Obama said. “In fact the second she got back from Mexico, she pulled me into a hug, and gave me a big kiss and told me I better get down there myself” he said, playing off the swine flu threat in that country.
While the President was the runaway star of the dinner, cameras and blackberry lenses were directed much of the time at the other famous names in the room. Now we know which constituencies of Hollywood have fallen in love with the country’s new leader: all of them.
Glenn Close was there and so was Robert De Niro, Jennifer Garner, Ben Affleck, Natalie Portman, Stevie Wonder, Sting, John Cusack, Demi Moore, Alicia Keys, Eva Longoria Parker; Forest Whitaker; Jon Hamm; Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges as well as directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. To name a few.
Mr Obama stayed the right side of bawdy, but did make reference to the famously foul mouth of his chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel and how he would be coping yesterday which was Mother’s Day in America. “This is a tough holiday for Rahm. He’s not used to saying the word ‘day’ after ‘mother’.”
The mistress of ceremonies, actress and comedian Wanda Sykes, was less circumspect. She noted that the paparazzi had never got a shot of Mr Obama smoking, “but they always catch you with your shirt off. I know you’re into this transparency thing, but I don’t need to see your nipples.”
So was his stand-up funny?
*Wanda Sykes had a strong opening act: President Obama killed, as comedians like to say, in his own lead-in routine ... the President exuded a Johnny Carson-like aplomb in delivering lines, chuckling at some of the punchlines as though he appreciated how well his writers' material was going over. Entertainment Weekly
*Jokes about Rahm swearing are a bit tired, though Obama's: "He's not used to saying the word 'day' after 'mother' " wasn't bad. Ben Smith, Politico.com
*Ham-in-Chief! New York Daily News
*How is it funny going after Bush? They did that for 8 years and it's time to move on. The left wing has become so despicable. Reader's post by Liberals-HaveNoClass on TMZ.com
*Our President's wit is to be admired. He's got the timing! Blogger, Thinkingblue
Watch the speech in full here
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies