President Joe Biden and first lady Dr Jill Biden attended the Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday, marking the first attendance of a US president at the event in years thanks to former President Donald Trump’s repeated refusal to attend the star-studded events.
A number of current and former Saturday Night Live cast mates, hosts and writers appeared at the event honouring the show’s creator Lorne Michaels alongside other cultural figures including including actresses Bette Midler, singers Joni Mitchell and Justino Díaz, and producer Berry Gordy.
The event was also the second Kennedy Center Honors to be held in the 2021 calendar year after the 2020 Honors were postponed and held in May due to concerns resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Biden laughed along with SNL’s Michael Che, who gave the elder statesman a light ribbing by suggesting that the event was being held past his bedtime.
“It’s intimidating doing jokes in front of President Biden. I have to keep reminding myself, there’s no way he’s still awake right now,” quipped Mr Che.
He also added, to surprised laughter from the crowd: “This is so nerve-wracking. I haven’t been back here in DC since January 6.”
Making a reference about valuables stolen from the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi that appeared to go over many audience members’ heads, Mr Che joked, “It’s not what you think...I needed a new laptop.”
SNL alum Jimmy Fallon added to the ribbing in a joke about the power in the entertainment industry amassed by Mr Michaels over the decades: “It's a bit intimidating to do jokes in front of the most powerful man in the world...and President Biden.”
Mr Trump’s absence from past years’ events was noted by opener David Letterman, who took the opportunity to make a joke about a lack of leadership in the Trump White House.
“It's quite nice once again to see the presidential box being occupied,” said Mr Letterman, adding: “And the same with the Oval Office.”
The night was not all centered around comedy. The event saw operatic performances honouring Mr Díaz, a tribute to Ms Midler delivered by Billy Porter, and a performance of Ms Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” by singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding. Motown legend Smokey Robinson and Oprah Winfrey honoured Mr Gordy, hailing him for discovering numerous hit acts including Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.
Mr Biden also delivered remarks of his own, and took the opportunity to jab Mr Michaels over the long list of SNL guest stars and cast members who have attempted to tackle impressions of the 46th president for the show.
“He's trying out seven guys to play me,” he joked of Mr Michaels.
The president added: “Laughter is good for the soul. If you can’t laugh at yourself, we’re in big trouble...And you make me laugh at myself a lot.”
The program will be available to watch later this month; CBS will air the broadcast in full on Wednesday 22 December, at 9:00 p.m. eastern.
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