Samantha Bee Is Making Up For a Joke-Free White House Correspondents' Dinner

Host Samantha Bee speaks onstage during Full Frontal With Samantha Bee's Not The White House Correspondents' Dinner -Getty-H 2019
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

The WHCA "have acquiesced and I do not approve, so we will have our own dinner and we will do it the way we want to do it," Bee says ahead of WHCD weekend.

Samantha Bee doesn't think much of the White House Correspondents' Association's decision to pick a prize-winning historian, Ron Chernow, rather than a comedian, to speak at Saturday's annual White House Correspondents' Dinner.

The tradition-breaking decision seemingly stemmed in part from the lengthy cycle of political outrage that followed comedian Michelle Wolf's digs at Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway during last year's dinner.

"They have acquiesced, and I do not approve, so we will have our own dinner and we will do it the way we want to do it," Bee tells The Hollywood Reporter a few days before she hosts the second edition of her Not The White House Correspondents' Dinner event at Washington, D.C.'s DAR Constitution Hall on Friday night, which will air as a TBS special.

President Donald Trump spent months trying to score political points off of Wolf's performance, and suggested in November that he might actually attend a joke-less event, tweeting: "So-called comedian Michelle Wolf bombed so badly last year at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner that this year, for the first time in decades, they will have an author instead of a comedian. Good first step in comeback of a dying evening and tradition! Maybe I will go?" (No dice, however. He's holding a political rally in Wisconsin instead.)

"You don't take the president's suggestions to heart," Bee says now. "You don't listen to what he says on Twitter. You do the opposite of that. It's about free speech." (But, she says of Chernow, "I actually think he's probably going to do a really good job.")

Bee, who felt Sanders' wrath in May after crudely insulting Ivanka Trump on her Full Frontal TBS show, thinks the reaction to Wolf's performance was overblown and duplicitous.

"It's an easy thing to deflect the words of a comedian when you need to tell a completely different story," she says. "If your actions are uncivil, I think that's so much worse. It's a fun, powerful, distracting weapon to turn the lens on us, but we're not the ones making policy. We're not the ones putting people in cages. So, fuck you. Fuck you, really."

Back to the programming: Bee says that her event this year will be "smoother" and offer guests "better food," in addition to a "robot Sarah Huckabee Sanders" that will serve as an "on-site censor" during the show.

For a president who constantly decries being victim to "presidential harassment," Bee promises, "We'll do some presidential harassment at our event."

She hopes the event honors journalists, which is what the White Correspondents' Dinner Weekend was always meant to do. She wants them to try one of this year's specialty cocktails, A Yellow Russian, an allusion to the so-called "pee tape" that probably doesn't exist. (Proceeds from the event will go to the Committee to Protect Journalists.)

"We want to talk about journalism under siege," she says. "We want to give them their due. It's important to us. I think it's just great to have a party and invite journalists to it. We have some cocktails for them. They're free. They can load up on Yellow Russians, and they can have one night of respite, maybe? Just one hour and a half where they don't check their phones constantly?"

Bee, who debuted her counter-programming event in 2017, didn't plan on doing it again. But, she says, "I felt like it was time to check in again."