Critic's Notebook: The WHCD Shouldn't Have Scrapped Comedy

Michelle Wolf WHCD - Getty - H 2018
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

They should've doubled down instead. Michelle Wolf was offensive? How about Sacha Baron Cohen?

Next year's White House Correspondents' Dinner will buck tradition by not featuring a comedian as featured speaker. Instead, historian Ron Chernow, author of such acclaimed biographies as Alexander Hamilton and Grant, will deliver the…zzzz.

Sorry, I nodded off there for a minute. But it will be nothing compared to the snoozefest that the 2019 event promises to be. It's all thanks to the White House Correspondents' Association, which has kowtowed to the current presidential administration that, boo-hoo, can't take a joke.

This is how the Association responds to President Trump's constant attacks? Trump, who lambastes "little Adam Schitt" in a tweet, can't stand the thought of being the subject of ridicule. Trump, of course, never confronts his nemeses face to face. He makes insulting cracks about them while tweeting from the privacy of his White House bathroom or speaking to his adoring followers at rallies for whom name-calling is the preferred form of political discourse.

Trump's thin skin is what got our country into its current mess. It's when he was mercilessly skewered by Barack Obama and Seth Meyers at the 2011 dinner that he supposedly became determined to get revenge by running for president. So there is an argument to be made for not having a featured comedian at the event, if only to prevent the possibility of future would-be dictators ascending to higher office.

Seven months after Michelle Wolf's raunchy takedown of the administration, the WHCA is rethinking the whole exercise. This isn't the first time. The year after Stephen Colbert brilliantly ripped George W. Bush to his face, the association went with that most cutting-edge of comedians, Rich Little.

But the timing of this decision doesn't make sense. It comes after Trump skipped the last two dinners, because he could hardly be seen consorting with the enemies of the people. It would make him look like a hypocrite, although that bar has been set so low an amoeba couldn't pass under it. Trump has also declined to attend the Kennedy Center Awards, but for that we can only be grateful. Norman Lear shouldn't have to be in the same room with him.

Some have argued that the president not being in the ballroom while a comedian is making fun of him makes the proceedings look unnecessarily nasty. But whose fault is that except the coward-in-chief's? If memory serves, Barack Obama was the recipient of some pretty nasty jabs over the years. But not only did he take it, he served it right back. Obama delivered the funniest speeches ever by a president at these events, delivering his routines with the crack timing of a Borscht Belt comic. He almost always outshone the headline talent, and if his stand-up wasn't working, he probably would have killed with a song.

In many ways, Trump has been a boon to comedy, if not necessarily to comedians. (You can feel many of them cracking under the strain.) Unfortunately, the president's largesse doesn't extend to free speech, which has taken a marked hit under his administration. Trump has made it very clear that he holds journalists in low regard, even managing to look the other way when a foreign country murders and dismembers one of them.

The WHCA shouldn't succumb to his pressure, it should double down. Michelle Wolf was offensive? How about Sacha Baron Cohen? He could fool Trump into being interviewed by one of his characters (it wouldn't be hard). My personal choice would be Kathy Griffin, assuming the Secret Service would let her in the room.