Humor, Humility, and Hubris in High Places

A  Demonstration This Past Weekend of Important Qualities

A Long-Delayed Event

The White House Correspondents Dinner happened last weekend, the first time in several years, and the first time in 6 years one has been held with a sitting president in attendance. It is very much an insider’s gathering, but this one had some useful observations for us all.

A confession: I have a soft spot for this event. I was a guest for it one year and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is the Washington version of the Oscars and the Met, rolled into one, sometimes with a bit of Burning Man thrown in by surprise. It is a unique gathering of Washington big wheels and Hollywood glamor. I cannot think of another event like this.

It was a charge rubbing elbows with all that power and glamor. I knew several them personally, but most were just images I had seen, like everyone else. Hey, the only time I ever had a one-on-one conversation with Al Franken was when we had adjoining urinals at this dinner. Such glamor!

And one should note, the hotel staff does an impressive job. How they feed over 2,000 people that well and that fast is a mystery to me. I top out at about 6 dinners when I am cooking and serving.

An Overall Scorecard

High marks all around. This thing moved along at a very nice clip. Almost everyone who came to the mic was ready to go. Good presentations, funny jokes, well delivered serious segments.

The tributes to two black women reporters who first broke the color barriers in the media and the tributes to journalists and photographers who lost their lives (so many in Ukraine) were powerfully moving. They were also reminders of how important a serious free press is to a democracy.

The fact that so much media now is just a business, or a propaganda wing ,does not erase the importance of getting it right. In fact, it underlines how important that is. And there are still pockets of standards and practitioners of the craft that make us proud. Just not enough of them.

All in all, a fine production this year.

The Dominant Feeling, The Major Players

If I captured it correctly, the dominant feeling among participants and observers was that everyone was hungry – starving – for a bit of normalcy, for community, for humor, and for civility. I think they got it, a good dose of all of it.

The Stars of the Show? There were only two, of course: the President and the Primary Presnter. Both Biden and Noah rose to the occasion.


Everyone was focused on how Biden would do, of course. He had a terrific night. He and his writers brought it home on both the comedy and the substance fronts. Most importantly, he came.

Equally important, he showed good humor, was appropriately self-effacing, and said all the right things about the role of the press in a democracy. His delivery of the jokes was spot on.

My favorite line of his for the night (and there were several good ones): “ I am not here to pick on the Republicans. You know that is not my thing. And besides, what could I say that Kevin McCarthy has not already said – on tape?”

He spoke for just under 15 minutes. If you missed, you should hear it. Here you go:

Trevor Noah

First time in this role. Watching him before his turn at the mic, he was clearly nervous, and his first couple of minutes were a bit stiff, but being the pro that he is, he quickly warmed up and made a fine delivery of a lot of good material.

Some of it was really inside Washington stuff that a lot of us would not get, but that’s OK – the audience there got it pretty much every time.

Fox took enough hits (deserved) that they probably should have gotten a refund for their table. Had I been king for a day, I would have shortened Trevor’s routine by about 5 minutes – 25 minutes is a long run for this kind of thing, but not too bad in that regard.  All things considered, good content, funny jokes, fine delivery.

In case you missed it, here is a link for just his monologue:

Who Cares?

I hope we all do. We should want to see a president who is thoughtful, articulate, funny, civil, and able to take a punch.

Contrast Joe Biden’s demeanor and performance with Donald Trump’s at the Al Smith dinner in 2016. The latter was a sad, embarrassing little episode (

The comparison will remind you of how much we do NOT miss Trump in public life.

We should also care about a media that takes its role in democracy seriously. Celebrate those who risk it all to ensure the rest of us know what is going on. Flgure out how to square the circle of freedom and responsibility in the age of social media.




Bill Clontz

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1 reply to Humor, Humility, and Hubris in High Places

  1. Thank you for writing! It’s uplifting. Keep it coming.

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