On Saturday, Barack Obama delivered his eighth and final White House Correspondents Dinner stand-up set, telling 46 jokes and then literally dropping the mic to close his presidential comedy career. His first seven performances–all funny, filled with highly-warranted barbs against his political and media adversaries–had established him as one of the funniest presidents in our history, right up there with his boy Abe. So the anticipation and the expectations for Obama’s last show were sky high, especially against the backdrop of the asinine 2016 election. The president famously skewered Donald Trump at this event in 2011, and people were eager to see what he would unleash on the now-presumptive GOP nominee for an encore.
Unfortunately, by his standards, he didn’t unleash much. The president’s final act had some good jokes mixed in but was ultimately a disappointment. He lobbed up one stale throwaway line after another and failed to say much of substance in what was by far his worst and most frivolous Correspondents Dinner performance. That’s not to say there weren’t some good lines amid a lot of clunkers. Here is every joke Obama told at the 2016 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, ranked from least to most funny:
46 I’m so old, I’m a skeleton!
“Meanwhile, Michelle has not aged a day. The only way you can date her in photos is by looking at me.Take a look. Here we are in 2008. (Slide is shown.) Here we are a few years later. (Slide is shown.) And this one is from two weeks ago.” (Slide is shown)
I cringed with embarrassment at how bad this visual punchline was. I cannot fathom how or why the president’s team put this in his set. This is one of those lifeless jokes where you roll your eyes and make a sarcastic ba-dum-tss drum sound.
45 I’m so old, I have to get up to pee at night!
“Hillary once questioned whether I’d be ready for a 3 a.m. phone call—now I’m awake anyway because I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”
Soooooo cornball. He isn’t even very old!
44 Kendall Jenner is here
“Kendall Jenner is also here. And we had a chance to meet her backstage — she seems like a very nice young woman. I’m not exactly sure what she does, but I am told that my Twitter mentions are about to go through the roof.”
This scarcely even qualifies as a joke.
43 Michelle and her carrots
“As for me and Michelle, we’ve decided to stay in D.C. for a couple more years.Thank you. This way, our youngest daughter can finish up high school, Michelle can stay closer to her plot of carrots. She’s already making plans to see them every day. Take a look.” (Slide is shown.)
Stay away from the Photoshop jokes, Barack. Swing and a miss.
42 Michelle looks happy to be here–not!
“My brilliant and beautiful wife, Michelle, is here tonight. She looks so happy to be here. That’s called practice—it’s like learning to do three-minute planks. She makes it look easy now.”
Barack goes into full 1950s Midwestern dorky dad mode when he makes jokes about his wife. They’re never funny.
41 Michelle jumped the White House fence to get out
“But the prospect of leaving the White House is a mixed bag. You might have heard that someone jumped the White House fence last week, but I have to give Secret Service credit—they found Michelle, brought her back, she’s safe back at home now. It’s only nine more months, baby. Settle down.”
Yuck yuck. We get it, she doesn’t want to be here.
40 College weed joke
“And yet, somehow, despite all this, despite the churn, in my final year, my approval ratings keep going up. The last time I was this high, I was trying to decide on my major.”
39 Merrick Garland Red Wedding
“In fact, I think we’ve got Republican Senators Tim Scott and Cory Gardner, they’re in the house, which reminds me, security, bar the doors! Judge Merrick Garland, come on out, we’re going to do this right here, right now. It’s like “The Red Wedding.”
Obama and his writers could have come up with a lot better material to nail the Republicans for refusing to consider his SCOTUS pick. Time and again the president went for a silly gag over a substantive joke with bite.
38 The whole Couch Commander video
The four minute “Couch Commander” video Barack showed towards the end of his set isn’t really just one joke, but I’m going to group it all together because it was all so cheesy and laughless. Aside from the opening, where Obama amusingly says “Fuck you, Chuck Todd,” this was a major flop filled with expired birth certificate jokes and an uninspired cameo by John Boehner. And fuck, it was long. Obama has great comedic timing; he should stick to the stand-up because his photoshop and video jokes were terrible.
37 Where’s The Donald?
“Although I am a little hurt that he’s not here tonight. We had so much fun the last time. And it is surprising. You’ve got a room full of reporters, celebrities, cameras, and he says no? Is this dinner too tacky for The Donald? What could he possibly be doing instead? Is he at home, eating a Trump Steak—tweeting out insults to Angela Merkel? What’s he doing?”
Barack’s first direct shot at Trump was so fucking weak and phoned in. This wasn’t even an insult, it was just filler.
36 Hillary also old
“Look, I’ve said how much I admire Hillary’s toughness, her smarts, her policy chops, her experience. You’ve got to admit it, though, Hillary trying to appeal to young voters is a little bit like your relative who just signed up for Facebook. “Dear America, did you get my poke?” “Is it appearing on your wall?” “I’m not sure I am using this right. Love, Aunt Hillary.” It’s not entirely persuasive.”
This Facebook joke is several years past its prime. Corn city.
35 Prince George in his bathrobe
“But it’s not just Congress. Even some foreign leaders, they’ve been looking ahead, anticipating my departure. Last week, Prince George showed up to our meeting in his bathrobe. That was a slap in the face. A clear breach in protocol.”
A cute, harmless little joke.
34 Changing the tone
“But standing here, I can’t help but be reflective, a little sentimental. Eight years ago, I said it was time to change the tone of our politics. In hindsight, I clearly should have been more specific.”
Not the best angle for a joke about how toxic American politics have become.
33 Justin Trudeau is a narcissist
“In fact, somebody recently said to me, Mr. President, you are so yesterday; Justin Trudeau has completely replaced you—he’s so handsome, he’s so charming, he’s the future. And I said, Justin, just give it a rest.”
A decent punchline, but is Justin Trudeau a narcissist? Was this apropos of anything?
32 Suddenly, Republicans aren’t going to work with me anymore
“In just six short months, I will be officially a lame duck, which means Congress now will flat-out reject my authority. And Republican leaders won’t take my phone calls. And this is going to take some getting used to, it’s really going to—it’s a curve ball. I don’t know what to do with it.”
31 Good evening everybody
“Good evening, everybody. It is an honor to be here at my last—and perhaps the last—White House Correspondents’ Dinner. You all look great. The end of the Republic has never looked better.”
Light fare. Also meh.
30 Teasing Larry Wilmore
“Also, I would be remiss—let’s give it up for our host, Larry Wilmore. Also known as one of the two black guys who is not Jon Stewart. You’re the South African guy, right?”
Pretty predictable angle on Wilmore and not a very biting race joke.
“Sitting at the same table, I see Mike Bloomberg. Mike, a combative, controversial New York billionaire is leading the GOP primary and it is not you. That’s has to sting a little bit. Although it’s not an entirely fair comparison between you and the Donald. After all, Mike was a big-city mayor. He knows policy in depth. And he’s actually worth the amount of money that he says he is.”
This was Obama’s first foray into Trump territory, a pretty soft joke about the GOP frontrunner’s net worth and lack of policy experience. He handled Trump with kids gloves all night, it was really weak.
28 Trump time
“Well, let me conclude tonight on a more serious note. I want to thank the Washington press corps, I want to thank Carol for all that you do. The free press is central to our democracy, and—nah, I’m just kidding! You know I’ve got to talk about Trump! Come on! We weren’t just going to stop there. Come on.”
Mildly amusing, would have been better if he actually went on to say anything of substance about Trump.
27 Helen Mirren is awesome
“Helen Mirren is here tonight. I don’t even have a joke here. I just think Helen Mirren is awesome.”
“I don’t even have a joke here” could have been added to way too many of the president’s ostensible punchlines.
26 Miss Sweden, Argentina, and Azerbaijan
“The Republican establishment is incredulous that he is their most likely nominee—incredulous, shocking. They say Donald lacks the foreign policy experience to be President. But, in fairness, he has spent years meeting with leaders from around the world: Miss Sweden, Miss Argentina, Miss Azerbaijan.”
Kinda funny, but again, going pretty easy on the man who’s made our politics and even bigger farce than ever.
25 Knocking the event itself
“Of course, in fact, for months now congressional Republicans have been saying there are things I cannot do in my final year. Unfortunately, this dinner was not one of them.”
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is an embarrassment and I’m glad Obama alluded to that, though it was a pretty soft dig.
24 Black Enough
“Although while in England I did have lunch with Her Majesty, the Queen, took in a performance of Shakespeare, hit the links with David Cameron—just in case anybody is still debating whether I’m black enough, I think that settles the debate.”
Some solid racial self-deprecation from a guy who’s been great at it.
“Meanwhile, some candidates aren’t polling high enough to qualify for their own joke tonight.” (Slide is shown.)
The slide shows John Kasich looking like a dope as he eats something at a campaign event. I like that he didn’t mention the also-ran by name.
22 Why are my poll numbers rising?
“And here’s the thing: I haven’t really done anything differently. So it’s odd. Even my aides can’t explain the rising poll numbers—what has changed, nobody can figure it out.” (Slide is shown.)
The slide shows a picture of Trump and Cruz. It was an obvious joke, but true enough.
21 Spotlight reporters
“I also would like to acknowledge some of the award-winning reporters that we have with us here tonight. Rachel McAdams. Mark Ruffalo. Liev Schreiber. Thank you all for everything that you’ve done.”
Okay, this was kind of funny, and it was really well delivered.
20 Real journalism a fantasy
“I’m just joking. As you know, “Spotlight” is a film, a movie about investigative journalists with the resources and the autonomy to chase down the truth and hold the powerful accountable. Best fantasy film since Star Wars.”
The punchline was pretty cheesy but the point hit home in a room full of supposed journalists working for a corporate media that precludes real muckraking.
19 Bernie also old
“What an election season. For example, we’ve got the bright new face of the Democratic Party here tonight–-Mr. Bernie Sanders! There he is—Bernie! Bernie, you look like a million bucks. Or to put it in terms you’ll understand, you look like 37,000 donations of 27 dollars each.”
Barack just wouldn’t stop with the age jokes, but it worked best with the 74 year old socialist who was sitting there in the audience. Teasing him for his repeated invocation of his average donation was clever enough.
18 Bernie’d let Malia go to Burning Man
“A lot of folks have been surprised by the Bernie phenomenon, especially his appeal to young people. But not me, I get it. Just recently, a young person came up to me and said she was sick of politicians standing in the way of her dreams. As if we were actually going to let Malia go to Burning Man this year. That was not going to happen. Bernie might have let her go. Not us.”
Pretty corny, but I let out a little “heh.”
17 Comrade Bernie
“I am hurt, though, Bernie, that you’ve distancing yourself a little from me. I mean, that’s just not something that you do to your comrade.”
The socialism joke was the best of the Bernie bunch. On the whole, the president went a lot easier on Sanders than I expected, given that the White House has made it abundantly clear they don’t support the Vermont senator’s vision for the country.
“I do apologize—I know I was a little late tonight. I was running on CPT—which stands for jokes that white people should not make.”
Coming out of the gate, Barack lampooned Hillary Clinton and Bill DeBlasio for their obtuse colored people time joke from a few weeks ago. It was a warranted shot. This is the point in this listicle where the jokes start to become kind of good; unfortunately, we’re already two thirds of the way through, which tells you everything you need to know about his set.
15 My Death Panel
“Eight years ago, I was a young man, full of idealism and vigor, and look at me now. I am gray and grizzled, just counting down the days ’til my death panel.”
Pretty dated, but I chuckled, along with everyone I was watching with.
14 Trudge up the Hill
“Bernie’s slogan has helped his campaign catch fire among young people. “Feel the Bern.” Feel the Bern—it’s a good slogan. Hillary’s slogan has not had the same effect. Let’s see this.” (Slide is shown.)
This was more complex and subtle than it may seem. It’s a double-edged sword wrapped in a silly joke. He’s taking a shot at Hillary for being less inspiring and aspirational than Bernie, but also acknowledging that politics is a slog and that Hillary is more capable of the Sisyphean task of governing, a knock on Bernie for his lack of realism.
13 Thanking Joe Biden for not shooting anyone in the face
“Anyway, in this last year I do have more appreciation for those who have been with me on this amazing ride, like one of our finest public servants, Joe Biden. God bless him. Love that guy. I love Joe Biden, I really do. And I want to thank him for his friendship, for his counsel, for always giving it to me straight, for not shooting anybody in the face.”
We must never stop making jokes about Dick Cheney shooting someone in the face. Like Cheney, they don’t age.
12 Pimping the Post
“I understand the news business is tough these days, it keeps changing all the time. Every year at this dinner, somebody makes a joke about BuzzFeed, for example, changing the media landscape. And every year, the Washington Post laughs a little bit less hard. Kind of a silence there. Especially at the Washington Post table.”
Funny because it’s true. This one had some sizzle to it.
11 Nice Trump coverage, assholes
“All right, that’s probably enough. I mean, I’ve got more material—no, no, I don’t want to spend too much time on The Donald. Following your lead, I want to show some restraint. Because I think we can all agree that from the start, he’s gotten the appropriate amount of coverage, befitting the seriousness of his candidacy. I hope you all are proud of yourselves. The guy wanted to give his hotel business a boost, and now we’re praying that Cleveland makes it through July.”
Barack is at his best when he scolds the corporate media. This was told as a joke, but the message was clear and serious: you people, you’re culpable for this Trump sideshow, you pour gas on the fire. The reporters and pundits in that room deserve all the scorn they can get, and I’m glad the president dished some out over their breathless Trump obsession.
10 Ted Cruz’s basketball ring
“And then there’s Ted Cruz. Ted had a tough week. He went to Indiana–-Hoosier country–-stood on a basketball court, and called the hoop a “basketball ring.” What else is in his lexicon? Baseball sticks? Football hats? But sure, I’m the foreign one.”
It was a well-delivered line, but on the whole Cruz got off easy, just like Trump and Bernie. Odd that Hillary–Barack’s favored candidate–was the subject of the most (and the best) jokes.
9 Trump running waterfront properties into the ground
“And there’s one area where Donald’s experience could be invaluable–and that’s closing Guantanamo. Because Trump knows a thing or two about running waterfront properties into the ground.”
This was the only good or clever Trump joke of the night, which was so disappointing. It was a funny enough knock on The Donald for being a shitty businessman, but that’s a pretty light punch given the material the president had to work with. Barack said absolutely nothing of Trump’s Islamophobia or disgusting sexism, nothing about his incitement of so much hatred in this country. In other words, he didn’t say anything real about Trump, nothing that mattered or made an important point. By offering only throwaway gags, he let the most poisonous man in politics off the hook and failed to live up to his 2011 standard.
8 Steak or Fish, not Paul Ryan
“Meanwhile, on the Republican side, things are a little more—how should we say this—a little “more loose.” Just look at the confusion over the invitations to tonight’s dinner. Guests were asked to check whether they wanted steak or fish, but instead, a whole bunch of you wrote in Paul Ryan. That’s not an option, people. Steak or fish. You may not like steak or fish—but that’s your choice.”
I thought this was a very clever jab at Republicans praying they can find a white horse at the convention to save them from their Crump-Truz trainwreck.
7 The opener: You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone
In the first joke of the program, the commander-in-chief took the podium to the sound of Anna Kendrick’s “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone” and said “you can’t say it, but you know it’s true” to widespread laughter and applause. It was a terrific opening. And he’s right, we will miss him, even those of us liberals who are immensely disappointed with him. For all the shit I’ve given Obama over the last seven years for being a neoliberal hawk, he’s still one of the top presidents of all time. And he’s going to look even better in contrast to his more conservative, imperialist replacement.
6 Calling it for Hillary
“Next year at this time, someone else will be standing here in this very spot, and it’s anyone’s guess who she will be.”
Obama delivered it beautifully to immense applause and laughter. And we all know it’s true. Even–or perhaps especially–Bernie Sanders, sitting there in the audience for some unfathomable reason.
5 Obama out
The mic drop at the end was pretty great, as everyone seems to agree.
4 Hitting Hillary on Goldman Sachs out of the gate
“Anyway, here we are. My eighth and final appearance at this unique event. And I am excited. If this material works well, I’m going to use it at Goldman Sachs next year. Earn me some serious Tubmans.”
With Trump on everyone’s mind, it was at once surprising and amusing that Obama chose to mock Hillary Clinton out of the gate, first with the CPT line and then with this far more pointed shot at her Goldman Sachs speeches. It was a good, unexpected joke, but of course it would have been better, even righteous, if the joker hadn’t also taken obscene sums from the financial industry. But then, everything would have been better if the joker hadn’t also taken obscene sums from the financial industry.
3 Nice party, Reince
“GOP Chairman Reince Priebus is here as well. Glad to see you that you feel that you’ve earned a night off. Congratulations on all your success. The Republican Party, the nomination process -– it’s all going great. Keep it up.”
This didn’t have a clever punchline, but sarcastically mocking Preibus for the dumpster fire that is the GOP nomination process–as Reince sat there stonefaced, taking it–was comical and cathartic. Obama has been at his best in this event when he good-naturedly needles his Republican enemies for what a sick clown show their party has become. I thought this jab hit home. And I thought he could have offered a lot more of this type of mockery.
2 Jake Tapper burn
“I won’t lie—look, this is a tough transition. It’s hard. Key staff are now starting to leave the White House. Even reporters have left me. Savannah Guthrie, she’s left the White House Press Corps to host the Today show. Norah O’Donnell left the briefing room to host CBS This Morning. Jake Tapper left journalism to join CNN.”
Zing! I LOVED Obama nailing Tapper for being a CNN hack. There really isn’t a bad joke about how much CNN sucks, and this one, so well delivered, was made all the better by the camera panning to a clearly pissed Tapper, who deserves all the derision he can handle for being a consummate conventional wisdom peddler. Tapper takes himself so seriously–it was great to see the leader of the free world take him down a notch.
1 But seriously, folks
Barack closed his remarks with this super-dry sarcasm:
“I know that there are times that we’ve had differences, and that’s inherent in our institutional roles—it’s true of every President and his press corps. But we’ve always shared the same goal–-to root our public discourse in the truth; to open the doors of this democracy; to do whatever we can to make our country and our world more free and more just. And I’ve always appreciated the role that you have all played as equal partners in reaching these goals.”
Ha! The assembled bought-and-sold sycophants in the White House press corps seeking truth and opening the doors of our democracy, as if! We all know that’s not true. Okay okay, so Barack meant it sincerely. But praising the political media for making our world more free and just is still the biggest joke of the night, other than the inane, needless event itself. And god, it’s going to be so much worse next year…