A celebration of (most of) the media at her Not The White House Correspondents Dinner.
Before Donald Trump could tell America that he wouldn’t be attending this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner, Samantha Bee beat him to it.
Bee announced her plans for an alternative event, Not The White House Correspondents’ Dinner, within days of Trump’s election. Her assumption — and not an unreasonable one considering Trump’s deep dislike of a free press — was not that her show would compete with the traditional WHCD, but that there would be no WHCD with which to compete.
“When we set out to do our event, I think, mistakenly, everybody thought that we were intending to kill the original event. And our event has nothing to do with it, really,” she told Vulture the day before the dinner. “We’re borrowing from it on some level, but we just thought that it wouldn’t exist. We thought that it might not happen this year because of all the acrimony.”
The real White House Correspondents Dinner happened after all, though without Trump, without any White House staffers, without the usual swarms of celebrities, and without Samantha Bee, whose not-the-dinner was arguably a hotter ticket than the dinner she was “borrowing from.”
During the first act break, Bee giggled nervously and said, “I’ve never been in front of a crowd this big in my life.” But she got a standing ovation the minute she walked out wearing a suffragette-white suit, and the cheers didn’t slow all night. It was, to say the least, a very friendly crowd— honestly, I haven’t seen that many journalists that genuinely happy since before the election—hungry for what they know Bee and her team can provide.
“Nothing has brought me joy in this post-election world more than watching Samantha Bee’s coverage of the horror that’s happening in the world,” Joanna Poceta, a first-year medical student at George Washington University, said as she filed into the theater. “She has made me feel that things are going to be okay, and that people like her and her team are leading the way towards not just the resistance but the resistance with a sense of humor and optimism.”
Bee gets away with everything women are supposed to be ostracized and marginalized for: She’s loud, emotional, full of rage and pithy profanity. She refuses to sit down, to trade her pantsuit for a sheath dress or get a bouncy Fox anchor blowout. It is her total, joyous rejection of all the rules women who want to make it — in the entertainment industry, in public, in life — as much as the cutting, rapid-fire insights and insults she doles out week after week, that gives Bee’s show its gorgeous, cathartic power.
With the exception of a brief mini-roast of Trump in which Bee barely participated, the focus of the night was mostly on the press, not the president. (The event raised over $200,000 for the Committee to Protect Journalists.) Though the media earns some of the mockery it gets, Bee said, “Your job has never been harder.” She also applauded the valiant efforts of those working to uncover and reveal the truth in the face of an administration that is only interested in alternative facts. “You continue to fact-check the president as if he might someday get embarrassed!”
Bee celebrated the work of the outlets and reporters upon which her show relies (as correspondent Allana Harkin said, “We hope we made you proud by taking your meticulous reporting and adding dick jokes to it”); Buzzfeed, for leaking the existence of a Russian-prostitutes-peeing-for-Trump-tape; fact-checkers and copy editors; and Jake Tapper, a new poster boy for TV reporters who, in the face of Kellyanne Conway’s boldfaced batshittery, nevertheless persisted.
She also relished the opportunity to tear apart the media’s most high-profile dirtbags. An “In Memoriam” segment bid farewell to Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, the “gone too late” serial sexual predators of Fox News, who are dearly departed from our screens but never forgotten from our nightmare fodder folders.
Though Fox, naturally, was the target of much of Bee’s ire — particularly the “circle jerk” between Fox & Friends and their number one fan, a 70-year-old man from Queens — Bee saved some of her most righteous anger for Jeff Zucker at CNN and his gleeful, reckless attitude toward covering the presidential election like a consequence-free Super Bowl. No cable news outlet was let off the hook entirely: A nightlong running gag involved a camera focused on an empty podium flanked by American flags, which sometimes filled the screen as Bee’s talking head was reduced to a postage-stamp size box in the corner of the screen.
Allison Janney appeared as C.J. Cregg in a pre-taped cold open press briefing, answering obnoxious questions about Bee’s “clear anti-white-male bias” with cool, deft dismissals: “Sam just can’t tell you apart and thinks you all know each other.” And Will Ferrell was there in the flesh to reprise his George W. Bush impression: “How do you like me now, huh?” he asked to adoring cheers. “The prodigal son has returned. Yeah! I don’t know what that means but I know it’s positive. It’s very prodigal.”
But the best segment of the night wasn’t about Trump, really, or the press, or any sparkling guest stars. It began as a bit in which Bee, living in Trump’s America, found herself in a The Man In The High Castle style scenario: With her hands on a newsreel that shows how history could have played out differently. What followed picked up on a bit she’d been doing all night — giving fake WHCD roasts for different presidents throughout history, plus one for Mike Pence in a very scary future — in which Bee gave the roast one could easily imagine she would have given if Hillary Clinton were president right now.
Bee described a 2017 improved upon in every conceivable way: better winners for the election, for the Super Bowl, for Album of the Year at the Grammys. It was a false future in which Clinton’s cabinet was 51 percent female, which sparked “the first protest you could see from space: The Men’s March.” At the end of this speech, Bee thanked “President Clinton.”
“You may have your faults, but because of you, I can tell my daughters they can do anything, and that sexism won’t hold them back. The world will not magnify their faults and ignore their virtues because of their gender. That time has truly passed,” Bee said.
Then the newsreel cut out, and Bee was back in this timeline with the rest of us.
Samantha Bee salutes the free press, Jake Tapper, and facts was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.