Larry Wilmore on Hosting the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Larry Wilmore
Comedy Central
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The White House Correspondents Association dinner has become an annual rite of passage in Washington, D.C., as reporters, politicians (including the President) and celebrities gather for an event that has been cheekily dubbed “Nerd Prom.” Recent hosts have included Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong (2015), Community’s Joel McHale (2014) and Conan O’Brien (2013). Next up, Comedy Central’s Larry Wilmore will entertain the crowd on April 30. We asked The Nightly Show host what to expect.

What does it mean for a comedian to take on this gig?
It’s a rite of passage for a late night host. Your take on this dinner and what it means.

There have been a lot of esteemed hosts over the years, and it’s an honor to follow in that tradition certainly. That part of it is really cool. The other part is, I’ve been following politics since I was a kid. I remember watching the conventions as early as 1968, but never thinking that I would be the court jester for the president himself. That part alone is extremely humbling. When I think about that’s what I’m there to do, when you strip everything away, you’re really there to make the president laugh.

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President Obama usually has good material. Is being his opening act intimidating?
Obama has good material. He’s got jokes. Give it your best shot, Obama! Brother’s got some jokes too, don’t worry about it. We’ll see what happens. Bring it on, Mr. President!

In some years the dinner becomes a roast.
I think the roast format works the best, because it’s a good-natured ribbing. It’s the one night where people can laugh at themselves, you can go for it a little bit.

Not everyone in DC has a great sense of humor about themselves.
My favorite one was when Seth Meyers hosted [in 2011]. His material was so funny and his delivery was really sharp. When he went after Donald Trump it was so hysterical. But also Obama went after Trump during that time too. And Trump could not take a joke. It was almost funnier watching Donald Trump not like it. On top of all of that, Obama was doing the strike on Osama bin Laden during all that. It was an amazing weekend. He was slaying Trump and Osama bin Laden at the same time.

Obviously Trump will be a hot topic at the dinner. How have you grappled with satirizing something that has been absurd to begin with?
It’s such a lampoon of itself, you almost just say what it is and that’s the joke. I don’t know if you can write anything that’s funnier than the reality of it. Anybody can host a show at this point with Donald Trump running. It requires just repeating what just happened.

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What do you make of this dinner in general? They call it “nerd prom.”
There are a lot of ways to think about it. It seems like the reporters really like to come together, there’s a collegial feel about it. Where they can let down their hair a little bit and not take themselves too seriously. It’s nice to see your president, no matter who it is, have some fun and tell some jokes.

You’re getting Obama in his final year of office.
On our show we call it “Obama Don’t Care.” I’ve also said this election season is the “unblackening of the White House.” For me, Obama is our first half-white, half-black president. He felt his white side had governed long enough, and his black side is coming out the last year and it’s awesome. The fact that it’s his last year gives it a little more meaning to me. I’ve made jokes about Obama, but from a personal standpoint it is an honor to perform for him.

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Saturday, April 30, 6/5c, C-SPAN.