By: Greg Mitchell and Joe Strupp
What would the White House Correspondents Association dinner do for an encore on Saturday night in Washington following last year?s controversial Stephen Colbert routine? President Bush was back, but with impressionist Rich Little replacing the barbed satire of Colbert, and with the usual broad cast of celebrities — from Reggie Bush to Condi Rice.
President Bush said, ?We?ve got to learn to laugh in this town,” but then instead of going into the usual jokes, surprised the crowd by saying, “I had looked forward to poking fun tonight but in light of this week?s tragedy at Virginia Tech, I decided not to try to be funny.?
He just said thanks for dinner and introduced Rich Little, ?a talented and good man.? Little later told E&P that Bush had informed him earlier that he would not be doing any jokes himself.
Actually, one of the funniest jokes was Karl Rove being seated at a New York Times table.
Rich Little, with shockingly dyed hair, said at the outset that he is ?not political? but rather a ?nightclub performer who does a lot of dumb, stupid jokes,? then proved that.
He started with a couple of Canada (his native country) jokes and a weak Sen. John McCain, which bombed, as did an impression of.Arnold Schwarzenegger, causing him to look at the crowd askance. ?You thought Colbert was bad,? he finally joked.
With that he pulled out one of his classics, Johnny Carson, with a joke about lawyers being ?assholes,? which drew a laugh from the president, despite the off-color language.
Then he did Andy Rooney asking: ?If you overdosed on Viagra how would you get the coffin closed??
Little followed by doing six presidents, including a man he ?loved,? Ronald Reagan. He put in false teeth to play Jimmy Carter saying that when he was a peanut farmer ?I had the biggest nuts in the county.?
As the presidents got more recent, the impressions got weaker: George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and then possibly the worst impression of all, the current president. But he closed with the one he is most famous for, Richard Nixon, saying, ?Let?s bring him out of the mothballs one more time.?
Little proceeded to do Nixon shaking his head uncontrollably, quipping, “I?m having a jowl movement.?
Speaking to E&P afterward, probably aware that his routine went over rather poorly, he said, “this is not the easiest audience in the world.” But he said Bush told him when it was over, “absolutely perfect.”
Some in the crowd walked out in the middle of the routine– far more than left during Colbert’s performance last year.
Just before Bush and Little appeared, Tony Snow, who took leave of his job as White House press secretary last month, returned to present a special video. He first thanked everyone ?from the bottom of my heart? for the ?loving concern? expressed by all, including Republicans and Democrats alike, about his current battle with cancer. He asked all of them ?pass along? such expressions to those in need.
The video turned to be a Top 10 list of favorite George W. Bush moments, provided by David Letterman, who said he could not attend the dinner due to yoga practice.
The moments included Bush bumping his head in a helicopter, bouncing a basketball that did not bounce, the door in China that would not open, his desire to rid Iran of ?Iranian influence,? and spitting on the White House lawn.
Before dinner, Amie Steele, editor of the Virginia Tech paper, the Collegiate Times, was introduced and led the crowd in a ?Let?s Go Hokies? chant.
Winners of the award for White House coverage under deadline pressure went to David Sanger of The New York Times for print (North Korea nuclear test) and Martha Raddatz of ABC News for broadcast (death of al-Zarqawi). Another award went Joan Ryan of the San Francisco Chronicle for a report on two badly injured Iraq war vets.
Ann Compton of ABC News will take over from C-SPAN?s Steve Scully as the new president of the WHCA in July.
For a report on what happened during dinner — including Sheryl Crow battling Karl Rove:
— Dinner Report
For a flashback to last year’s Stephen Colbert routine:
— Colbert 2006