11 May 2009

Obama, jokes and George Osborne

WASHINGTON DC, USA – Is there nothing that Barack Obama can’t do effortlessly well? This weekend he’s had a lot of praise for his comic timing as he pulled off a very assured performance at his first White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. Traditionally the president makes a comic speech. Some do better than others – and Obama was one of the better ones.

Much of the audience was made up of the Washington press corps. But they loved it when the president started poking fun at their supposed bias toward him, saying: “Some of you covered me – all of you voted for me.”

Most of the journalists in audience had given the president a pretty glowing report card after his first hundred days and he had some pretty good lines about that landmark:

He made jokes about friends and foes, poking fun at everyone from Vice President Joe Biden to Michael Steele, the new African American chairman of the Republican party.

Even his own chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, who is famous for colourful language that would make Alastair Campbell blush, came under the spotlight:

Probably his best line was saved for Dick Cheney. Just as the former vice president was preparing to go on TV – yet again – the next day and claim Obama’s policies were making America less safe, the president found a pretty effective way to defuse his criticism. “Dick Cheney was supposed to be here,” said Obama, “but he is very busy working on his memoirs, tentatively titled, How to Shoot Friends and Interrogate People.”

Obama’s other big critic on the right is the radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. And he took a crack at him too, saying the Republican party couldn’t apply for a bailout because Rush Limbaugh didn’t qualify as troubled asset.

That got a laugh. But the comedian who followed the president, Wanda Sykes, was judged to have gone a bit too far with her jokes about Limbaugh. That left the president and the first lady looking a bit uncomfortable.

I have no idea what Oxycontin is, but it must be bad because Sykes has taken a lot criticism for that line, comparing Limbaugh to a 9/11 terrorist. She also upset a lot of the right wing by being so fawning in her praise of both Obamas.

Quite a contrast to the performance few years ago from comedian Stephen Colbert who launched a withering attack on then-President Bush at the same event. His criticism of both the president and the press who covered him didn’t go down very well in the room at the time but became a huge YouTube hit.

– PS: Celebrity spotting I was there for the pre-dinner cocktail parties where everyone spent the entire time trying to spot the non-political celebs who’d flown in to try to get near the new president.

We couldn’t get anywhere near any of them as every reception had a little roped-off pen to keep the stars safe from the marauding crowds of journalists who made up the rest of the guest list. I must confess I didn’t manage to spot Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. But I did clock a bizarre selection of famous faces including Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, Eva Longoria, Christian Slater and Jon Bon Jovi.

But the only famous Brits in the whole of the Washington Hilton hotel – if you don’t count BBC’s Matt Frei – were Gordon Ramsay – who was kept in the celeb pen. And Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, who was not.

So now you know how the UK looks in the US right now!