Comedian Michelle Wolf of The Daily Show has been facing heavy criticism from some journalists over her jokes about Trump administration Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at last night’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
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With the president busy rallying his deplorable supporters in Michigan, Sanders was the most prominent member of Trump’s inner circle to attend the dinner which, until the Trump era, was almost unfailingly attended by every president during the past few decades, despite their having to sit through a hilariously vicious lambasting by whichever comedian was invited to host the event in a given year.
The White House Press Secretary must have known that she was going to be in for an epic roast when she decided to accept the invitation to attend the notoriously unsparing event, and Wolfe did not spare Sanders in the least with her comments on the Trump mouthpiece’s job performance.
It was when the comedian’s jokes strayed into commenting on Sanders’ appearance that hackles were raised by female journalists in particular, even though Wolfe’s punchlines were as much of an attack on Sanders’ daily ritual of misleading the press corps as they were insults about her looks.
Wolfe began her Sander’s routine with an admission that she was “a little starstruck” being in the presence of “Aunt Lydia,” referring to the dour and vengeful character who plays the enforcer on the recently returned Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” before saying:
“I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful,” Wolf said. “She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”
“I’m never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders,” wolf continued. “Is it Sarah Sanders? Is it Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Is it Cousin Huckabee? Is it Auntie Huckabee Sanders? Like, what’s Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women?”
To her credit, Sanders gamely took the jokes with a strained smile on her face and didn’t storm out of the ballroom in a huff.
While the comparisons to Aunt Lydia and the smoky eye makeup reference could conceivably be seen as jokes about Sanders’ appearance, at their heart they are more about the Press Secretary’s behavior than her looks, but many reporters didn’t see it that way.
They took to Twitter after the event to defend the woman who they nevertheless have to work with every day.
Maggie Haberman, the White House correspondent for The New York Times, defended Sanders for doing what every president who has ever attended the dinner has done without being singled out as especially brave.
That @PressSec sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) April 29, 2018
MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski, having endured her own attacks from President Trump about her looks, seems to feel that women should be treated differently than men when it comes to comments about their physical appearance and called for an apology to Sanders from the journalist organization that sponsored the dinner.
Watching a wife and mother be humiliated on national television for her looks is deplorable. I have experienced insults about my appearance from the president. All women have a duty to unite when these attacks happen and the WHCA owes Sarah an apology.
— Mika Brzezinski (@morningmika) April 29, 2018
Andrea Mitchell, the NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent also called for an apology and called Wolf’s performance the worst since Don Imus roasted the Clintons to their faces.
Apology is owed to @PressSec and others grossly insulted ny Michelle Wolf at White House Correspondents Assoc dinner which started with uplifting heartfelt speech by @margarettalev – comedian was worst since Imus insulted Clinton’s
— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) April 29, 2018
Even male reporters like Politico’s Jake Sherman felt that Wolf’s set was less comedic than offensive.
Being mean is not really funny.
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) April 29, 2018
Wolf did not take the accusations of low blows from the noted reporters lying down. She defended herself with a tweeted reply to Haberman, woman-splaining the true nature of her jokes to the writer.
Why are you guys making this about Sarah’s looks? I said she burns facts and uses the ash to create a *perfect* smoky eye. I complimented her eye makeup and her ingenuity of materials. https://t.co/slII9TYdYx
— Michelle Wolf (@michelleisawolf) April 29, 2018
Other attendees at the dinner defended the Daily Show writer with calls for her critics to examine their priorities, as in this tweet from former Hillary Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson:
Regardless of whether you liked Michelle Wolf or not, if you're angrier about the vulgarity from a comedian than you are about the vulgarity from a President, you should take a time out and think about your priorities.
— Jesse Ferguson (@JesseFFerguson) April 29, 2018
The executive editor of Teen Vogue, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, also came to Wolf’s defense.
This defense of Sarah Huckabee Sanders by prominent women is appalling and misguided. The point of WHCD is to drag the current administration and it's not Michelle Wolf's fault the jokes were a little too on the nose.
— Shoulda listened to Samhita (@TheSamhita) April 29, 2018
Other comedians also sided with Wolf in this Twitter battle, including Kathy Griffin, who knows quite a bit about what it’s like to be attacked for pointed comedic efforts at the Trump administration’s expense, and Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani.
Please point us to the tweets where you said something like this about the President of the United States when he was attacking people at rallies and his supporters were laughing…
IT WAS A ROAST. https://t.co/KUg3iUb0oO
— Kathy Griffin (@kathygriffin) April 29, 2018
They call you liars. They call Mexicans rapists. They call Muslims murderers. They support white supremacists. But someone calls them out on what they do, & suddenly they’re heroes for not walking out. https://t.co/B9aT7moy2C
— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) April 29, 2018
Given the history of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Sanders surely knew what she was in for when she agreed to attend the event. She was certainly braver than her boss who knows that when you can’t take the heat, you stay out of the kitchen.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.