There was once a time, not so long ago, when The White House Correspondents’ Dinner was the hottest ticket in D.C. The annual event slowly grew from its humble beginnings of several dozen men from the press having dinner with a few top-level White House aides into the sprawling, Hollywood-to-Washington circle-jerk that has provided a reliable source of spectacle and gossip for the past couple decades. When Obama came to power, however, the event practically exploded in a supernova of exclusivity, with celebrities wanting to pack a drafty banquet hall in order to see the cool-dad president launch bon mots with the same frequency as his deadly drone attacks in foreign countries. Also, there was the added benefit for those at home (the event is broadcast on C-SPAN) of watching great comedians excoriate the mainstream press with withering put-downs—even funnier to those at home when cameras would cut to the stone-faced journalists, who obviously all have a great sense of humor about themselves.
But, as with many things involving the new administration, that’s all going to change this year. It started when Samantha Bee announced plans for a counter-event at the same time as the dinner, in which she’ll presumably roast the ever-living shit out of Trump, as is her wont. And now, The New York Times reports The New Yorker is canceling the kickoff party it normally hosts prior to the event. Similarly, Vanity Fair has pulled out of co-hosting the exclusive after-party everyone usually goes to in order to watch Tucker Carlson make an idiot out of himself by claiming to be a serious journalist and then falling into the chocolate fountain. (We’re just spitballing here.) These may not look like massive changes, but they’re symbolic of the same affliction suffered by Trump’s inauguration: Namely, no self-respecting celebrity wants to be in the same room with the guy, lest his Cabbage Patch Kid-sized hands reach out to try and offer a deranged handshake.
While it’s not yet clear if Trump is even planning to attend this year—he might still remember the brutal and utterly justified tongue-lashing he got from Seth Meyers in 2011, at the height of Trump’s birtherism nonsense—the Association is obviously spinning all this as business as usual, with the Correspondents’ Association president Jeff Mason releasing a statement assuring everyone the show will go on. Some view this as a good thing, feeling the celebrity influx was deterimental to the nature of the event. Of course, in their eyes, the “nature” of the event translates loosely into “access to top Washington officials,” which has its own set of issues, rather like indie rock bands complaining Top 40 music is hurting their careers by keeping more A&R reps from offering them Pepsi commercials. Still, it seems obvious this will make for a deeply lame WHCA dinner for the rest of us, bereft of star power or even a good comedian, since we all know Trump won’t allow anything like what Stephen Colbert did to George W. Bush to happen. Instead, it will likely be much as Samantha Bee, speaking to the Times, predicts: “Does 3 Doors Down do comedy?”