(CNN) — Few were spared from President Barack Obama’s zingers at Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, but he began by poking fun at himself.
He stepped to the podium as DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” played as an introduction and told the audience, “Rush Limbaugh warned you about this — second term, baby.”
His advisers were “a little worried about the new rap entrance music,” and suggested that he kick off his speech with jokes at his own expense to “take himself down a peg.” But, the president responded, “after 4½ years, how many pegs are there left?”
Obama went for it anyway, joking about his appearance after so many years in office — “These days I look in the mirror and I gotta admit: I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be,” he said — and his recent “rookie mistakes,” one of which being his remark about California Attorney General Kamala Harris. At a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee in California earlier this month, Obama said Harris was “by far the best-looking attorney general”.
“As you can imagine, I got in trouble when I got back home,” Obama said. “Who knew (Attorney General) Eric Holder was so sensitive?”
Although he kept the audience laughing, the president made sure to address the recent tragedies in Boston and West, Texas, as well as the flooding that’s afflicted some in the Midwest.
As the invited guests arrived at Saturday’s dinner, they were curious about the tone Obama would strike in light of the headlines. But with TBS’ late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien tasked with leading the night’s ceremony, at least a little comedy was a certainty. The “Conan” comedian said when his role was announced in February that guests could expect “(two) minutes of jokes, then 40 minutes on public employee pension reform.” O’Brien first hosted the Correspondents’ Dinner in 1995.
Obama, who is attending the gala for the fifth time Saturday, has also become quite a pro at landing some of the night’s biggest punchlines.The president quipped at last year’s dinner, which was hosted by ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, that his hair had grayed so much since taking office he was just a few years out from looking like Morgan Freeman.
In 2011, at a dinner hosted by Seth Meyers of “Saturday Night Live,” he made light of the controversy surrounding his long-form birth certificate by playing a clip from “The Lion King” as his “birth video.”
The Beltway gala, also known as the “nerd prom,” sees Washington’s newsmakers stroll a red carpet that’s also filled with press and stars from across entertainment. Attendees included fashion influencers like Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, and sports stars like Olympic champ Gabrielle Douglas and Louisville sophomore Kevin Ware, who suffered a horrific leg break during an NCAA tournament game last month.
There were also enough famous faces to have the night mistaken for an awards ceremony. Kerry Washington, Rebel Wilson, Katy Perry, Sofia Vergara, John Legend, Elizabeth Banks, Psy, Michael J. Fox and Matthew Perry were all in attendance. With the president being a professed fan of Showtime’s “Homeland,” perhaps it wasn’t surprising to see stars Claire Danes and Morena Baccarin there as well.
For Holder, the dinner is an opportunity to put away political differences, “put on tuxedos, have fun and make fun of each other.” Yet whatever laughs will be had during the evening, he said, will happen with April’s heartbreaking events in mind.
The dinner, which raises money for journalism scholarships, was first established in 1920 with the intent to increase communication between the president and the press. It was a men-only event until 1962, when President John F. Kennedy said he wouldn’t attend unless women were invited as well.