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Rich Little Bravely Answers Washington's Call

Most people who endured Rich Little's performance at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner Saturday night had the same reaction ... bless his heart.

Comedian Rich Little
Rich Little brought his presidential voices to Washington on Saturday night. (Getty Images)

Bless his heart for getting trapped in a time warp that won't let him escape 1981. (The man is still hinging his act on Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon and Ronald Reagan impressions.)

Bless his heart for getting up in front of a tough crowd of jaded but thin-skinned cynics who couldn't handle it when last year's headliner, Stephen Colbert, made fun of them (and took some pretty tough shots at the president).

And bless his heart for enthusiastically saying "yes" and agreeing to perform after so many others said "no thanks."

Rich Little, you see, wasn't the White House Correspondents' Association's first choice. Or its second. Or its third, fourth, or even fifth choice.

This year's lead organizer of the event, WHCA President Steve Scully of C-SPAN, went after a long list of big dogs. But they all turned him down.

Jay Leno had a "scheduling conflict." David Letterman declined (though he did send a top-10 video). Billy Crystal wanted an obscene amount of money to do the gig (we're told it was well into six figures), which would have left no prize money for scholarships.

Jerry Seinfeld? Nope. Robin Williams was a "maybe" for about 15 minutes, until his agent advised Scully that the left-leaning hyperkinetic comedian couldn't be trusted not to offend President Bush.

The agent, Scully recalled, said Williams "wouldn't be appropriate."

Which left, well, Rich Little. "Regardless of what you think of Rich Little, he was really excited to do this," Scully said. "And the President and Mrs. Bush -- they really loved it."

While the ruling minority laughed during Little's performance Saturday night, the silent majority seated in the Washington Hilton's giant ballroom cringed. Including Ann Compton of ABC News, who is vice president of the White House Correspondents' Association. She said she thinks Little "does excellent impersonations," but that the ones he chose to perform -- Nixon, Reagan, Johnny Carson, Jimmy Carter -- were "too dated and too stale."

(Though the curmudgeonly conservative columnist Michael Barone told us, "I loved it. But, I'm old!")

As Little ended and people with pained expressions bolted for the exits to hit the after parties, actor Harry Shearer quipped, "He got a walking ovation."

President and Mrs. Bush had already been treated to a private dose of the impressionist's impressions at the White House Friday morning. Little is the first WHCA dinner entertainer, at least in Scully's memory, to meet with the President. He took some charcoal drawings he did of President and Mrs. Bush, and regaled them with (what else?) impressions of President Reagan and the Queen.

Little, according to Scully, who accompanied the comic to the White House, told a (yes, old) story about Reagan going horseback riding with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle in 1984. The Queen apologized to Reagan for her horse "passing wind," to which Reagan responded, "Don't worry, Your Majesty, we know it's not you."

Behind the scenes at the dinner:

Besides guests clobbering 17-year-old "American Idol" star Sanjaya for photos and autographs all night, the most notable moment of the dinner was well plotted dust-up between "Inconvenient Truth" producer Laurie David and White House consiglieri Karl Rove.

Buzz about the argument spread from table to table Saturday night. One congressional aide ran over to tell The Sleuth, "Laurie David just accosted Karl Rove." We walked over to the CNN table where David and her husband, producer Larry David, were seated and Laurie David was more than happy to tell us the whole story.

David said New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who was seated at the same table as Rove, introduced her to Rove. "Hello, Mr. Rove, I'm Laurie David. I'd like to urge you to take a new look at global warming."

By that time, David's good friend, Sheryl Crow showed up to help pile on. "He got angry very quickly," David told us. "He started yelling about China."

"And I said to him, 'The U.S. is the leading cause of global warming,'" David said. "And that's when he got very angry."

One nearby witness said David and Crow were "out of line."

(Our colleagues at Reliable Source wrote about the David-Rove exchange in their column in Sunday's Post.)

But at least Laurie David didn't have a fight with other senior Bush administration officials she met. "I got to say hello to Condi Rice and I must say, she was much nicer," David told The Sleuth. David said she suggested to Rice that global warming is a "national security problem;" David said Rice replied, "I agree, global warming is a problem" -- omitting any reference to national security implications.

(Check out Libby Copeland's and Dana Milbank's piece in Monday's Post about the after parties on Saturday night.)

By Mary Ann Akers  |  April 23, 2007; 5:00 AM ET
 
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Comments

Wow. I am infinitely grateful that I haven't worked as a journalist for about a decade so I don't even bear glancing shame for how much of a laughingstock the White House Stenography Corps has become. Laughingstock. A bigger collection of tools couldn't be found in the Sears Craftsmen department.

Posted by: Christian in NYC | April 23, 2007 9:04 AM | Report abuse

I'm sending you this email because you chose to label your column *The Sleuth*. Please do some sleuthing on the AP story, ignored by WaPo.com, about the VT senate voting to impeach Bush and Chaney. I am baffled how/why the Post has not commented on this event at all. Whatever the reason Post.com has averted their editorial eyes, it's not because a State Senate vote for impeachment is not newsworthy.

Posted by: Michael Martin | April 23, 2007 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Because no one in the real world gives a s**t what the VT Senate does? Maybe that's why?

Posted by: Stick | April 23, 2007 9:48 AM | Report abuse

That may be true, though offhand I'd have to guess more people care about the Vermont Senate than Rich Little. And that's just going by the article.

Posted by: Kagro X | April 23, 2007 9:56 AM | Report abuse

While Rich Little does deserve blessings for agreeing to again visit DC, I thought the event was pathetic.

Is there a better way to show that journalism is dead in Washington than whining about Colbert and resurrecting nice Mr. Little as this year's replacement?

So, go back to your 'toney' homes and paper-pushing bureaucratic-press lives, no real debate here, no real opinions, just comfy clubby elitism and monsterous self-satisfied self-regard.

Posted by: jerry | April 23, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

So who did they want Rich Little to do impressions of? Denny Hastert? Robert Gates? Does anyone even care what today's crop of politicians even sound like? The article failed to mention he did a stellar impression of John McCain.

Posted by: rah62 | April 23, 2007 10:36 AM | Report abuse

First, I have to defend Rich Little somewhat. Consider any comedian having to follow the short speech given by the President.

Second, and most importantly, the press still does not get it. This dinner party tradition has outlived its usefullness, if indeed it ever had one. To many of us non-celebrity Americans it smacks of elitism.

It is as if we common people are given the privilege to watch the rich and the famous. The press is supposed to be the watchdog of the government not its lapdog.

To be plain: This whole thing seems to say "This is our real lives. The rest is all an act."

And you wonder why major news outlets are failing and people go to the internet for news?

This hobnobbing is not the way to gain public trust!

Posted by: Brent | April 23, 2007 10:46 AM | Report abuse

An interesting aspect of the Rove matter that no one has commented on yet -- I just read that he was invited to the dinner by the New York Times. The New York Times? Why, pray tell, would they invite Karl Rove as their guest? And I agree, Rich Little was pathetic.

Posted by: Don562 | April 23, 2007 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Karl Rove is a global problem, and a national security disaster. Did Rich Little do an impression of him? If not, why not?

Posted by: J. Yoo | April 23, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Mr. President, President Bush, I heard you had fun at your dinner., You and Our First Lady. that was good., I pray GOD blesses you, in the last days of your term., I wish you would start an example of having a Prayer Warriors Group., to help you lead OUR Nation., I would help you, but I am hoping Senator Clinton calls me to lead her group., but to you, may you, your family, your administration, the federal, state, county and civil authorities be blessed in there endeavors to communicate your orders to us the public. this is Janair Williams Sr. and I will always look at you, as a great President., I will never go against my country, and to all of you people, who are burning Old Glory in your country, why not stop burning Old Glory and get your mind on somethingelse, stop letting it rent space in your peabody brain, there is no room let to think, as you can see, we here in America are going on with our lives., so to you I say,keep hope alive in your part of the country, across that OCEAN., don't come here., don't blow up anythingelse, just do the right thing, help your kids, plant some crops, make some machines, start your own computer interprises, but stop destruction, start diversifying, BUILD YOUR EMPIRE with peace!!! have a nice day, people.

Posted by: Janair Williams Sr. | April 23, 2007 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I also forgot about asking GOD to bless the city, too! in Jesus Christ name, amen,amen!!! Janair Williams Sr.

Posted by: Janair Williams Sr. | April 23, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

The Bush crowd has tried to contend since the beginning of their tenure at the white house, that anyone questioning anything that they do is out of line, so who can be surprised by the dust-up between David, Crown and Rove, and how it*s being portrayed, especially by Bush apologists.
Considering we still-I Think- live in a democracy, citizens have a perfect right to make comments and question people, in public arenas, who affect government policy. If we had all been doing more questioning in the beginning of Bush*s disaster as commander-in-chief, we might have stopped some of his deadly mistakes.
Go Mr. David and Ms. Crow!

Posted by: Tish Pearlman | April 23, 2007 1:00 PM | Report abuse

The pres corp dinner was a smash hit last year - because they had someone with BALLS to do it.

Of course Bush, et al enjoyed Rich Little - he didn't come close to making fun of the administration. Just what they are used to - supporters all around.

Babies.

Posted by: Babies | April 23, 2007 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Pathetic is the best adjective one can apply to the comic (sic) turn of Rich Little. The WH correspodents are a bunch of coddled, brain washed scrivenirs who wouldnt know a story f they tripped over it. But after steak, cold vegetables and a revenge california red what can one expect. I had more fun eating at the Kebab stand, and I didnt have to digest the jokes of mr little.

Posted by: rkmclement | April 23, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Hey Brent, please consider that half the population has less than average intelligience and a substantial percentage of the rest would rather be entertained than educated. The internet is a reasonable place to obtain facts about some issues. Unfortunately political views expressed on the internet are often filled with emotional bias and are completely lacking factual content. At least the established media usually make an effort to validate what they report. Little, if any, validation can be seen with most internet postings.

Posted by: r man | April 23, 2007 1:09 PM | Report abuse

what in the world was old boy Janair Williams Sr. tryin to tell us? Has the mother ship sent him a signal? Is it close to the time? Is the rapture upon us?

Posted by: stanislav purtinski | April 23, 2007 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Who will be left to wring the sweat and blood from Bush's underwear?

I smell awful.

Posted by: I smell awful | April 23, 2007 1:55 PM | Report abuse

r man, you are right, of course, about having to be a discerning consumer of internet news. The advantage, as I see it, is that I can read a variety of views unfiltered by whatever corporate influence might affect a given topic.

The narrowness of our access to this variety of opinion can actually be demonstrated via the internet. "Google" any given topic and you will receive thousands of hits. Dig deeper and you will find that a great majority of those hits are from the very same source--usually a news service.

But the internet also provides access to world-wide opinion.

Yes, every piece of writing is biased to some extent in that it is written by a human being. I believe, though, that one can become far more informed by reading several "biases" than he can by reading news presented by members of the same social club.

Posted by: Brent | April 23, 2007 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Why is most Washington humor so unbelievably ghastly and spineless?

Rich Little makes Mark Russell look like a comedic genius.

Posted by: drankland | April 23, 2007 6:25 PM | Report abuse

The WH correspodents, or more broadly the American political media, have changed litle in the last year. They still are afraid to ask the real questions. Colbert had the balls to speak the truth in a room full of people whose jobs have become to report the spin, not the truth, and they couldn't handle it. So this year they dig up Rich Little so nobody would be offended. Well at least we know that Bush like hard on jokes. But is anybody surprised by how bad the performance really was. Who has actually paid to see Rich Little in the last 20 years.

Posted by: TSirois | April 23, 2007 10:54 PM | Report abuse

If your criteria is what sort of comedy won't offend George Bush, shame, shame, shame on you. Cancel this event, it's as outdated as a minstrel show.

Posted by: davida | April 24, 2007 6:53 AM | Report abuse

In response to people's queries about the impeachment resolution in Vermont: The Vermont legislature passed a NON-BINDING resolution on impeachment. Non-binding is a nice way of saying: "We hear you and acknowledge what you want, but don't have spines to really do anything about it." Nothing will ever come of the non-binding resolution, therefore it is not news worthy. I wish it were, but the grass roots movement in Vermont will have to push harder.

Posted by: Newman | April 24, 2007 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Thank God I no longer have to earn a living as part of the Washington media. These insufferable dinners, where you suck up to all the powerful forces you are supposed to be calling to account, have got to stop. You all are too excited to be clambering into your special gowns and tuxes to have your pics taken with undersecretaries of defense to realize you're destroying your own profession with these displays.

I went to a few of these deals back in the day and found them sickening. Either you're really, really chummy with the power elite and the Monday-thru-Friday adverse posture is a charade. Or you really want to patrol the democracy and afflict the comfortable, in which case you should do it full-time and call a halt to these hideous dinners.

What do you think the rest of the country thinks of the media elite on nights like this? Be ashamed. Be very ashamed.

Posted by: TomF | April 24, 2007 4:18 PM | Report abuse

If the media is our last defense against governmental liars and if the media is supposed to point out when the emperor is NOT wearing clothes.... there must be some red faced journalists who are finding out that the American public is ashamed of news people who just dress up to have cozy meals with their cohorts.

Posted by: moosita | April 25, 2007 1:40 AM | Report abuse

Even comedy has to pass a political litmus test in this White House.

Posted by: Suzanne | April 25, 2007 1:03 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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