Rich Little Bravely Answers Washington's Call
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.)
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