So, Michelle Wolf is the woman of the moment.
The painfully unfunny comedienne with a voice even more nasal than this writer’s took to the stage of the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday night to make a name for herself. And succeed she did: for the last 72 hours, she’s been at the tip of everyone’s tongue. Her routine, in which she ripped into Vice President Mike Pence as a perverse sexist dreaming of The Handmaid’s Tale (what an original joke!), said that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was like a sexist from The Handmaid’s Tale (OMG, even more original!), and suggested you shouldn’t knock abortion until you’ve tried it, made the rounds.
It drew the ire of the White House; officials there sought an apology from the White House Correspondents' Association. It drew the ire of other journalists, who suddenly realized that making shamelessly gauche jokes about abortion and other women might look bad.
A few thoughts.
1. Michelle Wolf was the big winner. She went in looking for a reaction, and she got it. She certainly knew that Stephen Colbert rocket-fueled his career by ripping on President Bush in 2005, and she figured that she could increase her profile dramatically by doing the same. She accomplished that goal. And while members of the media are ripping her now, they’ll be hosting her for interviews in a year when she publishes her memoirs.
2. Wolf didn’t insult Huckabee Sanders’ looks. Wolf’s jokes were mean and gross, but she didn’t insult Huckabee Sanders’ looks:
We are graced with Sarah’s presence tonight. I have to say I’m a little star-struck. I love you as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale. Mike Pence, if you haven’t seen it, you would love it. Every time Sarah steps up to the podium I get excited, because I’m not really sure what we’re going to get — you know, a press briefing, a bunch of lies or divided into softball teams. “It’s shirts and skins, and this time don’t be such a little bitch, Jim Acosta!” I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. She burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies. And I’m never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders, you know? 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? Oh, I know. Aunt Coulter.
Cringeworthy garbage, to be sure. But this isn’t a rip on Huckabee Sanders’ looks. And Huckabee Sanders got off easy compared to the shellacking taken by Pence or Kellyanne Conway or even Ivanka Trump (“She’s the Diaper Genie of the administration: on the outside, she looks sleek, but the inside, it’s still full of shit”).
3. The White House shouldn’t complain about people being mean. The Left isn’t wrong to point out the hypocrisy of those who celebrate President Trump’s nasty streak complaining about Wolf’s. But Huckabee Sanders, Conway and Pence haven’t engaged in that sort of rhetoric. Only Trump has. Treating those ancillary players the way Trump treats others is bad form.
4. The media are idiots for citing Trump in defense of Wolf. We’ve been told for years that we can’t normalize Trump – just because Trump does something doesn’t mean everyone should do it. Okay, then. Stop citing Trump’s various excesses as an excuse to say demeaning things about random members of the administration, let alone unborn children.
5. Wolf is a bad comedienne, but let’s stop getting so exercised over her comedy. Just as with Kathy Griffin, it’s possible to point out the hypocrisy and stupidity of the Left when it comes to comedy without turning into killjoys. Wolf is bad at her job. End of story. Her jokes sucked. She relies on gratuitous name-calling rather than decent joke-telling. But let’s not start hamstringing comedians generally for offensiveness. Down that path lies the comedy of Gallagher.
6. The media are idiots generally. The real story of the Wolf comedy routine wasn’t Wolf – it was the reaction of the members of the media in the room, and the WHCD’s consistent left-wing bias for years. The members of the media guffawed their way through Wolf’s set, just as they guffawed their way through Colbert’s set, just as they guffawed their way through Barack Obama’s set attacking Donald Trump in 2011 (written in part by Judd Apatow). The media pretended humor about Obama was off-limits for nearly a decade, and then suddenly began laughing again about the president as soon as Trump took the Oval Office. The media have been humiliatingly biased for years, and the WHCD was no exception.
So, was Michelle Wolf a big deal? Not at all. But – with a few key exceptions -- the media’s continued lack of understanding as to why the WHCD hurts them more than it hurts Trump tells you all you need to know about their agenda.