Jokes are not on the menu at the 2019 White House Correspondents' Dinner

By Tierney McAfee
November 19, 2018 05:18 PM
Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Jokes are not on the menu at the 2019 White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

The White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) announced in a statement Monday that the upcoming event will not feature a comedian for the first time since 2003. Instead, the organization chose author and presidential biographer Ron Chernow as the speaker of next year’s ceremony.

The Washington Post notes that this will mark only the third time a comedian has not been featured as the speaker for the annual dinner, which dates back to 1921. The other two exceptions were Aretha Franklin in 1999 and Ray Charles in 2003.

The change comes after comedian Michelle Wolf’s controversial performance at the April 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where she raised eyebrows with her raunchy language and pointed jokes about press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was in the audience.

Wolf denounced Monday’s news on Twitter, saying, “The @whca are cowards. The media is complicit. And I couldn’t be prouder.”

President Donald Trump notably did not attend the past two White House Correspondents’ Dinners and criticized last year’s ceremony and Wolf, calling her “filthy” and slamming the event as an “embarrassment.”

After Wolf’s controversial performance last April, WHCA president Olivier Knox said in an interview at the time that his email inbox had been flooded with advice on how to improve future dinners. He continued with a list of changes the ceremony might include: “No entertainer. No comic. A serious speaker. Maybe a musician. Maybe don’t televise it.”

In a statement announcing the news on Monday, Knox said, “As we celebrate the importance of a free and independent news media to the health of the republic, I look forward to hearing Ron place this unusual moment in the context of American history.”

Chernow, who has written biographies about many presidents, including one on Alexander Hamilton that he helped turn into the hit Broadway musical, added in the statement: “The White House Correspondents’ Association has asked me to make the case for the First Amendment and I am happy to oblige. Freedom of the press is always a timely subject and this seems like the perfect moment to go back to basics. My major worry these days is that we Americans will forget who we are as a people and historians should serve as our chief custodians in preserving that rich storehouse of memory. While I have never been mistaken for a stand-up comedian, I promise that my history lesson won’t be dry.”