I gotta be honest: I hurt for Joel McHale during his White House Correspondents' roast. It takes a great deal of courage for a comedian to get up in front of any crowd, but when you're performing for the President and a host of the world's most powerful people, it's a whole other ball game. And if I'm being frank, it was a little bit painful to watch (full video below).
It's not that the jokes were weak, necessarily (though a lot of them were), but that once things started going south McHale seemed totally incapable of winning the audience back and instead chose to rush through the remainder as quickly as possible. Still, let's cut him some slack: there were definitely a few good lines in there. Below you can find my (charitably balanced) roundup of his best and worst moments.
WORST: "I think [Obama] is one of the all-time great presidents, definitely in the Top 50. [pause] Please explain that to Jessica Simpson."
Not only is this a cheap shot, it's also painfully dated: Simpson's dim-witted TV persona hasn't been relevant since her "Newlyweds" days, and that show went off the air in 2005. Anyone who's been paying attention over the last decade knows that Simpson's fashion line has become a hugely profitable enterprise now estimated to be worth more than $1 billion. Say what you will about her, but she's no dummy.
BEST: "My favorite bit of yours was when you said you'd close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. That was a classic! That was hilarious."
This was the one moment where Obama appeared visibly nervous (watch as he fumbles awkwardly for a drink), and for good reason: the joke was cutting, and McHale didn't back down on the delivery.
WORST: "Healthcare.gov" as a catch-all analogy for failure.
This one might have sounded good on paper, but "I shouldn't have eaten all that sushi, I was up all night Healthcare.gov'ing" sounds monumentally awkward and unfunny when said aloud.
BEST: "I also want to thank the White House Correspondents Association for having me, and for not being able to book Jimmy Fallon. That's true."
There's no better way to shake up a stuffy black-tie event than to spill a little behind-the-scenes dirt, and the revelation that the Correspondents went to Fallon first was a welcome tidbit.
BEST: His Chris Christie political jokes.
About ten minutes in, McHale faux-apologized for cracking yet another Chris Christie fat joke by making a clever analogy between the offending wisecrack and the ongoing Bridgegate scandal: "I'm sorry for that joke, Governor Christie. I didn't know I was gonna tell it, but I take full responsibility for it. ...I'm appointing a blue ribbon commission of me to investigate the joke I just told, and if I find any wrongdoing on my part, I assure you I will be dealt with."
This one stung (see Christie smiling politely through the pain) and also got a good solid laugh out of the audience (no easy feat with this crowd). Well done.
WORST: His Chris Christie fat jokes.
I get the necessity of the "combo platter" joke to set up the Bridegate analogy, but McHale tapped this well a few too many times, and it felt lazy.
BEST: "To Republicans in attendance, E! is the channel that your deeply-closeted gay son likes to watch. Democrats, it's the same channel that your happy, openly-gay son likes to watch."
It's not exactly de rigueur to alienate a large portion of your audience at the Correspondents Dinner, but McHale went for broke by clearly showing his political stripes here, and it paid off as comedy. Ditto his Kardashians joke: "I know that [they're Republicans] because they're always trying to screw black people."
BEST: His Hillary Clinton joke.
"Hillary Clinton has a lot going for her as a candidate. She has experience, she's a natural leader, and - as our first female president - we could pay her 30% less." BOOM.
WORST: His Bill Clinton jokes.
"Hillary's daughter Chelsea is pregnant, which means in nine months we will officially have a sequel to 'Bad Grandpa.'" For a joke to fly, it needs to have at least some basis in reality, and I doubt there's anyone alive who actually thinks of Bill Clinton as being analogous to Johnny Knoxville's foul-mouthed, hard-drinking "Jackass" character. And the cigar joke? Hello, 1998!
WORST: The joke about dinner coming from Cliven Bundy's ranch: "The steaks are very tasty once you pull off the tiny white hoods."
Another lazy one. Yes, Bundy is a racist, but methinks there was a much better punchline to be mined here.
BEST: His impression of Robert De Niro's agent
"Ring, ring!" [Mimes answering a phone] "He'll do it!" [Hangs up phone] BOOM. (This would've been even better with a crowd shot of De Niro's stonefaced mug, but still a good dig.)
BEST: Wolf Blitzer's face during the CNN segment.
McHale's Radio Shack/CNN analogy was decent, but it wouldn't have made my "best" list if Blitzer's stoic gaze weren't there to really drive it home. On a related note: did anyone actually think that someone with the name "Wolf" would have a sense of humor about himself?
BEST: "There’s a lot of celebrities here tonight. They’re the ones that don’t look like ghouls."
It's funny because it's true!
WORST: "The folks from 'Duck Dynasty' had a very challenging year. The grandfather on that show made homophobic and racist comments. But people are overlooking another issue. He really hates ducks."
Groan, Joel. Just groan.
What did you think of McHale's roast?