Obama plays comedian in chief

May 10, 2009 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, May 10 – US President Barack Obama played comedian-in-chief late Saturday, torching his political team, foes and even himself in a string of stinging one-liners at a star-studded dinner.

Obama, with tongue firmly in cheek, jabbed his former political rival Hillary Clinton, joked beaten-down Republicans were not eligible for a "bailout" and ribbed reporters accused of giving him an easy ride.

"Most of you covered me, all of you voted for me," Obama told reporters among more than 2,000 guests at the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents Association, including a clutch of A-list Hollywood celebrities.

"In the next 100 days, I will learn to get off the prompter and Joe Biden will learn to get on the prompter," the president continued, referring to his vice president, who often gets in trouble due to a runaway tongue.

Obama, referring to complaints that he is too reliant on a telepromter, joked that he wanted to speak "off the cuff" — then brought the house down as two of the devices appeared by his side.

He joshed that his daughters Malia and Sasha were not at the dinner because they were "grounded" — joking they had buzzed New York in Air Force One, in a sly reference to the flyover of a spare presidential jet which sparked panicked memories of the September 11 attacks in Manhattan.

"I must confess, I didn’t really want to be here tonight," Obama joked, but added "but I knew I had to come, that’s one more problem that I inherited from George W. Bush."

Obama mainly let his unpopular Republican predecessor off the hook, but did not spare the former vice president.

"Dick Cheney was supposed to be here, but he is very busy working on his memoirs, tentatively titled ‘How to shoot friends and interrogate people.’"

The president also made a comic swipe at his former Democratic primary rival Clinton — who now serves as his secretary of state, in an aside playing off the swine flu epidemic centered in Mexico.

"In fact, the second she got back from Mexico, she pulled me into a hug and gave me a big kiss — told me I better get down there myself."

The dinner was a rare chance for big political beasts from the stuffy US capital to rub shoulders with Hollywood royalty.

But critics claim the dinner is symptomatic of a too-cosy relationship between Washington journalists and the politicians they are supposed to cover, and accuse scribes of fawning over Hollywood stars.

Obama’s first appearance as president at the dinner drew a bevvy of top stars, many of whom are sympathisers and big donors to his Democratic Party.

A pre-party cocktail held by CNN, Time magazine, Fortune magazine and CNN included a red carpet’s worth of Hollywood royalty, including Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Eva Longoria, Scottish celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and film director Steven Spielberg.

Also spotted at the big night were "Fatal Attraction" star Glenn Close and the father of "Star Wars" George Lucas, as well as Tom Cruise and wife Katie Holmes.

There were not just stars but heros at the dinner.

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot who ditched his crippled US Airways jet in the Hudson River, miraculously saving all his passengers, was chowing down with the New York Daily News.

And Captain Richard Phillips, dramatically rescued by US special forces off Somalia, after giving himself up as a hostage to save his crew and cargo ship, was also there, fresh from a meeting Saturday with Obama at the White House.

One political star who didn’t make it was former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who stayed at her governor’s post in Alaska to deal with flash floods.

The White House Correspondents’ Association was set up 1914 as a broker between reporters on the presidential beat on the White House. Every president since Calvin Coolidge has taken part in the dinner.

In the traditional role as top entertainer for the night was sparky comedian Wanda Sykes, who joked that African Americans would disown Obama, the first black president, if he did not do well.

"The first black president — that’s unless you screw up. Then it’s going to be — what’s up with the half-white guy?"

But Sykes also unfurled some controversial remarks, and branded Rush Limbaugh, the high pries


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