Music, Movies & Moods is a free-form column in which Matt Melis explores the cracks between where art and daily life meet. This time, he reflects on why comedian Michelle Wolf’s set at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner was particularly satisfying.
Let me tip-toe out on a rather sturdy limb.
Nothing I see on a festival stage, in a movie theater, or on television in 2018 will give me more satisfaction than comedian Michelle Wolf’s merciless roasting of Donald Trump, his administration, and the many who benefit from but fail to check his power on Saturday night at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Yes, Beyoncé’s transformative Coachella set will remain the stuff of legend, and Cardi B revealing her baby bump on SNL will forever be a late-night highlight, but it’s Wolf’s mic-dropping take-down that’ll be the performance I admire most of all. That we needed most of all.
The moment she won me over?
“Trump isn’t here,” Wolf noted, early on in her 20-minute set. “I would drag him here myself, but it turns out the president of the United States is the one pussy you’re not allowed to grab.”
As a writer, I admire the structure of her punchline, adore the table-turning irony, and love how she repurposed a normally sexist double-meaning (why is slang for a vagina also our go-to pejorative for perceived male weakness?) into the perfect insult hurled at a thin-skinned coward who has dodged only two things more than these correspondents’ dinners: the draft and allegations of sexual misconduct. As an American, I appreciated someone finally having the balls to tell truth to power without bubble-wrapping the barb. And as a man, I loved watching a woman obliterate that non-kneeling son of a bitch because I know it’ll sting that much more when he watches it in bed alone, cradling his Filet-o-Fish.
It had to be a woman, though.
It had to be a woman because the #MeToo and #TimesUp era have ousted sexual predators from starring in or producing movies but not from holding the highest office in our land. It had to be a woman because Bill Cosby harmed as many women as he did for as long as he did. It had to be a woman because of the Access Hollywood tape. It had to be a woman because of the “nasty woman” comment and all the “lock her up” chants (google Yulio Tymoshenko sometime). It had to be a woman because our nation’s first lady has been publicly mortified and the president’s favorite daughter repeatedly sexualized by, well, her father. It had to be a woman because of the lies denying the stories of Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. It had to be a woman because of all the many credible female accusers of pedophile cowboy Roy Moore who Trump blanketly dismissed as liars. And it had to be a woman because of the more than a dozen women who have brought credible allegations against our president and have largely had their stories dismissed and ignored not only by Trump but by voters and the whole of congress.
And there couldn’t have been a better woman than Wolf for the verbal hit job. “I’m 32 years old, which is an odd age,” Wolf explained early in her set. “Ten years too young to host this event and 20 years too old for Roy Moore … I know, he almost got elected, yeah.” Clearly, she would spare no jab and pull no KO punch, and it was all the better that she’s the type of sharp, unapologetically brash woman who makes a misogynist like Trump retreat to the toilet to Tweet about bloody face-lifts, love handles, and schoolyard-like hotness ratings. Wait, too late. While roasting Kellyanne Conway, Wolf took a self-deprecating poke at her “frizzy hair and small tits,” about the only place Trump could possibly think to target, because, after all, an Adonis like himself would never find a “nasty woman” like Wolf attractive.
Naturally, Wolf has seen a great deal of backlash already. Snowflake republicans have taken to personal attacks, crying faux outrage over her jokes calling attention to Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ habitual mendacity. Journalists of all stripes have criticized her for “crossing the line” (as if they had never heard the president speak or read his Tweets) and mocking the appearance of Sanders. She did neither. But one thing nobody has done is challenge or refute the harsh, damning truths Wolf slipped into her set about the shortcomings of the media, the racial injustice in America, the financial challenges facing teachers, or the drinking water in Flint, Michigan – a swing state that helped put Trump in the Oval Office. Many may have a problem with her “meanness,” but perhaps if those in power wish for fewer casualties at a roast, they shouldn’t give a comedian like Wolf so much ammo; hell, it’s like “shooting fish in Chris Christie.”
It had to be a woman, as mentioned above, because so much of Donald Trump’s political success has been achieved at the expense of women, including the mother of his youngest son. But what comedian would I like to see at next year’s WHCD? How about a child of illegal immigrants from Mexico, a four-star parent, an “extreme vetted” Muslim, a transgender person, a black person from a “shithole” country (or Chicago or a town with Confederate statues), or maybe just one of those “very fine people” on the side that wasn’t full of Nazis and white supremacists at Charlottesville. Don’t you think there are funny people from these demographics dying to pull a Wolf on Trump?
I guarantee it.
Even when an administration is predicated upon sowing (or at least watering) the seeds of bitterness that cause a group of frustrated people to blame those who are different from them for their hardships, the blamed and hated – “nasty women” like Michelle Wolf – occasionally get a chance to hold the mic. And when they do, they are in a position to speak the rarest of things: the truth. It’s usually followed by nervous laughter, forced smiles, and the sight of powerful people studying their shoelaces.