By tradition, the president is the guest of honor at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and the guest of honor addresses the audience of roughly 2,000 at some point during the evening.
It’s usually a light-hearted, often funny speech, very much in keeping with the chummy spirit of the occasion. But for the jokes to work, delivery is everything.
“I’d tell Barack Obama to treat the jokes, the whole thing, as seriously as the State of the Union speech,” Phil Rosenthal tells WHCInsider. “He should deliver it with the same gravity and seriousness.”
Rosenthal, the creator and executive producer of the hit comedy “Everyone Loves Raymond,” wrote material for all WHCDs that Bill Clinton attended as president and also directed “The Final Days,” the famous video of President Clinton at his last WHCD. Considered one of the funniest presidential comedy routines, the short spoof featured President Clinton riding a bike through the White House and later running to give First Lady Hillary Clinton her lunch before she went off to work in a limo.
How hard was it to direct the most powerful man in the free world?
“It was easy, because Bill Clinton made it easy,” Rosenthal recalls. “He was very, very good. We did one or two takes for a scene at most. I told people, ‘He’s such a good actor — maybe too good.'”
Both Clintons enjoyed doing it. “The First Lady would watch his scenes being made, and he’d watch hers. They both had a really good time.”
Clinton aides originally told Rosenthal he’d only have 30 minutes with the president for taping. Because Clinton was so cooperative, the director ended up getting three 30-minute sessions.
As for his advice to Obama, Rosenthal says he’d say the same to anyone doing comedy. “If you play it straight, it’s really funny. A straight face is one of the best tools a comedian has.”
Obama, who has a low-key, sometimes deadpan style, may well do as Rosenthal suggests. “But he’s so charming and affable,” Rosenthal says, “if he smiles once in a while, I don’t think anyone will mind.”
For a look at entertainment/performances of past WHCDs, click on the “Back Story” tab on the navigation bar and pull up “WHCD: Video Highlights.” To see Rosenthal’s “The Final Days,” click on the video below.