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Dinner Theater

The White House Correspondents Dinner is tonight. Usually, they invite a comedian to perform but instead, this year they got Jimmy Kimmel.

I'm uncomfy with some aspects of the ritual, particularly with the press being so darned friendly with folks they're supposed to be dispassionately covering…but I'm fascinated with it as a piece of show business. It's a tough room and not everyone can work it. Last year's appearance by Seth Meyers raised the bar high with the best set I can recall anyone having.

Not every comedian has done well in what's obviously a very tough room. Jay Leno had a great appearance in 2004 and a disappointing one in 2010…although one thing I notice is that with one exception (Rich Little in 2007), the performances that seem weak when watched live all seem much better when you watch them later on YouTube. Little's seemed feeble at the time and seems even worse in hindsight.

He was asked, of course, to play it "safe" after some complained that Stephen Colbert offended too many sensibilities in 2006. He probably did…but a lot of folks think he bombed and that's not so. If you think that, watch it again. That audience loved most of what he did. Craig Ferguson's speech in 2008 was quite successful though he largely eschewed one-liners for an actual attempt to say something to the assemblage. You can see videos of a lot of these and learn more about the dinner over on this page at the C-Span site.

It's also interesting which topical comedians haven't been there. Bill Maher and Lewis Black have each spoken once at the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner but apparently haven't been invited to the larger, more presidential White House affair. David Letterman apparently has but declined. Even the Bush administration didn't want Dennis Miller. I assume Jon Stewart has been asked at least once and am curious as to why he's said no.

CNN and MSNBC are carrying the event tonight beginning at 6:30 Pacific Time, 9:30 in the East. Did Fox News carry this event when it was a Republican president? I don't know. C-Span covers the arrivals. This page will tell you roughly who's expected to attend.