WASHINGTON – Talk about taking the edge off of edgy.
Impressionist Rich Little hasn’t been hot since Nehru jackets and go-go boots were hip. But the mild-mannered 68-year-old nightclub performer will be the headline act at today’s White House Correspondents Association dinner – and the salve for the dagger-sharp tongue of Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert, who at last year’s dinner satirically slashed President Bush and the Washington press corps beyond recognition.
The selection of Little after Colbert’s pointed monologue has produced tons of jokes (What? Nipsey Russell wasn’t available?) and amplified screams from the blogosphere that Little’s invitation proves how soft the White House press corps is on Bush.
“Hmmm, let’s see: Stephen Colbert – Rich Little,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. “Let’s pull it back a little – back to the 1960s.”
The idea behind hiring Little – best known for his impressions of Richard Nixon, Clint Eastwood and other old-school personalities – was to have a nice dinner where Bush could get “singed but not burned” by the evening’s entertainment, according to Steve Scully, president of the White House Correspondents Association.
“You can’t invite a guest of honor to come and be a political piñata,” said Scully, a political editor at C-SPAN. “There’s a very fine line we don’t want to cross out of respect for the institution of the presidency.”
Some people thought Colbert – who plays a mock conservative commentator on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” – crossed that line, though no one from the White House complained.
Little states flatly that he’s no Stephen Colbert. He assures that he won’t leave guests sweating uncomfortably in their tuxedoes and evening gowns.
“I’m more interested in the impression than to make some political statement,” Little told ABC News last week. “And … it’s probably a safer route for them. They had, what’s his name, Steve Colbert last year, and I thought he was very good, but he did take some jabs at the president, and I don’t think that’s a good idea to do that.”