WASHINGTON – President Bush, deferring to the tragedy at Virginia Tech, passed up any attempt to be funny at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner Saturday, leaving those efforts to impersonator Rich Little.
Returning to the podium at the annual dinner after 23 years, Little made good on his promise to be gentle.
Little’s material was safe if occasionally a little raunchy. He dusted off his impersonations of six presidents, from Nixon to the current occupant of the White House, and avoided any reference to current political issues.
Best known for his impersonations of Richard Nixon and Johnny Carson, Rich was the featured act for the glitzy dinner with Bush, Cabinet secretaries, foreign dignitaries, Hollywood celebrities and members of the press.
Unlike previous comedians at the dinner, he had no competition from Bush, who at times has shown a deft comedic touch himself in his annual monologue.
Bush said it was important for people in Washington “to learn to laugh” and that the ability for a nation to poke fun at its leaders is good for democracy.
“I was looking forward to doing a little poking myself, but in light of this tragedy at Virginia Tech I decided not to be funny,” he said.
He noted that many journalists in the room have had a tough week, reporting from Virginia Tech and said “this dinner comes at a good time.”
With that, he introduced Little for the laughs.
Little had said in advance that both Republicans and Democrats should expect nothing more than gentle jokes at their expense during the dinner, an annual tradition started by President Calvin Coolidge.