Klassic Kolbert: Stephen Colbert at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Once a year, we get to be reminded of the moment that took Stephen Colbert from being Jon Stewart’s second fiddle to being a major player in the comedic and political landscape – the 2006 White House Correspondent’s Dinner. For those of us who had been watching the ‘Colbert Report’, we recognized the tone, and even some of the jokes. But it’s one thing to make those jokes on a late night show on basic cable, and another to make those jokes to the face of the President of the United States. We here at the blog were so inspired by the speech that we used one of the phrases, as the basis for our fan site name – “I give people the truth, unfiltered by rational argument – I call it the No Fact Zone”.

Unfortunately for those who have followed, he has set the bar for how the tone of the event should go. Every speaker since has been compared to Colbert’s performance that night. Rich Little was hired in 2007 to be a safe alternative, and proved to be way, way too safe. Wanda Sykes was brought to the dinner at 2009 and was voted to be a bit edgier than they wanted, although nowhere near as edgy as Colbert. And then this year, in 2010, Jay Leno was the guest speaker. Let’s see what the press had to say about Jay’s performance, shall we?

  • After last night’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, should Obama host ‘The Tonight Show’? – EW.com

    Leno then took the stage and delivered a routine straight off of The Tonight Show, mainly lukewarm, vanilla fare that wasn’t nearly as good as the comedian-in-chief’s, and definitely wasn’t at the same level as Stephen Colbert’s stint a few years ago.

  • Jay Leno Bombs at White House Dinner: Take This Comic Please – PoliticsDaily.com

    The deconstruction of the headliner’s comic performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner easily degenerates into a discourse on the culture of Washington and the press pack. Stephen Colbert’s memorable skewering of the press and George W. Bush at the 2006 dinner (“He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday”) spawned a week-long, furrow-browed flap over why the assembled reporters seemed so reluctant to laugh.

  • Jay Leno BOMBS At White House Correspondents Dinner (VIDEO) – Huffington Post

    All in all, the performance was standard Leno. Safe and inoffensive. And there’s nothing wrong with that — but it comes on the heels of Stephen Colbert and Wanda Sykes, comics who ruffled some feathers on their way to memorable speeches. Even Obama came out and took some risks with his material.

  • Leno at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner: He’s No Obama – Time.com Swamplands blog

    Jay Leno was a disappointingly safe choice as host of this year’s White House Correspondents’ dinner. Still, there was some logic to it. At a time of bitter partisan rancor in Washington, the press group clearly felt no urge to risk stirring up more ill will with a real political satirist like Stephen Colbert (who skewered the Bush gang back in ’06) or a loose cannon like Wanda Sykes (who last year labeled Rush Limbaugh “the 20th hijacker” because he’s rooting for Obama to fail).

  • Obama and Leno Share a Time Slot – NY Times Caucus blog

    The dinner is seen by many as an opportunity for politicians and reporters to put aside daily antagonisms, but that can be awkward as well. After a searing critique of President Bush by Stephen Colbert in 2006, organizers have pursued entertainers with less edge.

  • Obama Tops Leno At WHCD – Politico.com (who also wins the award for Best Use Of Double Entendre in a Blog or Mainstream Media Article Title)

    Going into Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, the advice for Leno was this: Be funnier than Rich Little, but not as brash as Stephen Colbert. Both comedians were criticized for their past WHCD performances.

Let’s see what all the buzz was all about by rewatching the video of Stephen Colbert’s WHCD speech.


  1. MaryLovesColbert says:

    Hee hee. I can’t help but swell with pride at how everyone has been compared to Stephen now. He did amazingly at the WHCD. That was just phenomenal. And I love how you’ve described it, DB, as the moment when he really grew into his own entertainer rather than just Jon’s “second fiddle.” :)

  2. Can’t believe that was four years ago already. Ten minutes of riotous laughter and simultaneous gasps of “no! he didn’t!” had my mind so bent by the end it was instant fandom. A watershed moment of comedic brilliance and bravery.

    • wildlymissingthemark says:

      i watched TCR pretty faithfully since 2005, but the WHCD in 2006 absolutely solidified my fandom for him too. there was no turning back for me after that.

  3. Here’s a link to the full speech (high quality, but maybe not embeddable), including the skit with Helen Thomas: 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

  4. I think maybe you missed one of the comedians; didn’t John Hodgman host last year? I seem to remember that he did a pretty good job.

    • Craig Ferguson hosted in 2008. There wasn’t much buzz about him, just that he did a good job. So I left him off the list – he wasn’t controversial, but he didn’t bomb either.

      • I see – Hodgman hosted the Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner last year. Those crazy journalists and all their fancy dinners!

        Agree with your decision, Craig did an okay job and I think he had some funny things to say about his encounter with W afterwards. I don’t think anyone will ever top what Stephen did, and I think I would feel that way even if I wasn’t a complete fangirl.

  5. colbaby says:

    I didn’t watch Leno last night (or any other night), and from what I’m reading I didn’t miss much.

    I think Johnny Stew described Stephen’s performance perfectly: balls-alicious.

    • lockhart43 says:

      Yeah, I’d say Jon summed it up perfectly! :)

      I also love this one that I read in a TIME article: “a work of staggering genius that could only be pulled off by a man with testicles the size of Alpha Centauri.”

  6. Neufel says:

    As a french fan, I discovered Stephen via this video.
    Some French news shows aired it back in 2006, without really explaining who was Stephen Colbert, and what his show was about. They were just really happy to see this.
    Anyway, more than just publicity, this dinner was the proof that Stephen has some guts. And he trusts them, too.

  7. luvtcr says:

    I find it interesting that in the days following the dinner some in the press refered to Colbert as “unfunny” while those who watched online thought it was spot on funny. Either way, Stephen is responsible for a real turning point in media culture(in my opinion). I love revisiting it every year and reading the comparisons. Thanks for the recap!

    • wildlymissingthemark says:

      i agree that there was something special about that appearance that seemed to shift the boundaries of what is acceptable criticism (of politicians+media figures.) i think obama would love to have someone like colbert roast him (i think he could take it, he’s gone up against far tougher opposition) but because of politics he has to play it safe with leno-types of bland comedians.

    • mrtigger001 says:

      yeah I do remember a HUGE amount of criticism at the time of Stephen’s routine. They were saying he wasn’t funny or that he was catering to the wrong audience (online audience as opposed to the audience directly in front of him).

      I think part of it was that one of the sharper jabs was at the media itself. And of course, when the media gets offended, they gotta defend and justify. Thus the “Stephen bombed!” sentiment.

  8. BCChase says:

    The part I found the coolest from this year’s dinner was a tidbit from the Daily Beast article on it: apparently Pres. Obama hired the Daily Show writers to pen his jokes! Which makes total sense, given how much better he was than Leno.

    Link to the story: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-05-02/obama-trounces-leno/?cid=hp:mainpromo4

    • Wow. That explains a lot!

    • UPDATE: Those jokesters from The Daily Show have been taking a bit of heat from various quarters today over The Daily Beast’s report that they helped with President Obama’s standup routine. A Comedy Central spokesman called to clarify that one, repeat one, veteran Daily Show comedy writer, Kevin Bleyer, was acting independently when he wrote jokes for the president. No word on whether Bleyer was working as a volunteer or a paid consultant.

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