Headlining the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is always a tall order. Whichever comedian addresses the event’s attendees is expected to deliver the year’s definitive roast of both the current administration and the press.
This past weekend, the pressure was even higher for The Daily Show’s very own Hasan Minhaj. Not only does our president have a famously contentious relationship with the press, but he and his entire administration refused to even attend this year’s festivities.
We asked Minhaj about his strategy for roasting the president in absentia and if his role prevented him from actually enjoying the dinner.
Austin Bernhardt: Was it better or worse not having Trump in the room? And how did you prepare to roast the absent commander-in-chief?
Hasan Minhaj: Those are two very different scenarios. I think if Trump had been there, I definitely would’ve had to be more “tasteful,” because he’d actually be in the room and is the president.
The challenge I faced going into the event was that I knew people would think that if I took shots at the president in absentia, it would appear to be mean or distasteful. So I wanted to ride the fine line of making sure I singed and didn’t burn the room.
Who were you most excited to go after among those present?
CNN, hands down. I did that whole CNN run while looking at Wolf Blitzer. I wanted Wolf to crack a smile so bad!
What tips would you give to comics in the future about performing at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner?
Larry Wilmore and Robin Thede gave me great advice: Keep your foot on the gas and don’t apologize. It’s a tough room. And find a head writer who understands your voice. Mine was Prashanth Venkataramanujam. We were able to craft an arc and direction for the set together, then go back and find jokes.
Let’s talk about the dinner itself. Good food? Fun party? Why don’t people ask this more?
I couldn’t eat! I was too nervous before my set. The parties are fun, though. Either way, when it’s over, you want to do a victory lap with your friends and family.
See Hasan’s actual victory lap from last night’s episode:
This interview has been edited for clarity and concision.