Sans Trump, Hasan Minhaj to poke fun at White House

Published: April 11, 2017
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Hasan Minhaj of 'The Daily Show' at the rooftop lounge in his building in New York. PHOTO COURTESY: The New York Times

Hasan Minhaj of 'The Daily Show' at the rooftop lounge in his building in New York. PHOTO COURTESY: The New York Times

The US court system has so far held off attempts by President Donald Trump to ban ‘certain’ Muslims from entering the country, and the White House Correspondents’ Association is now adding insult to injury by inviting a Muslim comic to poke fun at him at the correspondents’ dinner.

Hasan Minhaj, who regularly roasts the incumbent president, as a reporter on The Daily Show, will be the featured performer at the dinner on April 29, the association said on Tuesday.

Trump, perhaps expecting a few harsh jabs, is skipping the event,  becoming the first president to do so since the 1970s. His staff have also announced that they will not attend the event.

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Similarly, Vanity Fair and Bloomberg cancelled their famed, celebrity-laden afterparties, given that the event is playing out against the backdrop of a historically strained period of relations between the administration and the news media.

In a statement on Tuesday, Minhaj called the opportunity “a tremendous honour…to be a part of such a historic event even though the president has chosen not to attend this year. SAD!”

”Now more than ever, it is vital that we honour the First Amendment and the freedom of the press,” Minhaj added.

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The 31-year-old first-generation Indian-American will join the ranks of Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien and other comic legends that have skewered their heads of state at the event. Presidents often also give their own comic speeches, often offering insight to a different side of their personalities.

Comedians for the dinner are typically announced months in advance, and some well-known names, including late-night host James Corden, reportedly declined invitations this year.

And without Trump on hand to punch back, some journalists in Washington were concerned that a one-sided monologue attacking the president would give an impression of bias.

“I was not looking for somebody who is going to roast the president in absentia; that’s not fair and that’s not the message we want to get across,” Jeff Mason, the president of the correspondents’ association, said Tuesday morning on MSNBC.

“I was looking for somebody who is funny and who is entertaining, because I want the dinner to be entertaining, but who can also speak to the message that the whole dinner is going to speak to: the importance of the free press,” he added.

Minhaj joined The Daily Show in 2014 and has become popular among viewers with his cheerfully acerbic takes on current events.

He wrote and performed Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King, an off-Broadway show in 2015 recalling his youth in California and his struggles with ethnic identity.

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Officials at the correspondents’ association say they are emphasising the dinner’s promotion of journalism, securing the famed journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward to present awards for some of the year’s best White House reporting. Scholarships funded by the association will also be at the forefront.

Charitable purposes aside, the dinner is best known as the glittering jewel of Washington’s social calendar, where powerful lawmakers and Hollywood stars mingle. Celebrities flocked to the event during the Obama years, even as critics warned that the evening projected a type of cosiness between reporters and sources that felt uncomfortable at best.

This story originally appeared on The New York Times.

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