- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

President Bush may be suffering at the polls, but it hasn’t affected his sense of humor. The comic in chief killed ‘em Saturday night at the 92nd annual White House Correspondents Association Dinner.

To be fair, Mr. Bush had a little help this year.

Bush impersonator and “subconscious alter-ego” Steve Bridges teamed with the president for a syncopated Dueling Dubyas routine that delighted the assembled scribes, the very same folks who spend their days questioning every move Mr. Bush makes.

The president began with standard formalities, how much he looks forward to the White House Correspondents Association dinner. But his doppelganger soon set the tune for the hilarious doubles act.

“Here I am at one of those press dinners,” said Mr. Bridges as Mr. Bush. … “I get to pretend I like being here. How come I can’t have dinner with the 36 percent of the people who like me?” Raucous laughter from 2,700 journalists and guests rocked the Washington Hilton’s cavernous ballroom.

The faux Bush teased his inspiration for mispronouncing “nuclear” and his so-called arrogance, while Mr. Bush stood by his side content to play the straight man.

Thee president hardly let Mr. Bridges use up all the zingers, especially regarding his vice president’s little hunting mishap.

“I didn’t know anything about it until I saw him on ‘America’s Most Wanted,’ ” Mr. Bush said.

He even pleaded for bipartisan unity, tongue firmly in cheek.

“We should all come together — Republicans, Democrats … John McCain.”

Any comic worth his salt should never follow acts featuring children, animals or self-deprecating world leaders, but Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert appeared up to the challenge — at first. The host of the new hit series “The Colbert Report” started with a strong first line or two, and ended with a dud and a whimper.

“We’re not so different,” Mr. Colbert said of the guest of honor. “Guys like us don’t pay attention to the polls. Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Mr. Colbert didn’t pull any punches, mocking the new government in Iraq as well as the president’s stubborn streak. But he wrapped his segment with a belabored, not very funny video sketch of his trying out for the White House press secretary’s gig, a job that just went to Fox host (and onetime editor of the editorial page of The Washington Times) Tony Snow just last week.

Guests at The Washington Times’ after party in the hotel’s Chevy Chase Room raved over the president’s performance.

Visiting philosopher Denis Dutton, editor of the popular Web site www.artsandlettersdaily.com, branded it a “sophisticated” bit of humor.

“It had exactly the right note of self-deprecation with some very funny lines,” Mr. Dutton said.

Richmond Mayor (and former Virginia governor) L. Douglas Wilder dubbed the night’s comedy program “humorous but hard hitting — a composite of national feeling and thought.” Mr. Wilder said he only wishes more politicians could deal with issues as directly as the best comedians often do.

The annual gathering of the White House press corps and its favorite prey drew a lighter than usual collection of celebrities this year. It was a good thing Oscar winner George Clooney was on hand to shoulder the paparazzi burden during pre-dinner celebrating.

Mr. Clooney, hunkered down in the Newsweek party away from the madding crowd, posed for photograph after photograph. Swooning women stumbled away from the experience, their brows beading with sweat as their male escorts attempted to be magnanimous.

A few feet away stood former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, chatting amiably with a far smaller circle of well-wishers.

Score one for Hollywood.

At The Washington Times’ pre-dinner bash, National Rifle Association honcho Wayne LaPierre and musician-turned-missile-defense-consultant Jeff “Skunk” Baxter soaked up the festivities, joined by Librarian of Congress James Billington, Singapore Ambassador Heng Chee Chan, Korean Ambassador Tae-Sik Lee, District Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, American Spectator Editor in Chief R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. and Rep. Katherine Harris.

Mr. Baxter, a former member of both Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers, defended fellow musician Neil Young for his forthcoming album slamming the president.

“One of the reasons I went into national security was that our men [in the military] fight and die so we can have the freedom to say what we want,” Mr. Baxter said. “I don’t say I agree with him.”

The sundry cocktail parties highlighted the curious mix of journalists, politicos and entertainment world personalities that make the dinner one of the year’s most eagerly anticipated social events.

Among the guests basking in the sunny patio space were New York Giants great Phil Simms, model Kim Alexis, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “Sopranos” star Joe Pantoliano, “Nip/Tuck” actress Kelly Carlson, “Everybody Loves Raymond’s” Doris Roberts, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and “Thank You for Smoking” director Jason Reitman.

The night’s sole flicker of mischief came with the appearance of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame and left-leaning hubby Joe Wilson. While actors like Patricia Clarkson and Jeffrey Wright worked the Creative Coalition tent, Mrs. Plame and Mr. Wilson stood out in the open to bask in the attention from curiosity seekers.

The Bloomberg After Party, held at the Macedonian Embassy a few blocks away, capped the evening with a stylish blend of thumping music and Taittinger champagne for still-thirsty revelers. Colorful waterfalls and fog walls rained down on the party, with images ranging from underwater vistas and fields of flowers to running tigers and jumping dolphins beamed upon a far wall. New York DJ Turntables on the Hudson kept things lively with a live percussionist but rendered serious conversation impossible.

Celebrities were outnumbered by press, but a few squeezed by in the jammed tent, including “CSI” New York’s” Melina Kanakaredes, rapper/actor Chris “Ludakris” Bridges (sporting diamond earrings bigger than Morgan Fairchild’s), and baseball legend Tommy Lasorda, who entered the party with a young blonde on his arm and exited minutes later.

Rumors of an appearance by Mr. Clooney died around midnight when word spread that the Oscar-winner was hosting his own in-time soiree at Blue Gin in Georgetown. After that, Mr. Colbert’s uneven performance reasserted itself as the No. 1 topic of conversation.

Bleary-eyed guests were still talking about the hapless comedian’s routine at John McLaughlin’s brunch at the Hay-Adams Hotel the following morning.

“After Bush was finished, Colbert should have just looked at the audience and said, ‘Mr. President, you have just won the Olympics of humor,’ and then sat down.”

Social editor Kevin Chaffee contributed to this report.

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