- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

Because Washington’s polite society strictly forbids raunchy sexual references and raw political satire, you’d think it would be a bad home for stand-up comedy.

You’d be right — unless you witnessed the media stars and politicos trading comic riffs behind a $250-a-plate velvet rope at the Mayflower Hotel Wednesday night. An annual fundraiser hosted by the Bread for the World/Bread for the City charity, this year’s 12th annual Washington’s Funniest Celebrity Contest brought out the best efforts from contestants, Reps. Brian Baird, Adam Schiff and Linda Sanchez; low/no tax guru Grover Norquist; and, from the media, John Dickerson, Mark Plotkin, Andrew Sullivan and Clarence Page.

The guidelines were simple: “You got five minutes, and make it topical.”

Given this week’s media cycle, that meant open season on the president, Iraq, Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers and Tom DeLay, with a few crumbs tossed to Katrina and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s so-yesterday Michael Brown.

First prize went to Mr. Baird’s running gag: a mock presidential news conference in which all the supporting graphs — on popularity, gas prices, the deficit — were slyly placed upside down. The laugh meter rose further over the “president’s” plans for an attack on Weather of Mass Destruction, with Cuba as the culprit, and a one-liner tossed to his legally challenged colleagues: Prison’s looming, so there’s a planned White House Christmas gift package featuring soap-on-a-rope.

With all the gilded egos in the gilded Mayflower ballroom, runner-up Sanchez stood out with her dressed-down Latino homegirl routine cataloging the local dating woes of a divorcee: “Desperate House — of Representatives.” As part of an honorary interlude, Mayor Anthony A. Williams also gamely weighed in with a “no respect” take on his often ceremonial duties. (Onstage, he noted, he’s often an afterthought even when Powerball winners are being announced.)

To spice things up, or give attendees their money’s worth, the organizers brought in such heavy hitters as Baltimore comedian Bob Somerby and the legendary Mark Russell.

Striking was that their material was not all that much better than that of the celebrity amateurs — but their timing, poise and polish announced they were the real deal. Mr. Somerby, on the Midwest riverboat gambling craze, mentioned that Nebraska is thinking of building a few rivers. Old pro Mr. Russell, behind the piano as usual, satirized on the back of Broadway show tunes and Cole Porter. (“Night and Day” became Tom DeLay — you get the picture.)

Still, his well-honed shtick might have seemed a little dated to the younger crowd. Lifting, say, Kid Rock, to mock Iraq. Now, that would be funny.

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