Wednesday night's Radio and Television Correspondents' Dinner in D.C. didn't feature the rap stylings of MC Rove — forever the gold standard for what some plucky comedians and a few glasses of wine can get a high-profile White House power player to do on stage — but there was plenty going on in the way of entertainment, including former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's top ten list of reasons for leaving the race (apparently self-penned, with some help from his inner circle, according to sources), followed by Dick Cheney donning sunglasses and a fishing hat and deadpanning that suddenly people wanted to join him on fishing trips (if not hunting trips). They were two tough acts to follow for featured entertainment Mo Rocca, whose set featured some great zingers — though a few of them weren't appreciated by some folks at MSNBC, who did not take kindly to Rocca's repeated barbs about the network's third-place status.
Rocca's set was over 20 minutes long — an eternity in stand-up comedy! — and, like DC dinner comic Stephen Colbert before him, let's just say not every joke landed. (It's a tough crowd when you're not the guy with his finger controlling the finger on the button, people.) But before Rocca even took to the podium he had to get through the most daunting challenge of all: Sitting next to Vice-President Cheney at dinner.
We asked Rocca which part was more harrowing. Turns out Cheney was a charming dinner partner — Rocca's word — and a chatty one, too. "I expected him to be charming," said Rocca of the VP. "He's a political superstar whether you like him or not. But it's disarming to actually have a human conversation with any sort of figure that's larger than life — especially when you're about to go on and make jokes, a couple of them at the expense of the person you've just been talking to." Fortunately for Rocca he was primed with a glass of wine — the one pressed upon him by Lynne Cheney at the pre-dinner reception to quell his nerves. "She was very maternal," said Rocca, who said Mrs. Cheney assured him that "Oh honey, you're gonna be great tonight."
Cheney made a joke about how the nickname "Darth Vader" humanized him, but Rocca said he'd been struck by the actual human-ness exhibited by Cheney over the course of the evening, talking about his grandkids and making sure that his wife met the daughters of former NBC correspondent David Bloom who died in Iraq, there to present an award in his memory. "It's clear that he loves his wife very much," said Rocca. "There was a lot of warmth there." Nonetheless, Rocca still got up and made a joke about how Cheney was responsible for wasting millions of dollars in Iraq.
He also got the scoop on Cheney's media habits — turns out he actually has them! "I said to him total hypocrite that I am, 'Do you listen to all that cable news blather?'" (Mo blathers regularly on "Countdown with Keith Olbermann"). "He said, 'Absolutely. I'm a junkie for all that stuff. That's why I got into this business. Anyone who tells you in this business that they don't listen to that is a liar.'' According to Rocca, Cheney says he tunes in from his office to CSPAN for various hearings, and he'll shuttle between MSNBC, Fox, and CNN.
But the best Cheney anecdote is this one: "He opened up the folder with his speech in it, with the vice-presidential seal on it and everything, and pointed, and said,'That's from my wife.' It was a little post-it that said 'SLOW.'" Aw. Nonetheless, Rocca still got up and made a joke about Cheney and torture.
(Actually, that was probably the most daring line of the night - after a few jokes at the VP's expense, Rocca said "Sorry, this must be sheer torture for you...I mean, sheer enhanced interrogation." Everyone let out an "ooooh" and looked to see Cheney's reaction...but turns out he didn't even hear it! Said dinner chair Steve Chaggaris of CBS: "The acoustics were a little weird and neither the VP or I heard it. Cheney leaned to me and said 'I missed that.'" According to Chaggaris, you can see that on the C-SPAN tape of the event).
Okay, so — according to Rocca, Cheney's not that bad (feel free to disagree in the comments section, as several hundred of you probably will). What about MSNBC? Poor MSNBC, the brunt of three separate "you're in last place" punchlines. Alas, the conventional wisdom moves more slowly than the 24-hour news cycle, because jokes about MSNBC having an "imaginary audience" really don't reflect the reality of MSNBC's recent ratings climb, challenging and occasionally beating CNN. Besides, even the Veep said he watches.
"This organization has always cutting edge. "Radio and TV" ... how else would we get our news, if not through those new-fangled technologies? I'm looking forward to tomorrow morning's cave painting and smoke signals brunch."
"A year from now the Vice President will be retired, but he'll keep busy. His two daughters have given him six grandchildren. Sadly, his son Luke Skywalker has provided no heirs."
"John Dingell was here, but he left early. He's from Michigan, so it's not like he was ever really here. "
"People say Barack Obama embarrassed himself by bowling a 37...Poor Barack. He bowls much better in caucus states."
"Where are the people from CNN? The Best Political Team on Television. Which is kind of like being prettiest girl in accounting."
"Hillary Clinton is struggling to keep her candidacy alive, and I feel a certain sympathy for her. I mean, to be stuck in a doomed enterprise, with everyone against you, people telling you that you're pulling the country apart, that you've got no hope of winning, that you should just withdraw... I can't even imagine what that must be like...Can you, Mr. Vice President?
He kept that up remarkably well for the whole 22-plus-minute set, incorporating pics (including some makeshift porn videoboxes featuring Barack Obama - special for the press! - with titles like "Barely Nominated") and video (the classic clip of Miss Teen South Carolina trying desperately to string a sentence together - it didn't work at first, but those in the audience who are fervent supporters of the Iraq and the South Africa got the joke on sight).It's funny, there were rumblings after that Rocca was hit-or-miss, and Rocca himself acknowledged that "it's rough when you get up there" — but reviewing the tape, the laughter seems loud and frequent. If you can't tell from this post, I thought it was funny — but then again, I thought Stephen Colbert's White House Correspondents Dinner set was brilliant and hilarious, and it was apparently met with deafening silence by a crowd not dissimilar to Wednesday night's audience. Take from that what you will. Mo Rocca at RTCA Pt. 1 Mo Rocca at RTCA Pt. 2 Mo Rocca at RTCA Pt. 3
Full video of the event available at C-SPAN here.