Call him a "real American."
The theme music for professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, “Real American,” played, images of President Obama’s long-form birth certificate pulsated, American flags waved and the wrestler himself appeared in a video before Obama's introduction at Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton, Washington’s good-humor answer to Hollywood’s Academy Awards.
"What a week. As some of you have heard, the state of Hawaii has released the official long form of my birth certificate. Hopefully this puts all doubts to rest. ... Tonight I’m prepared to go a step further. I'm releasing my official birth video,” Obama said, starting the evening on a theme that would be revisited throughout the dinner.
C-SPAN, airing the dinner, cut to Donald Trump. He was not smiling as the video clip, the opening scene of Disney’s The Lion King,” began to play.
“I want to make clear to the Fox News table. That was a joke. That was not my real birth video. If you don’t believe me call Disney,” the president said.
Obama spoke for about 10 minutes and lingered on the “birther” issue and Trump, one of the night's themes, then poked fun at Republicans, before Saturday Night Live comedian Seth Meyers came on stage to skewer the president, potential Republican presidential contenders and the media, all part of what is jocularly known as the “Nerd Prom," or in Twitter parlance #nerdprom. The night’s lone serious note was when Obama closed his remarks with mention of the storms that tore across the South last week.
Obama obliquely addressed the issue of the government shutdown that threatened to furlough government employees earlier this year.
“It’s good to be back with essential government employees. Non-essential government employees, you know who you are,” he said. Defense Secretary Robert Gates laughed at the joke.
The president addressed some potential GOP rivals. Of Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Obama said he heard she was born in Canada.
“That’s how rumors get started,” he said, a clear nod about his birth certificate.
One of the biggest laughs came when the president speculated about what changes Trump might make to the White House. An edited image of the White House with a bright-neon sign that said “Trump” flashed on the screen.
As the remarks briefly became serious, Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama had not before seen devastation like they did when they toured Alabama on Friday and that “we also need to stand with them in the hard months and years ahead.”
Meyers, in his fifth season as the anchor for SNL’s “Weekend Update,” used a tone similar to the one he uses on the show. Fast-hitting one-liners that got the crowd, already laughing from the president’s remarks, laughing even harder.
C-SPAN was not spared in Meyers's routine.
People think Osama Bin Laden is hiding “but did you know that every day from 4 to 5 he hosts a show on C-SPAN,” he said.
The crowd booed after Meyers made a joke at the expense of Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., whose own remarks about Planned Parenthood and abortion sparked a Twitter campaign fueled by Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert.
“Jon Kyl told me that 90 percent of what [the WHCA does] is abortions,” Meyers said. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s face looked ashen at the joke.
Meyers, who said he had been preparing birth-certificate jokes for a while and that he was sure the president wouldn’t release the certificate, thus invalidating his jokes, did quip at Trump’s expense.
“Donald Trump said he was running as a Republican. I just assumed he was running as a joke,” he said. Trump did not laugh.
“Donald Trump recently said he has a great relationship with the blacks,” Meyers said, referring to recent comments Trump made on the radio in which he said he got along well with “the blacks.” But, Meyers went on, “Unless the blacks are a white family, he was mistaken.”
The weather cooperated, perhaps allowing attendees a little extra time to linger for the photographers. Mostly blue skies provided the canopy as celebrities, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, Paula Abdul, and performer Cee Lo Green, walked the red carpet at the Washington Hilton.
This year's celebrity guest list included actors Kate Hudson, Sean Penn; Bristol Palin, the daughter of former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen; and White House Chief of Staff William Daley.
The pre-dinner chatter this year centered on reality-show star, real-estate magnate, possible Republican presidential contender, and preeminent birther Trump, whom The Washington Post invited as one of its guests. Trump had been dogged in his defense of the birther issue. Until earlier this week, when Obama released a copy of the long form of his birth certificate along with a scolding for the "carnival barkers" who he said helped perpetuate the issue.
The White House Correspondents' Association Dinner began in 1921, initially as a men-only event, and in 1961 Helen Thomas protested the dinner for excluding women. The association, pressured by President John F. Kennedy opened the event to women in 1962.
The dinner has grown in popularity and profile through the years. It first topped 1,000 guests in 1955. In 1961, the year of Thomas's protest, 1,500 guests attended. This year, 2,600 guests were expected at the sold-out event.
In 1987, Michael Kelly of the Baltimore Sun invited Fawn Hall, Oliver North's secretary during the Iran-Contra affair, thus marking the start of inviting headline-grabbing celebrity guests.
In 2006, Stephen Colbert memorably skewered President George W. Bush. The crowd's response was subdued. Colbert, criticizing Bush's Iraq War policy, said he believed the government that governs least governs best and "by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq." Some in the crowd looked shocked that Colbert would so boldly criticize the executive, sitting not too far away.
In 2009, Obama recalled the so-called "birther" issue when he said that though his aproval ratings were down, he took comfort in the fact that his approval ratings "were still very high in the country" of his birth.
Meyers is in his 10th season with Saturday Night Live and in his fifth as head writer and anchor for "Weekend Update," the news-format parody. Before the dinner, speaking with NBC's David Gregory, Meyers said he was unsure there would be enough political fodder to make light of.
"I have nothing but respect for everyone who would run for president, who would demand to see birth certificates," Meyers said, with a hint of deadpan humor.