Comedian Hasan Minhaj headlined the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday, which meant that for approximately 25 minutes he roasted politicians, news organizations, and President Trump in a ruthless but comedic speech.
Yet, perhaps the most memorable moment of the night came at the end of Minhaj’s routine when he addressed the audience of journalists in a moving, impassioned defense of the First Amendment.
“Only in America can a first generation Indian-American Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president,” Minhaj told the crowd.
He continued, “And it’s a sign to the rest of the world, it’s this amazing tradition that shows the entire world, that even the president is not beyond the reach of the First Amendment. But the president didn’t show up because Donald Trump doesn’t care about free speech.”
Minhaj’s comment is in reference to the fact that Trump skipped the Correspondents’ Dinner to hold a rally in Pennsylvania—an obvious snub of the mainstream media.
The rest of the Trump team was absent from the event as well, though, that did little to prevent Minhaj from taking shots at the president’s inner circle. In one instance, Minhaj compared Steve Bannon to a Nazi in his play on the words “not see,” which he repeatedly followed with Bannon’s name. In another joke, Minhaj mocked Press Secretary Sean Spicer, saying, “Sean Spicer’s been doing PR since 1999. He’s been doing his job for 18 years, and somehow after 18 years his go-to move when you ask him a tough question is denying the holocaust.”
Other notable targets for Minhaj were Bill O’Reilly and Hillary Clinton, along with big media outlets such as Fox News and CNN. Nonetheless, Minhaj reserved the majority of his rancor for the absent president himself.
A barrage of scathing jokes were directed at Trump, whom Minhaj called “liar-in-chief,” and “the elephant that’s not in the room.” In a remark that directly alluded to Trump’s possible ties with Russia, the comedian joked that the real president was in Moscow, while “the other guy”—meaning Trump—was “in Pennsylvania ’cause he can’t take a joke.”
In fact, Minhaj brought up Trump’s absence from the dinner multiple times during his speech. He had good reason to do so. Trump’s decision to skip the White House Correspondents’ Dinner made him the first president since 1981 to play hooky from the event. Ronald Reagan, who was the last president to miss it, was recovering from an assassination attempt at the time he passed it up. Even then, he managed to phone in and represent himself in at least some capacity.
Trump’s absence, on the other hand, was absolute. It came in response to the high tensions that have boiled up between him and the media. Many have viewed Trump’s frequent attacks against the mainstream media as attacks against the First Amendment itself, which grants these news organizations the liberty to report stories unfavorable to Trump.
Hasan Minhaj, at the end of his speech, celebrated that First Amendment right and encouraged journalists to keep defending it.
“The man who tweets everything that enters his head refuses to acknowledge the amendment that allows him to do it,” Minhaj said. “Think about it, it’s almost 11 p.m. — in four hours Donald Trump will be tweeting about how bad Nicki Minaj bombed at this dinner and he’ll be doing it completely sober, and that’s his right. And I’m proud that all of us are here tonight to defend that right, even if the man in the White House never would.”
Minhaj received a standing ovation from the audience when he finished his speech. If you would like to watch it in its entirety, check out the video below.
[Featured Image by Cliff Owen/AP Images]