If 2015 marked the “fourth quarter” of Obama’s presidency — as mentioned at last year’s White House Correspondents Association dinner — then 2016 finds him casually tacking on field goals as the clock runs out. Onstage at the annual roast of Washington and its press corps, the president was loose, funny, and completely at ease in front of a crowd that (generally) loves him; his remarks were delivered with the confidence of a man serving the last months of his second term, his approval rating up and his legacy assured. The roast came close to a victory lap, going so far as to end with the words “Obama out,” and a literal mic drop. Did he earn the holiest of holy stage gestures? Not really, but the last seven years surely entitle him to one.
Of course, all that goodwill and grandiosity made Obama a tough act to follow, as The Nightly Show‘s Larry Wilmore understood very quickly. The host’s material wasn’t all that edgy, but the audience didn’t give him much room before gasping and even groaning at times. Which is not to say the Daily Show‘s former Senior Black Correspondent bombed; he held his own and got good responses from a number of bits that tackled race, presidential hopefuls and Don Lemon — who took his moment on-camera to smile and flip Wilmore off.
Unlike certain years past, the obvious example being Stephen Colbert’s assault on George W. Bush in 2006, there was no sense of danger in the room. The only real jab Wilmore took at Obama compared him to the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry: “Both of you like raining down bombs from long distances.” (Meh.) Even if Trump had been at a table, stone-faced and entirely uncomfortable as he was at the dinner in 2011, there would have been more of a chance for excitement. Hell, even Chris Christie would have livened things up.
In any case, there were a bunch of great jokes — and here are our Top 10 contenders:
1. In a nod to the strangest (and scariest) election cycle in recent memory, Obama started off with this State-of-the-Union quip: “The end of the republic has never looked better,” and followed up with, “Eight years ago I said it was time to change the tone of our politics. In hindsight, I clearly should have been more specific.”
2. Warming up, Obama joked about his professional future while jabbing other politicians who do their time as public speakers, like a certain Democratic party front-runner: “If this material works well, I’m gonna use it at Goldman Sachs next year.” He added, “Earn me some serious Tubmans.”
3. Obama greeted Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber from the movie Spotlight, and then quipped, “As you know, Spotlight is a film about investigative journalists with the resources and the autonomy to chase down the truth and hold the powerful accountable. Best fantasy film since Star Wars.“
4. After talking about the nominating process on the Democratic side, the president had this to say of conservative electoral politics: “On the Republican side, things are — how shall we say this — a little more loose. Just look at the confusion over the invitations to tonight’s dinner. Guests were asked to check whether they wanted steak or fish, but instead a whole bunch of you wrote in Paul Ryan.”
5. The president seemed surprised that Donald Trump didn’t show up, and puzzled it out: “You’ve got a room full of reporters, celebrities, cameras, and he says no. Is this dinner too tacky for the Donald? What could he possibly be doing instead? Is he at home, eating a Trump steak, tweeting out insults to Angela Merkel?”
6. Bernie Sanders was in the audience, which was good for a few laughs at his age and fustiness. Obama took aim at his politics: “I am hurt, though, Bernie, that you have been distancing yourself a little from me. I mean, that’s just not something you do to your comrade.”
7. When Larry Wilmore took the stage, he skewered the language of conservative news outlets with one line: “Welcome to Negro Night here in Washington — or as Fox News will report, Two Thugs Disrupt Elegant Dinner in D.C.”
8. As the event is broadcast live on C-SPAN, there are always obligatory knocks on the network. Some are better than others. “C-SPAN is carrying this show live, which is ironic because most of their viewers aren’t,” Wilmore said. “C-SPAN is the No. 1 network among people who died watching TV and no one’s found them yet.”
9. Wilmore didn’t understand why Al Sharpton supports Hillary Clinton, and hit with this one: “You don’t put a relaxer in your hair for 40 years and not feel the Bern.”
10. Of the Republican who was called “Lucifer in the flesh,” by John Boehner just this week, Wilmore said, “Man, everybody hates Ted Cruz. Even O.J. Simpson said, That guy is just hard to like.”