WASHINGTON — When comedian Samantha Bee announced in late January that she would be holding an alternative White House Correspondents’ Dinner, it was not yet clear that President Trump would not attend the actual dinner itself. That made her event — details TBD at the time — look like a calculated critique of the press’s sometimes too cozy relationship with power. It also gave liberals of all stripes an opportunity to participate in the annual weekend of events in the post-Obama era without at the same time seeming to fete a new president they loathe.
By the time the weekend rolled around, though, Trump’s decision not to attend the official event — coupled with the White House Correspondents’ Association’s aggressive reorientation of their dinner around the group’s role as a defender of the First Amendment and grantor of scholarships to student journalists — gave Bee’s “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” a different flavor.
Related: Yahoo TV’s Ken Tucker reviews Bee’s performance
The TBS star’s midafternoon black-tie cocktail party and taping of the special episode of “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” was held at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall near the Washington Mall on Saturday. The event emerged as the big, entertaining Hollywood moment during a weekend that stars by and large shied away from. Most of the attendees Yahoo News spoke with had never seen a full episode of Bee’s show, making her presence in Washington a profile-raising gig before an audience of influential members of the press, advocacy groups and at least one U.S. senator.
Bee at once skewered media outlets — CNN and Fox came under some especially biting satire — cast herself as a defender of press freedoms and mocked President Trump during the show. Tickets at tables in the front of the room were sold to raise money for the Committee to Protect Journalists and brought in nearly $200,000, Bee announced during the taping. A number of tables were purchased by liberal Washington advocacy groups to host donors and board members.
Guests were served mini taco bowls (a sly reference to Trump’s infamous Cinco de Mayo tweet with a photo of him eating a taco bowl) and other “fancy-ass finger food” at a setup designed to mimic the tables at the official dinner that would be held later that night at the Washington Hilton.
Bee welcomed the “the dregs of a free society” to the dinner and declared, “Without a free press, we wouldn’t have a functioning democracy.”
Pretaped skits featured an all-star cast that included George Takei, Allison Janney (reprising her “West Wing” role as press secretary C.J. Cregg), and CNN anchor Jake Tapper. Musician Peaches performed with a band wearing “Free Press” T-shirts — shirts later distributed to attendees — and a special mystery guest flagged at the start of the show turned out to be Will Ferrell in a reprise of his famed performance as former President George W. Bush.
“How do you like me now?” Ferrell opened, to uproarious applause. “The prodigal son has returned.”
“History’s proven to be kinder to me than many of you thought,” he joked, riffing that thanks to Trump, Bush was no longer seen as America’s worst president ever, but instead the second worst.
“For the longest time, I was considered the worst president of all time. That has changed — and it only took 100 days. I needed eight years, a catastrophic flood, a war built on a lie, an economic disaster. The new guy needed 100 days,” Ferrell said as Bush.
It was all in good satire — until Sunday morning, when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl of Bush, “I never thought I’d pray for the day that you were president again.”
2017: You just can’t make it up.
Read more from Yahoo News’ coverage of Trump’s first 100 days: