Last night, a fancy black-tie event in Washington provided a case study on how to regale the men and women of Washington's press corps. It was the 67th Radio & Television Correspondent's Association dinner and all of the Beltway's finest newshounds were in attendance. The standout speakers were Rep. Anthony Weiner, who brought the house down, and Rep. Ben Quayle, who utterly bombed. Their success and failure provide some helpful lessons for anyone unfortunate enough to be booked to address one of the world's most difficult audiences: a Washington self-congratulatory press-and-politico dinner.
DON'T underestimate the power of a dick joke Self-deprecating humor usually plays well. But the key to Weiner's success was his surname. The New York Democrat rambled through a list of jokes ("Vote for Weiner, he'll be frank") and asked House Speaker John Boehner to follow suit. "Really who is Boehner fooling? What am I Anthony Wayner? I'm serious brother, just embrace it!"
DO bring visual aids Sure, government and journalism types work with words all day, but they like you to draw them a picture. In a later sketch, Weiner referenced his "70s Jewfro," complete with an old school photo that he put into some separated-at-birth-like composites:
DON'T try to best Jon Stewart So what did the Arizona Republican get wrong? Well, a number of things, starting with his attempts at political humor. He tripped up his cadence during a Donald Trump joke and he recycled the month-old observation that every newspaper has a different way of spelling "Qaddafi." And his joke about Tim Pawlenty being boring was, well, boring. "You know who might win some early primaries and go completely under the radar before people notice? Tim Pawlenty. Actually, Tim Pawlenty could win the general election and serve two consecutive terms before anyone noticed.”
DON'T hurl insults at the audience The DC press corps has thin skins and, even when it's funny, they don't like being made fun of in ballrooms. What really began the deathly silence in the audience was his unnuanced slam against one of the media's own:
Although I come from a newspaper family, we seem to have a strained relationship with the press. "Strained" is a polite term for "troubled." And "the press" is a generous term for "Politico." You know, it took everything I had not to refer to Politico as the worst media outlet in history. It's not that I don't believe that assertion, but I don't want to get into hyperbole. So, it's nice to see you, Congressman Hoyer
DON'T appeal to bloggers An audible groan echoed through the hall but the bloggers who watched on C-Span or YouTube cheered him on. The Huffington Post's Jason Linkins remarked "only the Beltway media would host their own roast and then be shocked to hear someone attempt a roasting." But the "worst media outlet in history" got its revenge this morning when Politico's Mike Allen said Quayle "bombed so badly people felt sorry for him," an observation that was probably true in some cases.
In any event, the two speeches are provided below for your viewing pleasure. If you're a masochist, check out Quayle's, if you're looking for an afternoon chuckle, check out Wiener's: