Rich Little ... Frank Dell ... Frank Dell ... Rich Little
In an iPod, downloading world, the White House Correspondents Association, for their annual dinner last night, brought out the old 45 player (though, it could be argued it was an original Philco radio, with the tubes still in the process of warming up).
Smarting and stinging from their choice of entertainment last year, Stephen Colbert, the WHCA didn't exactly steer clear of controversy, when back in January, they announced the choice of impressionist Rich Little as the entertainment for this years' dinner.
Rich Little? The same Rich Little of Las Vegas? Johnny Carson's buddy?
Rich's website, and the list of impressions he does, one big clue is that the only people on it born after 1950 are Fozzie Bear, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.
People howled, Keith Olbermann placed the WHCA on his "Worst Person in the World" list and comedian Lewis Black offered that "It's like going from Jackson Pollock to paint-by-numbers. God love Rich Little, but he's not in this decade. He's in no position to pose any threat to anyone. He makes Bob Hope look like Lenny Bruce."
And, somewhat ironically, Lenny Bruce is what they got last night.
It was Bruce's 'Comic at the Palladium' character Frank Dell come-to-life ... You half expected Little to shout out, not "Screw Ireland" as Dell desperately grabbed at to save his sinking routine, but "Screw Iran" in an attempt to win over the crowd, who struggled throughout Rich's set to muster even basic, polite applause.
They weren't quite the oil painting that Dell mocked his audience about, however, even Lewis's "paint-by-numbers" analogy would be too generous. It may even be likely that C-SPAN, who televised the event, digitally-enhanced the broadcast by showing a few people chuckling and green-screened hands coming together in a clapping motion.
Rich looked less like wearing make-up and a lot more like being embalmed.
If, God forbid, Little, or the President or someone else on the dais went into cardiac arrest, it wouldn't have been one of the beautiful doctors of Grey's Anatomy the WHCA had on hand to rush to the stage, but rather the old heart throb Ben Casey.
Little opened with a string on exceptionally lame Canadian jokes, including bringing the campaign-imploding John McCain into it. With the audience unshaken, you could almost see in his eyes that Little knew the ship was sinking. This wasn't bus loads of tourists looking to laugh off the Early-Bird Special, but rather the Washington Press Corps, media elite and an assortment of celebrity guests.
Some more banter, another lame impression, this of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it was time for Little to reach down and pull out the show stopper - Johnny Carson.
Likely, a high-percentage of the audience was in grammar school when the former 'Tonight Show' host went off the air - 15-years ago (and died two-years ago). Little tried to rev up the crowd with a tired, old lawyer-as-assholes joke that bombed. Stinkeroo, as Carson might have self-mocked.
At this point, you half expected to see Dan Aykroyd, in his old Leonard Pinth-Garnell character, of SNL's 'Bad Theatre', sitting in the wings, getting ready to lugubriously offer his assessment of Little's performance.
With virtually every impression he did, including his big finale, "Six-President Medley" about half of it was in his own voice.
Little might have finished with a bang, if he donned a white wig and glasses. He could then speak in his own voice but be presented to the audience as Admiral Stockdale.
Little was, allegedly, cautioned not to be "controversial" and layoff joking about Bush or Iraq. So, perhaps the only fair thing that could be said of Little last night follows yet another reference to Bruce's Dell
Dell, after begging the house booker to let him perform on the second show, had to contend with following singer Georgia Gibbs, who, as Bruce lays it on, "has been on now for two-hours ...". As an encore, she asks "for a moment of silence, for all the poor boys who went off to Dunkirk, and never came back ..."
Little's introduction last night came from President Bush, who announced "I was looking forward to doing a little poking myself but in light of this tragedy at Virginia Tech I decided not to be funny." He then brought up Little and the night's carnage was on.
The WHCA should have hedged their bet on Little and built a "retro night", around him, perhaps, rather then having President Bush, bringing in Topo Gigio to open for him.
Bush Doesn't Joke at WHCA Dinner Due to Virginia Tech Killings -- But Rich Little Says 'Nuts'
White House Correspondents' Dinner: Pres. Bush & Rich Little (4/21/2007)
The WHCA didn't want another "Colbert" night and boy, did they get what they wanted