Brow Beat

The 2019 White House Correspondents’ Dinner Will Drop Political Comedy in Favor of a Historian Host

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 29:  2017 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at Washington Hilton on April 29, 2017 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
The White House Correspondents Dinner in 2017.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

For years, it’s been a tradition of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner to have comedians as lead speakers. From Jon Stewart to Stephen Colbert to Seth Meyers to Jay Leno, each one of their performances included a political roast of the current government. While some presidents haven’t enjoyed being the laughingstock of the evening, such as George W. Bush during Colbert’s 2006 performance, others have joined in, as Barack Obama with Meyers in 2011. But since Trump took office, he hasn’t attended either of the two dinners, which had Hasan Minhaj and Michelle Wolf as speakers.

Trump’s disdain toward the dinner is rare, and the last time a sitting president did not attend was Ronald Reagan in 1981—but he had a good excuse, since he was recovering from being shot. Last year, Trump sent press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in his place, but Wolf’s punchlines caused such a stir that Sanders wouldn’t even pose for a photo alongside the comedian. After that event, there was speculation as to what the dinner should look like in the future, or whether it should even continue.

Monday, the White House Correspondents’ Association announced the (at least temporary) end of the comedian as host, as it is having Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow speak at the 2019 dinner. Oliver Knox, president of the WHCA, said that he was, “delighted that Ron will share his lively, deeply researched perspectives on American politics and history,” and added that, “as we celebrate the importance of free and independent news media to the health of the republic, I look forward to hearing Ron place this unusual moment in the context of American history.”

While not every single performer has been a comedian—some have been musicians, like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin— it is unusual to have someone that’s not an entertainer of sorts host the dinner. Chernow says he was was asked that his speech focus on the importance of the First Amendment. He said that, “Freedom of the press is always a timely subject and this seems like the perfect moment to go back to basics. My major worry these days is that we Americans will forget who we are as a people and historians should serve as our chief custodians in preserving that rich storehouse of memory. While I have never been mistaken for a stand-up comedian, I promise that my history lesson won’t be dry.”