With a special appearance by a "former president," imagining a world in which Hillary Clinton took the office, and skewering all things Trump, Samantha Bee's Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner was an evening of spot-on political satire.
Bee hosted the event at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., a few hours before the official correspondents' dinner took place across town. Donald Trump skipped the dinner and held a rally in Pennsylvania instead; the official dinner featured effective lampooning of the absent president by Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj.
But Bee's event, broadcast on Twitter and TBS, was touted as the hottest ticket in town, and it didn't disappoint. It combined live and taped segments and featured numerous guest stars. Allison Janney opened the show in a taped bit in which she reprised her West Wing role as press secretary C.J. Cregg, this time sparring with right-wing reporters. Singer Peaches, comic Patton Oswalt, actor Steve Buscemi, and comedy legends Carl Reiner and Norman Lear made appearances in other portions of the show.
Bee let the audience know early on that a very special guest was expected, and he emerged toward the end of the event: Will Ferrell in character as President George W. Bush.
"How do you like me now, huh?" he asked. "The prodigal son has returned. I don't know what that means, but I know it's positive. It's very prodigal."
"Quick presidential update: I'm doing quite well, thank you," he continued. "History's been kinder to me than many of you thought. 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-as-Bush noted that the press went after him with what he called "gotcha" questions, like "Why are we going to war?" and "Why did you not respond to Hurricane Katrina?" He added, "Wish someone had just told me that all you have to say is 'fake news' over and over again."
After Ferrell's appearance, Bee closed the show with a taped segment that likely evoked tears from many. In a parody of The Man in the High Castle, she meets George Takei in a garage, and he slips her a reel of film, saying, "Take this -- it's a way out." It shows Hillary Clinton being inaugurated as president and addressing Congress, and then Bee good-naturedly roasting her at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.
Clinton, she said, "raised eyebrows when she placed her son-in-law, Marc Mezvinsky, in charge of brokering peace in the Middle East -- I'm kidding, how stupid would that be?"
"In conclusion, Madam President, I want to say thank you," Bee continued. "You may have your faults, but because of you, I can tell my daughters that they can do anything and that sexism won't hold them back. The world will not magnify their faults and ignore their virtues because of their gender. That time has truly passed. No hard feelings, men. If there's one message that echoes through this dinner, let it be that men's rights are human rights and human rights are men's rights."
Variety's Andrea Reiher called the segment "nothing short of genius" and "a very heartfelt (and a little sad) way to close out the show."
But given that we don't live in that alternative reality, Bee lobbed plenty of zingers at Trump in her live bits. "As much as I love poking at the media, I know your job has never been harder: You basically get paid to stand in a cage while a geriatric orangutan gets to scream at you -- it's like a reverse zoo," she said.
And there was this: "He ran away from the Vietnam War, two Republican debates, and now the correspondents' dinner. Just goes to show you a giant pussy can get elected president as long as he doesn't have one."
Taped segments showed Bee roasting presidents through the ages at correspondents' dinners -- Woodrow Wilson for racism, Ronald Reagan for indifference to AIDS, Richard Nixon for dishonesty, Bill Clinton for sexual misconduct -- and one in the future: 2018, when Mike Pence has become president after Trump got his head stuck in a honey jar.
The Pence segment imagines a Handmaid's Tale-like world where women are subjugated and anti-LGBT conversion therapy is practiced -- the president, Bee says, is no longer demonizing immigrants but "focusing on that real enemy, gay kids."
And journalists were not exempt from satire, with segments on CNN and Fox News.
But ultimately the media benefited: Bee's event raised $200,000 for the Committee to Protect Journalists.