President Donald Trump has said he won’t be attending this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, but there will still be a comedian at the podium cracking jokes about him — and a perfectly fitting one, at that.
Less than three weeks before the April 29 event, the White House Correspondents’ Association, which puts on the annual event, has finally announced a host: The Daily Show’s Hasan Minhaj. This is somewhat surprising, if only because it hasn’t been clear whether the dinner would have a host at all, or what the dinner itself will even be.
The president and his staff are skipping the dinner for the first time in decades. (Or, as some have labeled their decision, “boycotting,” given the Trump administration’s antagonistic relationship with the press.) Some media outlets, including the New Yorker and Vanity Fair, have canceled or pulled out of the parties they usually sponsor in conjunction with the dinner. Comedians like James Corden have reportedly passed on the chance to host, even though past hosts have often confronted presidents they didn’t agree with. (See: Stephen Colbert roasting George W. Bush in 2006.)
Comedian and Full Frontal host Samantha Bee is even throwing an alternative dinner in Washington, DC, on the same night, to celebrate the free press “while we still can.”
So Minhaj won’t be able to make jokes to Trump’s face, but he’ll still be able to do some comedic damage in a room full of journalists. And even if WHCA president Jeff Mason insisted on Tuesday that he “was not looking for somebody who is going to roast the president in absentia,” it’s hard not to read the White House Correspondents’ Association’s final choice of host as a sly stroke of brilliance.
Minhaj has been a Daily Show correspondent since 2014. He’s a sharp stand-up comedian with particularly impressive hair, a first-generation Indian American, and a Muslim. Before Trump won the election, his segments on The Daily Show were typically charming, but also pointed enough to seriously wound.
Take this segment he did in December 2015, when Trump first called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. “I think Trump is 100 percent right here,” he shrugged. “Muslims should not be allowed into this country. It’s just not safe … one-third of a major political party is backing a racist maniac. This place is scary right now!”
And by the end of the four-minute segment, Minhaj had laid out his argument for why Trump — “an extremist leader who came out of nowhere” and “attracts his followers with a radical ideology” that promotes “war between Islam and the West” — should be considered “white ISIS.”
Flash forward to January 2017, when President Trump signed a (since-overturned) executive order banning travel to the US from seven Muslim-majority countries. As Daily Show host Trevor Noah faux-sputtered that he couldn’t even imagine what it must be like for Muslims to “all of a sudden” be considered inherently threatening, Minhaj shrugged that he wasn’t surprised.
“By the way,” Minhaj added, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “shoutout to all my Republican friends who said Trump would never do this.”
Minhaj managed to find a silver lining, namely that he’s never been treated so well at an airport as he was while trying to leave during the mass protests against the order. But he still made sure to remind everyone that Trump has “been terrified about the spread of Islam in America” for years. It’s a fact that Minhaj has clearly never been able to forget — and one that could make his set at this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner a particularly memorable one.