Roast Beef (or Wolfing Down the Faux Outrage)

Comedy and tragedy masks from the Princess Theatre, Decatur, AL image by Marjorie Kaufman

It’s tempting to refer to the fallout from Michelle Wolf’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner monologue as virtue signaling (“the conspicuous expression of moral values done primarily with the intent of enhancing standing within a social group”) but that gives it too much credit. There’s a lot more noise than signal involved. The only real signal here seems to be that some people either can’t take a joke or won’t pass up an opportunity to feign outrage.

Most of the post-dinner heartburn centers around Wolf’s pokes at White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. From some accounts, one might reasonably assume that Wolf simply took the stage, said a bunch of mean things about Sanders, and walked off to mixed moans and applause.

In fact, Wolf spent about a minute and a half, out of nearly 20, on Sanders. Oddly, I have yet to hear any conservatives complaining that Wolf (by way of putting recent misogyny scandals in perspective) called out the late  Senator Ted Kennedy as a murderer, or slammed the Democratic Party for perpetually stealing defeat from the jaws of victory.

I watched the monologue (twice — the first time I forgot to time Wolf’s remarks on Sanders) and found it incredibly tame by comparison to a Friar’s Club Celebrity Roast, or to any random five minutes from the oeuvres of Gilbert Gottfried, Sarah Silverman, or Doug Stanhope.

As one honest conservative commentator, Katherine Timpf, points out at National Review, there’s plenty of hypocrisy on both sides: Those who gave Donald Trump a pass on his ugly jabs at Rosie O’Donnell and others lack standing to whine about Wolf’s meanness, and vice versa. And at least Wolf has the excuse that she’s a working comedian, not a president or presidential candidate.

Was she funny? That’s in the eye of the beholder, but it’s the only worthwhile question to ask about a comedian and her routine. I thought Wolf landed a few fun punches, but I’d be disappointed if I had paid  a cover charge to watch this particular set at a comedy club. TV means I didn’t have to spring for a ticket or gag down the rubber chicken dinner, so I got my money’s worth. And I never turn down an opportunity to listen to put-downs of politicians and their flacks.

Perhaps the best  example to follow here is that of Sarah Huckabee Sanders herself. At The Daily Caller, Benny Johnson relates that after sitting through the scorching from Wolf, Sanders attended an MSNBC after-party (she’s obviously a glutton for punishment), all smiles, instead of crying in the beer that the dutiful daughter of a Baptist preacher probably doesn’t drink.

It’s good to see that SOMEONE can take a joke.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.