This weekend, as Washington continues to confront the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, politicians and celebrities will be in the same room for its most festive of occasions—the White House Correspondents' Dinner—that suddenly risks projecting an awkward, wrong, or insensitive message. Good thing Boston native Conan O'Brien is the emcee again, because he's been in this position before.
In U.S. News today Kenneth T. Walsh reminds us that O'Brien first provided the WHCD entertainment in 1995, just after the Oklahoma City bombing—and some were calling for the annual event to be cancelled. Walsh, who was the master of ceremonies that year, says Conan set the right tone: "The dinner was widely judged a success. I suspect that there will be a similar outcome Saturday night."
O'Brien's routine that night focused on mocking the political environment of the era. (Seriously, the jokes feel very 1995, so prepare yourself for the full schtick below.) He did a familiar routine in which he interviewed an animated talking picture of President Clinton. The AP's accounting of that year's festivities reported that "the black-tie audience of 2,700 journalists and their guests roared for the first few minutes of comedian Conan O'Brien's interview with Mr. Clinton's image Saturday night. But some of the barbs missed their mark." When it came time for Clinton's remarks, the president took on the task of discussing the bombing:
Of course, O'Brien has already addressed the Boston bombings on his TBS show, mixing the lighthearted with the somber, as he dealt with a tragedy that was, for him, close to home—O'Brien is from Brookline, Massachusetts, three miles from the marathon finish line. In his Monday monologue O'Brien said that he "wanted to take a moment to say that — like everyone here — my thoughts and prayers are with the people of Boston and everyone who has been affected by this senseless act," but added that it's his "job to do a show."
That I'm here to make you laugh even in the face of tragedy spirit will likely carry through to the weekend's affairs, which despite reports to the contrary, are likely to be just as glitzy as in past years. E! is broadcasting from the red carpet for the first time, and a number of boldface names are stepping out, even though Lindsay Lohan is not expected to attend, unlike last year. Per The Wrap, Time and Fortune are trotting out Steven Spielberg, CBS News is bringing CIA agent Carrie Mathison—excuse us, Claire Danes—and the Huffington Post/AOL is bringing Jon Bon Jovi, M.C. Hammer, and Shaq together. So, okay, no Clooney. And The Hollywood Reporter isn't hosting a party (though BuzzFeed is). But still: It's going to be a good time, despite the various impeding circumstances.