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Controversial Lines from the White House Correspondents’ Dinner 1840-1950

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner (WHCD) has a history of memorable and controversial jokes, which may be why our president is skipping it this year. But many of our past presidents have braved this fiery satiric inferno. In conjunction with the White House Correspondents’ Association, the Library of Congress is spotlighting some of the greatest burns from this event’s history.


Vice President John Tyler, 1841:

“President William Henry Harrison, glad you could get out of bed. Seriously, have you gotten that cough looked at yet? Or should I just take the oath now?”


President Zachary Taylor, 1850:

“Henry Clay is here tonight. The Great Compromiser. Here’s a compromise: how about we put you in the history books if you stop running for president?”


Senator John C. Breckinridge (D-KY), 1857:

“With the Panic of 1857, lots of people have lost their money in stocks. That’s why I put my money in something I can trust: people. I own slaves, is what I mean.”


President James Buchanan, 1858:

“Henry Thoreau is here tonight, a guest of young Mr. Lincoln’s. I’m guessing a lot of conversation about living in windowless log cabins at that table. Hey, Henry, remember how you didn’t pay the Mexican War Tax? How about we send you the bar bill for tonight and call it even?”


President Abraham Lincoln, 1864:

“General William Tecumseh Sherman is here tonight, so it’s definitely going to be a real hot time in here. Hey, Billy, we’re union up here! Spare us!”


Vice-President Andrew Johnson, 1865:

“President Lincoln, after our long national crisis, I can honestly say there is no finer man in the office. And after all that, you can finally kick back, play some golf or maybe even you and Mary should go to the theater.”


Presidential Candidate Horace Greeley, 1872:

“I’m not saying President Grant is a drunk, but the entirety of the Potomac smells like it’s been aged in oaken barrels. He loves to pickle two things: cucumbers and his liver.”


President Rutherford B. Hayes, 1877:

Rutherford B. Hayes: “I just installed a telephone at the White House this year. Unfortunately, I’m the only one I know with a number, so when I try to dial myself I’m always busy.”


Humorist Ambrose Bierce, 1894:

“President Cleveland, it’s an honor to be here. Looks like your bastard daughter is here as well. When you had that novelty sign offering “mustache rides,” I never thought anyone would take you up on it. No, all kidding aside, it’s good to have you back for a second term, so we can all remember why we kicked you out the first time.”


President William McKinley, 1898:

“William Randolph Hearst is here tonight. He keeps telling us to “Remember the Maine” Bill, it’s on the front of the New York Journal every day. We can’t forget. You’re not letting us!”


Comedian Fred Duprez, 1910:

“President William Howard Taft is here tonight. Good to see you, Mr. President. I take it they greased you up enough to fit through the doorways?”


Comedian W.C. Fields, 1922:

“Mr. Harding, I know you call yourself a man of limited talents, but your mistresses Nan Britton and Carrie Phillips both seemed to like your penis just fine.”


Comedian Joe E. Brown, 1938:

“Our fine president is so happy about the economic recovery, he feels like dancing! What do you say, Mr. Roosevelt?”


Comedian Bob Hope, 1946:

“President Truman, I guess you’re the first stand-up comic president, because like a comic, you know all about bombing.”


 

Written by Bill McKinley

Bill McKinley

Bill McKinley is a comedy writer based in Portland, OR. He performs comedy regularly at Curious Comedy Theater and Funhouse Lounge, and has toured up and down the west coast. He’s also been on the These Parts and Weirdness XL podcasts. He once appeared on the Jeopardy! College Tournament and has gotten way more mileage out of that in life than you would expect.

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