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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

White House Correspondents' Dinner. Aired 11-11:30p ET

Aired April 30, 2016 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[23:00:04] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Larry Wilmore finishing up his routine at the White House correspondents' dinner, following the president. The president who literally dropped the mike and said "Obama out" during his address, followed by Larry Wilmore who did a routine there.

And I got to say it was a routine that was received with a lot of groans in that room. A lot of people targeted in that room, a lot of journalists targeted, not to mention politicians by name. And it's hard to tell how it will be received beyond that room.

Brad, your thoughts.

BRAD JENKINS, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER & MANAGING DIRECTOR, FUNNY OR DIE DC: It's interesting. I was watching the reaction on Twitter, which is a very different reaction than the reaction in the room.

BERMAN: Yes.

JENKINS: I think this reminds me of Stephen Colbert, we were talking about Colbert a little bit backstage. I don't think Larry was giving this speech to the room. This was a speech to the rest of the country.

And I personally thought it was great. I think he crept up to that line. I think he crossed it a couple of times.

I think, you know, he knew, this was a big moment for the president. This is the last time we're going to be able to reflect with humor on race, on a lot of things that, you know, have come to the surface in this election. Very serious things.

And I think he did it with grace. I personally thought it was keeping it hundred. I don't know if we all agree. But I thought Larry was great.

BERMAN: I think we have an online poll, we have an online poll we can show of what people said they saw when they saw it? Because you were showing people, on how -- no, on Larry Wilmore. On who gave a funnier speech? Do we have Larry Wilmore's speech? I guess we don't have that now. I thought we did.

But, Buck, what did you think?

BUCK SEXTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I thought President Obama's speech was better and funnier across the board.

BERMAN: Really?

SEXTON: Yes. I'll be honest. I did. I thought Obama's opening was phenomenal. I mean, I thought the president set a tone for the rest of it that was really good. I'm just -- I think the president was a better -- both -- of course he's a better statesman, but he gave a statesman like speech, but also a better comedian tonight. I'm going to be totally address with you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't say that.

SEXTON: President Obama was funnier, straight up than Larry Wilmore.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Go ahead.

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Every year, I think President Obama upstages the comedian. I think he's funny. I think he's amazing. The timing is great. He came out of the gates blazing. We all expect this magnificent thing. You compare, you know, to "Godfather", this is like "Godfather III". You know, I expected a lot, didn't get much.

I thought Larry Wilmore was amazing. He had a few misses in there, Bill Cosby jokes. Rape jokes don't go well typically in a crowd. But on the whole I give Larry Wilmore a solid B-plus, A-minus. I give Obama, based on his own standard, may be C-plus.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What?

HILL: Obama gave extraordinary, you know, bits here.

SEXTON: Obama, C-plus?

HILL: I didn't laugh much.

MCENANY: The president's speech was so funny. The line about the poke on Facebook with Hillary Clinton.

HILL: It was good.

MCENANY: But not only that --

HILL: The Trump stuff missed so bad.

MCENANY: It was so classy. It was so classy, especially the Boehner moment where in the midst of a really divisive political race for the president, to include Boehner and to come together, I thought there was so much unity and it was such a class act.

It was funny, it was classy. Stark contrast to Larry Wilmore.

BERMAN: What do you think of Larry Wilmore, Kayleigh? MCENANY: That was deeply personal attacks, calling out journalists by

name. I thought that was completely over the line. A lot of those jokes weren't funny. You could evidently see on the journalist's faces that that was deeply personal. And I just didn't it was classy. And to end with that word, I mean, no. That's not classy.

LIZZ WINSTEAD, CO-CREATOR & FORMER WRITER, "THE DAILY SHOW": Can I say something?

BERMAN: Buck?

SEXTON: I was going to say that the repetition of the zodiac killer thing with Ted Cruz, even if one liked the joke, the joke was really belabored. It really got to a point. I didn't like the joke, but even beyond that at some point, he should have moved on from it.

BERMAN: Let's let Lizz. You want in?

WINSTEAD: First of all, you're exactly right. Larry Wilmore wasn't playing, anybody sitting on the stage room. Larry Wilmore hosts a show that is part of a legacy that has held the media accountable and that is why the show was created. He called people out by name because, you want to know what? People that watch "The Daily Show," people that watch Larry Wilmore, people that watch Colbert see flaws in journalism and they see flaws on those people.

Whether or not you feel that way -- that is exactly right. Obama said the same thing about MSNBC last year.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: We did a poll, 60 percent, we don't have a graphic, but 60 percent of the people who responded to our poll online said they did not think Larry Wilmore was funny. Just so you know.

JENKINS: Funny at all or funnier than Obama?

BERMAN: How many thought Obama was? Eighty percent of the people who watched thought President Obama was funny.

JENKINS: Yes.

BERMAN: Sixty percent of the people who watched did not think Larry Wilmore, did not think Larry Wilmore was funny.

Let's take a look, I think we have some clips of the president's speech. Let's watch that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[23:05:00] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last week, Prince George showed up to our meeting in his bathrobe. That was a slap in the face. A clear breach of protocol.

Although while in England, I did have lunch with her majesty, the queen, took in a performance of "Shakespeare," hit the links with David Cameron. Just in case anybody is still debating whether I'm black enough, I think that settles the debate.

My approval ratings keep going up.

(APPLAUSE)

The last time I was this high, I was trying to decide on my major, and here's the thing, I haven't really done anything differently. So, it's odd. Even my age can't explain the rising poll numbers. What has changed? Nobody can figure it out.

Puzzling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That was just some of the president's speech. You know, I took a poll of all of you before the president spoke. I said, is he going to talk about Hillary Clinton? Is he going to make any jokes about Hillary Clinton. I don't think half of you raised your hands. He made a bunch of jokes about Hillary Clinton.

JENKINS: Yes, and that's why, I mean, I agree with a lot of folks around the room. I thought the president crushed it again. I mean, every year he comes in. You're not quite sure what he's going to talk about. I think the focus is on Trump. Everyone assumed he was going to go hard in on Trump and he really didn't, to be honest.

SEXTON: That was actually one of the weaker points of the president's speech, I thought.

JENKINS: I agree. I think it was almost too obvious.

MCENANY: Exactly.

JENKINS: And I think he was able, which is so great about comedy, you're not expecting the president to talk about Goldman Sachs speeches. You're not expecting him to talk about a lot of really great liners about both Bernie and Hillary. And those were, in my opinion, those are the winning lines. The lines against, you know, unexpected lines from the president.

WINSTEAD: I think this is a challenge. For comics -- a lot of comics will do a year in review show. And that's like broader. He had to do eight months in review. If he -- every -- this wasn't my favorite of Obama speeches because I think that when you can stick to the year at hand and you can really hit those current things that are all, you're always a little bit stronger comedically. When you have to like cover like bigger, broader topics, as he did, which he had is reflective, to me, it wasn't quite as urgent as other ones have been in the past.

HILL: And that's how it felt to me. I'm getting so much Twitter hate. When I say a C-plus I'm saying compared to Obama's other speeches. It's better than Bush did. It's better than many of the ones I've seen of Reagan. It's better than a whole bunch of speeches.

But I think this wasn't his best one. I also think there were opportunities he built us up for something really good and it didn't happen.

I agree with you, the John Boehner moment was classy, heartwarming. It just didn't make me laugh. It was such a build up for that. He went into the faux closing remarks and then he says, wait, no, no, no, I can't to this. I've got to make some Trump jokes. The Trump jokes didn't hit.

WINSTEAD: It's also hard, too, when you have John Boehner --his is comedy inside baseball stuff. When you have John Boehner making news this week with the Lucifer comments, right, and then you have a sketch with John Boehner that was probably edited before that and it's missing the thing that happened this week, that's just for me as like a tactician --

BERMAN: Buck, last word and we'll take break.

SEXTON: I want to say I felt like the biggest difference between the two and obviously comedy is in the eye of the beholder, the listener, was that the jokes that President Obama was making, people who don't agree with his politics and I think people across the spectrum can think they were funny. I think the jokes that Larry Wilmore made just they were a little more a la carte. You have to decide if they were for you.

BERMAN: All right. We have dissension in the room. We will discussion much more when we hear two routines tonight. Some debate about which was funny, which was not. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:12:45] BERMAN: All right. There is Vice President Joe Biden saying good-bye now, continuing his walk through the room of the White House correspondents' dinner wrapping up now at the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C.

We saw the president deliver his final address to the White House correspondents' dinner. It was filled with jokes. It was filled with targets, raising from journalists to members of his own party and, of course, members of the other party. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: On the Republican side, thing are a little more, how shall we say this? A little more loose. Just look at the confusion over the invitations to tonight's dinner. Guests were asked to check whether they wanted steak or fish. Instead, a whole bunch of you wrote in Paul Ryan.

That's not an option, people. Steak or fish.

You may not like steak or fish but that's your choice. Meanwhile, some candidates aren't polling high enough to qualify for their own joke tonight. The rules were well established ahead of time.

And then, there's Ted Cruz. Ted had a tough week. He went to Indiana, Hoosier Country, stood on a basketball court and called the hoop a basketball ring.

What else is in his lexicon? Baseball sticks, football hats.

[23:15:04] but, sure, I'm the foreign one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right. President Obama there delivering his speech. Those are some pretty good lines. The Paul Ryan joke, steak, fish, people filling in Paul Ryan there. That was good stuff.

Now, there was another comedic routine at the end, too. Larry Wilmore followed the president. We asked our viewers who do you think was funnier, the president or Larry Wilmore.

Let's take a look at what the viewers said. President Obama, 90 percent who gave a funnier speech, 90 percent say President Obama, just 10 percent say Larry Wilmore.

Let's get a sense of how it played in the room. Let's go to the red carpet. We're joined there by Sara Murray.

Oh, Sara Murray, it's getting cold. You're warming up there, like to say that, you're headed out on your way out.

Let's talk about president first. How was his speech received?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Oh, I think a lot of people thought the president's speech was funny. I was sitting around a number of Cruz staffers laughing out loud about the basketball ring comment. I think even the folks in the Cruz campaign know that was a little bit of a miss there.

And I think the general feeling among folks around me was that President Obama was funnier than Larry Wilmore. There are a couple of people who had seen Wilmore before who sort of started leaving by the time we started talking because they felt like he was not that funny. The president is funny tonight. So, you know, take what you will from that, John.

BERMAN: Heard a lot of groans at some points, because a lot of people in the room were also targeted, yes?

MURRAY: Yes, that's definitely true. There were a number of people in the room who were targeted. And I think Donald Trump gives us a guide for how you should handle that or not when he was targeted a couple of years ago. A lot of people talked about how he had kind of a sour reaction to that. He left very quickly. I think that people tried to sort of change that this time around.

I don't know. Jeff, what do you think? How do you think they reacted about being the butt of the jokes?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think the only inside the room, the only Democrat in the room was Bernie Sanders. I think frankly he was happy to be mentioned but there were zingers by Hillary Clinton as well. I was struck by the Goldman Sachs reference.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Great line. Great line.

ZELENY: He said, you know, when I leave office, maybe I can start making some Harriet Tubman's, reference to money, at Goldman Sachs. He also said a year from now, I'm not sure we will have a new president, whoever she may be. So, I think the closest we got to an endorsement there.

But, overall, the John Boehner thing I think is the thing that sticks out to me the most that was funny that he actually came back to do that movie theater routine.

RESTON: And, of course, there was the great line with Bernie Sanders, too, where he talked about comrades, which was -- he sort of gave the back of the hand to everyone in equal fashion. I think that's why that speech went over so much better than the one that followed.

MURRAY: Right. I think it's hard if you are the one, if you are just taking partisan jabs you kind of new Obama was coming out and hit everyone. I know there's been some reaction that, you know, that John Boehner thing, maybe it was too inside baseball. I don't know. It seemed funny to me. This seems like it's a place to make that joke.

ZELENY: Of course it's inside baseball, but this is inside baseball.

RESTON: Definition of inside baseball.

ZELENY: So funny because John Boehner has been in the news with his Lucifer comment this week. So they couldn't even plan that timing. I was struck by -- again, we were reminded of the president, his timing is so good.

RESTON: Stellar.

ZELENY: I don't know if I agree about 90 percent to 10 percent poll there. But I mean, he's good.

RESTON: He was clearly -- this was the final moment where he could let loose. Obviously he's had a chilly relationship with the press and tonight, he just let it all rip.

MURRAY: In a lot of ways I felt like President Obama was actually nicer to Donald Trump than I expected him to be.

RESTON: Right. Right.

MURRAY: Some of the things he said about Ted Cruz felt harsher than the things about Trump.

RESTON: Like the Ted Cruz joke, bring out the gun, the whole Canadian debate once again, amazing.

ZELENY: Again, a sound track really of all eight years of the presidency being at all of these dinners is Obama's birth certificate and the fact that he still gets so much miles out of that. I'm the foreigner? You're calling me the foreigner?

I think that has really been a gift, a comedic gift that he's had. But you're right, it could have been much harsher on Donald Trump. But one reason is Democrats aren't laughing about him as much as they were in 2011. He was the butt of a joke then. Now he's a serious figure.

RESTON: Especially in this room. Just living in L.A., the animosity that you feel in Hollywood toward Donald Trump and the protests that we've seen in California over the last couple of days, you know, this was a room where Barack Obama did not need to go hard on Donald Trump. It was already, you know --

MURRAY: Right. He is not a joke anymore. He has worked hard to prove he is not a joke. He has proved he's not a joke and now we're seeing a various reactions to that.

All right, Jeff, Maeve, thanks so much.

John, back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Sara, thanks so much. Thanks to all of you for working so hard tonight. Appreciate it. Now go enjoy yourselves.

[23:20:00] Thanks so much, guys.

We're going take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Although I am a little hurt that he's not here tonight. We had so much fun the last time. And it is surprising. You got a room full of reporters, celebrities, cameras, and he says no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right. President Obama there talking about Donald Trump. A few of the jokes he directed at Donald Trump. Although there is a feeling among people who watched, including the people in this room with me here, that the president could have been tougher on Donald Trump, had he wanted. He actually went a little easy on Donald Trump.

I want to go around the room and ask what we are going to be talking about on Monday morning. These dinners have a way of simmering for a little while on the public consciousness and then people decide what the moment is or what the vibe is.

Let's go around, Brad, and start with you. What we'll be talking about on Monday?

JENKINS: I mean, look, the graphic is always fun, who is funnier, Obama or Larry. I think it's a win-win. I think they were both incredible. I think, you know, with comedy there's different approaches, right? I think Larry, his style of comedy is he's going to take some -- some

bold choices, right? He's going to offend. And as I said, he's going to cross that line.

The president is the president of the United States, right? He has to be a little more sensitive, a little more conscious about that. I think closing with Boehner was just a beautiful tribute, I think, to John and to the president and working. They've tried to work hand in hand over the course of many years.

[23:25:02] It didn't work out so well.

BERMAN: Yes, it worked out better in that room than it did in real life.

JENKINS: It really did. But I thought it was a beautiful closing though. I thought, look, this is a great night for comedy. I thought it was great.

I think people will talk a lot about Larry's closing. I thought it was, you know I'm looking at my Twitter, black Twitter loved it.

(LAUGHTER)

JENKINS: They loved --

BERMAN: But it's interesting. I get to you in a second, you said black Twitter loved Larry Wilmore tonight. You actually said comedians on Twitter who you follow loved it as well?

WINSTEAD: Yes. Yes.

BERMAN: You say but conservative Twitter actually did not like it. They liked the president?

SEXTON: No, no, conservative -- many people that I'm seeing on Twitter who I know to be conservative thought the president was funny. So, I mean, I think that if we can all agree the president's goal is to let everyone have some fun tonight, poke some fun all around and not make anybody in that room feel excluded, even people who vehemently disagree with his politics, who feel like the president -- they can argue ad nauseam to everything he's done.

The president is taking this moment to do it this way. I think he hit all the right notes in that regard. I thought he was incredibly funny and talent -- credit where it's due. That guy is a talented guy -- speech giver and presents incredibly well.

WINSTEAD: That's right. I completely agree. I think at comedian's job to make the comfortable feel uncomfortable. And I do believe that is the comedian's job.

SEXTON: He succeeded.

WINSTEAD: People don't like cruelty though.

(CROSSTALK)

WINSTEAD: I'm not talking about people. Use your own opinion. I don't talk about everybody.

MCENANY: He came out and just assassinated people's character and their profession, and I just thought that was completely uncalled for. People like banter, like what Obama did. It was friendly banter. It was light. It was funny. It was wholesome.

WINSTEAD: That's your opinion and there's a lot of people who disagree with you on that.

MCENANY: It is my opinion.

(CROSSTALK)

WINSTEAD: There's a lot of people who disagree with you.

BERMAN: Is there one moment, Liz, is there one moment that stands out for you Monday morning we would talk about?

WINSTEAD: Yes. Monday morning, people will talk about the last thing Larry said and Obama's jokes about Hillary. That's what I believe.

HILL: I will definitely on Monday be talking about Larry Wilmore using the "N" word. That is sort of my job.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: And?

HILL: And I think it's -- I don't mine the provocative and I don't mind people using the "N" word I have been on this network very much strongly supporting that. I didn't think it was that funny. I didn't think it was the best ending.

I thought it was anti-climatic. I thought -- especially after the president did a mike drop ending, it wasn't a good ending. Some people in the black community will read as dis -- my brothers are texting, I can't believe he disrespected the president like that.

BERMAN: Well, it is the president, right?

HILL: The president responded as presidents do, pounded his chest and played through the moment. I didn't like the ending. I thought the ending was the worst part of Larry's bit.

I actually his -- again, he was funny. I thought he was edgy. I thought he made great joke.

And I'd have to disagree a little bit. The president went after people, too. He said Wolf Blitzer -- excuse me, Jake Tapper gave up journalism to come here to CNN. So, he made very aggressive, but it was --

MCENANY: Different demeanor. It was light. It was funny. SEXTON: He does that because Jake Tapper is -- I mean, we're here on

CNN, but he's one of the most respected --

(CROSSTALK)

SEXTON: Oh, the president --

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: And Don Lemon is not mad at Larry Wilmore. They're both friends. They're having fun, too.

I think that's the fun of this. You go, you banter around. You have fun. You walk away.

Of course, the president is going to be a little more unifying than Larry Wilmore because he's the president. Larry Wilmore's job is to make people uncomfortable.

WINSTEAD: Much like journalists.

HILL: Yes, I have 500 white people texting me right now saying, why would he use that word? That means he did his job. Good job, Larry.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Kayleigh?

MCENANY: Here's the thing -- crossing lines. To use that word, it's disrespectful to the black community. I think it's disrespectful to America to use that word on national television. I just thought it crossed the line.

BERMAN: Is there a positive that we thought Monday morning?

MCENANY: I think we should be talking about the president and how he had a very unifying moment. I thought it was great. I thought it was very needed in this president race --

SEXTON: The Goldman Sachs line -- I didn't mean to interrupt. But the Goldman Sachs line was one of the funniest things President Obama said and that's going to have more of a life than some people necessarily realize.

HILL: Than they might want.

SEXTON: I think so.

BERMAN: If you're in Brooklyn on the Clinton campaign right now on balance, are you happy with the president's performance, a joke or a little bit --

HILL: I think you're happy because if you don't mention Hillary or you're too soft, people speculate about that. There's going to be a speculation about calculation.

WINSTEAD: She can take it.

HILL: She can take it.

You probably don't want the Goldman Sachs. That's the one joke you don't want linger.

WINSTEAD: Or the de Blasio-Clinton fiasco.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: That was the first line. I forgot.

JENKINS: It was great. But let's remember that he did say the person standing up here next year will be a woman.

(CROSSTALK)

SEXTON: He covered himself.

JENKINS: Let's be clear. That's a win if you're Hillary.

MCENANY: One quick point. All of these people were in a presidential race, everyone is caustic. But for the president to do what he did tonight he sent the message at the end of the day we are all Americans. We can all laugh together. I thought it was grade.

BERMAN: Brad, there's about ten seconds left for us right now. You're the one ho has worked in the White House. What are they doing in the White House tonight following this?

JENKINS: They're going to go to the "Vanity Fair" party and they're going to drink their faces off. And they deserve it. I thought the president did a great job. It was a hell of a night.

BERMAN: Well, guys, I can't thank you enough for being here with me over the last 26 hours covering this event from its very beginning. The president's final White House Correspondents' Dinner. You saw it all here.

Stay with CNN for more coverage of the dinner all night long. Thanks.