WaPo TV Critic Rewrites History On Late Night Comedian's 1995 Shtick Mocking Clinton

February 21st, 2013 6:17 PM

So, I take it that Lisa De Moraes didn’t go through her paper’s archives before she penned today's TV column in which she re-wrote history regarding Conan O’Brien's turn as emcee for the White House Correspondents Association dinner in April 1995. Yesterday it was announced that the late-night comedian would return this year as the master of ceremonies.

De Moraes suggested the O'Brien bombed the last go-around and seemed to take offense for late President Clinton, who was the butt of many of O'Brien's jokes 18 years ago.

When we say Conan is coming back to host the dinner again, we mean he’s coming back to redeem himself.  He was pretty bad in ’95 – not too bad out of the gate, but he lost the crowd when he began to interview a giant talking Bill Clinton head on a screen.

However, Lorraine Adams of the Washington Post wrote back in 1995 that Conan killed it at the dinner:

O'Brien got hurricanes of laughter. ("For those watching this live on C-SPAN, for God's sake, it's Saturday night!" Or: "I was excited to be in a room with one of the most powerful men in America. Then I heard Judge Ito canceled." Or: "Don't turn on me tonight, ladies and gentlemen. It was either me tonight or Al D'Amato doing impressions.")

Then he put a video picture of Clinton on the big television screens floating above the guests and superimposed the lips of a comedy writer named Robert Smigel. Smigel/Clinton did a great sound, like a squealing donkey. He made Clinton seem like a cross between an Alabama sheriff and a ventriloquist's dummy. Lots of laughter, but as former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said later, it was a tad long. "Five minutes of editing, it's a home run," said Stephanopoulos. Clinton didn't seem to think so. He laughed so hard, he looked like he was crying. Mrs. Clinton kept her head down, a half-smile on her face toward the bitter end.

The president gave a 10-minute speech, and a serious one. He had another one planned, with jokes, but that was abandoned. The bombing in Oklahoma City seemed to require something else. He said things like: "This is a very free country and a very great country."

While some of the jokes are obviously dated, it does appear O'Brien got a warm response. You can watch the 1995 video for yourself at C-SPAN's website here.