Excerpts: 'Fresh Air' Interview with Michelle Wolf Terry Gross spoke with comedian Michelle Wolf about her performance at the White House Correspondent's Dinner this weekend and controversial reactions to it.
NPR logo Excerpts: 'Fresh Air' Interview with Michelle Wolf

Excerpts: 'Fresh Air' Interview with Michelle Wolf

April 30, 2018; Philadelphia, PA - NPR's Terry Gross spoke with comedian Michelle Wolf about her performance at the White House Correspondent's Dinner this weekend in an interview that will air Tuesday, May 1 on WHYY's Fresh Air.

Stations and broadcast times are available at NPR.org/stations; podcast will be available by 4:30pm EST on May 1. Excerpts will air on All Things Considered tonight and on the NPR Politics podcast special that drops this evening.

Audio clips are available upon request through NPR's Media Relations team at mediarelations@npr.org.

Excerpts of the interview are available below and can be cited with attribution.

On why people say that the WHCD is "a bad room.":

Wolf: ...the overarching thing that people kept telling me is that they're like "It's a bad room."

Gross: In what sense?

Wolf: In that it's just like, they were like, nothing ever sounds good in that room.

Gross: Because?

Wolf: A couple different factors. I mean, it's a large ballroom. The audience isn't miked so you the laughs aren't very audible in general. But it's also, it's formal, which people don't laugh as much when they're dressed up. There's round tables and people are eating or drinking, so by the virtue of a round table people are partially turned away from you. And it's televised and there are all these people that may or may not be able to show genuine reactions and so you're constantly thinking "I need to react in a way that will come off well on TV."

Gross: You mean, like not seem partisan?

Wolf: Right, yeah. That you might not be giving a genuine reaction to what's being said.

Gross: You're saying some people might be afraid to laugh because it will make them look partisan?

Wolf: Make them look partisan or make them look like they're laughing at someone they shouldn't be laughing at.

On Sarah Sanders being on camera while she was telling the jokes:

Wolf: Yeah, it is different. But you know, there's plenty where you could look back and the camera was on Obama when people were making pretty aggressive jokes about Obama and he was laughing. And I think having the ability to laugh at yourself is important. I also think that if you – another part of the dinner that wasn't televised is they were giving out awards and everyone was standing to congratulate the people who were getting awards and Sarah was sitting.

Gross: So you think she was kind of like sitting in protest? Because these are media awards and she didn't want to stand in praise of the media?

Wolf: Correct.

Gross: Was there something specifically said about CNN that she didn't stand?

Wolf: Yeah, CNN reporters got awards, I cannot remember the exact award they got, but they came up to accept them and she sat the whole time, while we all stood and shook their hands. I would say if this is about celebrating the media she wasn't there to celebrate the media.

When asked if she's surprised at the level of controversy over her performance:

Wolf: I wasn't expecting this level, but I'm also not disappointed there's this level. I knew what I was doing going in. I wanted to do something different. I didn't want to cater to the room. I wanted to cater to the outside audience, and not betray my brand of comedy. I actually, a friend of mine who helped me write, he gave me a note before I went on which I kept with me which was, "Be true to yourself. Never apologize. Burn it to the ground."

Gross: When you say you didn't want to cater to the room, you didn't want to betray who you are as a comic, what would it have meant to cater to the room and how would that have betrayed who you are as a comic?

Wolf: I think a lot of it and what I've seen in the past is they poke little fun, they kind of poke fun at deeper dives in news media. They'll go kind of table by table pointing at people and making fun of them, in a way that I think used to be fun because the dinner used to have the president there, it used to be we're all poking fun of each other, the president's going to poke fun at us, we're going to hit back. Now it seems like it's a much more serious environment and to kind of not go after the big issues and just have a little fun in the room seemed just not as exciting to me.

On advice Seth Meyers gave her about performing at the White House Correspondents' Dinner and the expectation that "women will be nice.":

Michelle Wolf: I mean, I'm honestly – I wouldn't change a single word that I said. I'm very happy with what I said, and I'm glad I stuck to my guns.

Gross: After one of your jokes about the women's march and the, I can't say the word, the p - - - - hats that women wore, and then you made a joke about female genitalia, you said, and I quote, "You should've done more research before you got me to do this." I got the impression you really meant that.

Wolf: Yeah, I mean, I think I don't know maybe I'm projecting this, but I think sometimes they look at a woman and they think "Oh, she'll be nice," and if you've seen any of my comedy you know that I don't – I'm not. I don't pull punches. I'm not afraid to talk about things. And I don't think they expected that from me. I think they still have preconceived notions of how women will present themselves and I don't fit in that box.

On being criticized for being a feminist comic making jokes about women's appearances:

Michelle Wolf: I think they didn't pay attention to what was said.

Gross: I'm wondering if you think it's maybe a little bit sexist to think that Sarah Sanders as a woman needs to be protected from a couple of jokes at a roast, because I haven't heard men be protected that way at roasts?

Wolf: Yeah, I mean, if there is two people that I actually made fun of their looks on Saturday it was Mitch McConnell and Chris Christie and no one is jumping to their defense. I made fun of Mitch McConnell's neck and I did a small jab at Chris Christie's weight and no one is jumping to their defense.

Gross: And every comic makes jokes about Trump's hair, about the length of his tie. I mean, I'm just talking about physical things here, I'm not talking about all the other jokes they make about President Trump, but his hair and his tie are the constant butt of jokes. So, again, is there anything else you'd like to say about the fact that that you're a feminist comic, you criticized a woman with a couple of jokes, like the punchlines were about her, and so many people feel the need to defend her in a way that I haven't heard men defended at roasts?

Wolf: I think one of the things about being a comic is getting to actually, as a woman, I have access to hit women in a way that men might not be able to hit them with jokes. I don't mean physically hit. But you know, because I'm a woman, I can say things about women because I know what it's like to be a woman, if that makes any sense.

Gross: So you felt like you had more liberty in saying what you said about Sarah Sanders and if a man had said it it might've been uglier?

Wolf: I think in general when I talk about women, like in my special when I talked about Hillary, I called Hillary a bitch, which you later find out is a compliment. But no, I don't think a man could've gotten away with saying that. It would've sounded misogynistic.

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About Fresh Air

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, the Peabody Award-winning weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues, is one of public radio's most popular programs. Each week, nearly 6 million people listen to the show's intimate conversations broadcast on more than 664 NPR stations across the country, as well as in Europe on the World Radio Network. In 2015, Fresh Air was the No. 1 most downloaded podcast on iTunes.

Fresh Air is produced at WHYY-FM in Philadelphia and broadcast nationally by NPR.