Stung by criticism that comedian Stephen Colbert went too far last year in his remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner, the group announced last week that it had lined up a different kind of entertainer for its next dinner on April 21: impersonator Rich Little.
The choice elicited two general reactions: Who? And why?
While the name is probably unfamiliar to people under 40, Little was a popular Las Vegas performer and guest star on TV variety shows of the 1960s and 1970s. He’s best known for impressions of celebrities (Johnny Carson, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Benny) and presidents (Nixon and Reagan) who are no longer with us.
But “edgy” Little isn’t. Even in his heyday, he didn’t do biting topical satire or searing political humor. As a performer, he’s more “Ed Sullivan” than “Daily Show.”
Which is why, according to Little, he was hired in the first place. “One of the reasons they picked me is because I’m not controversial,” he said yesterday from his home in Las Vegas. “They did get some flak about the guy they had last year. I don’t think they wanted someone political or controversial again.”
Yet after Colbert made waves—he compared the Bush administration to the Hindenburg disaster, among other things—some wondered whether choosing Little indicated that the rough, tough White House press corps was going soft, ensuring that its honored guests from the White House would suffer not even the slightest slight.