WASHINGTON » President Barack Obama might have that cool, professorial exterior. But what would happen if he ever got really mad?
On Saturday night, Obama offered a humorous answer to that hypothetical question as he roasted himself, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the potential 2016 Republican presidential field and his journalistic adversaries at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
With the help of Keegan-Michael Key, half of Comedy Central’s irreverent “Key and Peele” show, Obama gave the thousands of journalists, politicians, government officials and celebrities at the Washington Hilton a sense of what he really thinks when he gives one of his famously restrained speeches.
With Key behind him, a straight-faced Obama talked about counting on reporters to do their honorable jobs despite any differences he may have with them.
“Count on Fox to terrify all white people with some nonsense!” Key yelled, reprising his TV role as Luther, the president’s Anger Translator.
When Obama calmly mentioned climate change, Key yelled about California looking “like the trailer for the new ‘Mad Max’ movie.” When Obama talked about the recent record-high temperatures, Key screamed about the “sweaty people on the trains stinking it up.”
“It’s just nasty!” Key exclaimed.
And when Obama mentioned casually that Clinton would have to raise a lot of money in her campaign, Key translated. “She’s going to get that money. She’s going to get all the money,” he said, comparing Clinton to Daenerys Targaryen, the dragon queen known as Khaleesi on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
That was not the first time during the evening that Obama made fun of the woman who wants to replace him in the Oval Office. Before Key’s appearance, Obama tweaked his former secretary of state for her woman-of-the-people campaign kickoff that included a trip in a small van. He noted that times were still tough for plenty of people, and that one friend of his, “just a few weeks ago, she was making millions of dollars a year. And now she’s living out of a van in Iowa.”
He also poked fun of the email scandal that has dogged Clinton. “I thought it was going to be her private Instagram account that was going to cause her bigger problems,” he said as screens in the room showed pictures of Clinton at parties and with an armful of cats.
The president’s appearance at the White House dinner has become an annual tradition, one that usually includes plenty of good-natured digs at the Washington crowd. And in that tradition, Obama sought to skewer just about everyone in the huge ballroom.
He took aim at Republicans, of course, especially those who are pursuing the 2016 Republican nomination. He noted that Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas had compared himself to Galileo, but said it was not an apt comparison. Galileo believed the earth revolved around the sun, Obama said. “Ted Cruz believes the world revolves around Ted Cruz!” he said. (Though he quickly offered a bit of self-deprecating humor, adding that “when a guy who’s got his face on a hope poster calls you self-centered, you’ve got a problem.”)
The president took some easy shots at David H. and Charles G. Koch, the conservative billionaires he said had pledged to raise $1 billion “to get people to like these guys.”
In past years, Obama has been merciless in ribbing Donald Trump. This year, he went short and sweet: “Donald Trump is here. Still.”
News organizations never escape some of the president’s sharp jabs. He made fun of CNN by noting that “Saturday Night Live’s” Cecily Strong, who performed at the dinner, sometimes impersonated CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on the late-night comedy show.
That’s funny, he said, because the “only ones impersonating journalists on CNN are journalists on CNN.”
And he got a few boos when he obliquely noted the falling ratings for NBC’s cable network by saying that the polar vortex last winter had generated “so many record lows they renamed it MSNBC.”
But Obama saved some of the bigger laugh lines for jokes about himself. He noted that he had been busy trying to fix a broken immigration system, issue veto threats and negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program.
“All while finding time to pray five times a day,” he said, prompting laughter about the never-ending, conspiratorial speculation that he is, in fact, a Muslim.
He also noted, as most presidents do when they near the end of their terms, that he had grown older-looking in office. He used that fact to joke about House Speaker John A. Boehner’s invitation to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to speak before Congress last month.
“I look so old John Boehner has already invited Netanyahu to speak at my funeral,” he said.