Wink, wink


US President Barack Obama winks as he tells a joke about his place of birth during the White House Correspondents Association Dinner in Washington, DC, April 28, 2012.
AFP PHOTO/Saul Loeb

By Saul Loeb


Once a year, Hollywood's biggest celebrities mix and mingle with the White House press corps and the Washington elite for a night of glitz, glamour and good-natured humor. While the White House Correspondents Association hosts this annual soirée to honor the work of journalists, it is best known for the stand-up comedy routine of none other than the President of the United States.

As the likes of George Clooney, Lindsey Lohan and Kim Kardashian sit alongside the not-so-famous faces of the newspaper, wire and television reporters that bring the world the news of the White House, the president delivers a monologue not unlike what you'd expect from Jay Leno or Jimmy Kimmel (both of whom have hosted the dinner in recent years).

In his comedy routine, the president generally leaves few untouched -- least of all himself. And at this year's dinner, Obama wasted no time getting right into it. Ever since Obama announced his run for the presidency in 2007, conspiracy theorists, so-called "birthers," mostly on the far right of the political spectrum -- including Donald Trump -- have questioned whether Obama was in fact born in Hawaii, as his birth certificate shows, and not in Kenya, the original home of his father. 

The US Constitution provides that only a “natural-born citizen” can serve as president, so if Obama wasn't in fact born in the US, as the birthers claim, then he is constitutionally incapable of being president. No amount of evidence has been able to dissuade the birthers, and it has become a long running joke in political comedy settings, with even Obama himself making light of it from time to time.

So when Obama opened his routine under the guise of reintroducing the American people to his personal story (an all-important narrative in an election year), I could sense where he was going with his joke before he got there. Crouching on the ground just in front of him as he spoke from the podium, I had one of my cameras trained tightly on his face for the inevitable punch line.

"My name is Barack Obama," he began. "My mother was born in Kansas. My father was born in Kenya." 

Here it comes, I thought. "And I was born, of course, in Hawaii." 

As Obama finished the line, I hoped for his big, signature smile. Instead, he made a huge, over-the-top, comedic wink -- resulting in a great photo and, for Obama, a perfect physical punch line to his joke as the packed ballroom of A-list, B-list (and no shortage of C and D list) celebrities and Washington journalists roared in laughter and applause.

US President Barack Obama laughs as television comedian Jimmy Kimmel gives his monologue during the White House Correspondents Association Dinner in Washington, DC, April 28, 2012.
AFP PHOTO/Saul Loeb