Obama cuts loose with ‘bucket list’ gags at correspondents’ dinner

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WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is saying “bucket” — you know what that rhymes with — now that he is in the last quarter of his presidency.

Obama’s looser self-described “new attitude” was on display Saturday in his zinger-packed speech at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. The other comic headliner was Cecily Strong, the Saturday Night Live cast member raised in Oak Park and honed on Chicago stages.

In one bit in his routine, the famously cool Obama brought onstage Keegan-Michael Key to play his Key & Peele Comedy Central Show character “Luther, “ who is Obama’s “anger translator.”

This year, the dinner — and related receptions, brunches and parties stretching from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon — drew fewer mega Hollywood superstars, perhaps another sign of the impending end of the Obama era.

Now about Obama’s bucket list.

Obama opened by saying, “I am determined to make the most of every moment I have left. After the midterm elections, my advisors asked me, “Mr. President, do you have a bucket list?” And I said, “Well, I have something that rhymes with bucket list.’”

“Take executive action on immigration? Bucket. New climate regulations? Bucket. It’s the right thing to do.”

Obama, always at his funniest when he mocks himself, still dines out on Muslim jokes.

“Being President is never easy. I still have to fix a broken immigration system, issue veto threats, negotiate with Iran — all while finding time to pray five times a day.”

And Obama mulled that he knows what people say about him.

“Six years into my presidency, some people still say I’m arrogant and aloof, condescending. Some people are so dumb. No wonder I don’t meet with them.”

Obama also drew material from Republicans and the 2016 field.

“A few weeks ago, Dick Cheney says he thinks I’m the worst President of his lifetime. Which is interesting, because I think Dick Cheney is the worst President of my lifetime. It’s quite a coincidence.”

His Hillary Clinton gag played off stories about her high priced speeches and her announcement and first trip to the Hawkeye State two weeks ago.

“I’ve got to stay focused on my job, because for many Americans, this is still a time of deep uncertainty,” he said. “For example, I have one friend — just a few weeks ago, she was making millions of dollars a year. And she’s now living out of a van in Iowa.”

The “anger translator” riff began with Obama telling the audience of 2,700 in the Washington Hilton that “I’m a mellow sort of guy. And that’s why I invited Luther, my anger translator to join me here tonight.”

“Hold on to your lily-white butts,” Keys said, off and running.

No one should ever have to follow Obama, whose comedic timing, delivery and material makes him a tough act to beat.

But Strong had some edgy jokes in her joke box.

“Feels right to have a woman follow President Obama, doesn’t it?” she said, with the Clinton reference obvious to the audience.

She quipped about the Secret Service, “They’re the only law enforcement agency in the country that will get in trouble if a black man gets shot.”

And she riffed on those now famous Instagram photos of former Rep. Aaron Schock R-Ill., who is facing a federal criminal probe of his spending of taxpayer and campaign funds.

She showed mocked up photos of herself with Schock, surfing and swimming and at the Eiffel Tower.

“Paris is so beautiful, Mr. President, you should really think about going there sometime,” she said, referring to Obama not going to Paris in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders.

“President Obama and I actually grew up together in Chicago,” Strong added. “I remember when we used to go down to the Cabrini Green basketball courts, I’d lace up a pair of Jordans. He’d slip on a pair of my mom’s jeans.”

So how did Strong end up as the speaker? This year the president of the WHCA is Christi Parsons who covers the White House for the Tribune Newspapers. Before that, Parsons reported out of the Chicago Tribune’s Springfield bureau.

Parsons knew that Strong’s father, Bill, was a former AP Springfield Bureau chief.

So last year, Parsons said she called Ray Long, then the Trib’s man in Springfield.

“I really wanted Cecily,” she said. “And I wanted her to know we were trying to get her… Going through all the channels of representatives, media handlers and agents seemed like it might not work out the way I wanted it.

“I emailed Ray at 8 a.m. on Saturday. By noon, he’d worked Bill, Bill had called me, Bill had called Cecily and Cecily was considering the request.”

Said Parsons, “It was old-school, Statehouse style all the way.”

Comedienne Cecily Strong of the Saturday Night Live show speaks at the annual White House Correspondent’s Association Gala at the Washington Hilton hotel April 25, 2015 in Washington, D.C. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians

Comedienne Cecily Strong of the Saturday Night Live show speaks at the annual White House Correspondent’s Association Gala at the Washington Hilton hotel April 25, 2015 in Washington, D.C. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. | (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

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