Comedian David Letterman took a swipe at Donald Trump on Sunday night at the Kennedy Center Honors, saying it was nice to see a president in attendance after Trump skipped the event during his tenure.
President Joe Biden, sitting in the presidential box overlooking the ornate theater, received a standing ovation at Letterman’s words from the crowd of Washington D.C. social heavy weights.
‘It’s quite nice once again to see the presidential box being occupied,’ Letterman said in opening remarks for the 44th annual show.
The crowd went crazy, applauding wildly for Biden, who was attending with wife Jill, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff.
‘And the same with the Oval Office,’ Letterman added to laughs when the applause died down.
Biden and Jill’s attendance at the Honors on Sunday night marks the first time in four years a president has attended Washington D.C.’s premiere social event after Trump refused to go in the face of criticism from the honorees.
President Trump skipped the Kennedy Center Honors, publicly stating that he wished to avoid marring the celebration with a ‘political distraction’ after some of the honorees threatened to boycott the awards if Trump attended.
Biden was also the butt of a few jokes.
During the tribute to Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michael, ‘Weekend Update’ anchor Michael Che said: ‘It’s a bit intimidating to do jokes in front of President Joe Biden’ and then added: ‘There’s no way he’s still awake right now.’
Biden was shown in his presidential box, awake, laughing and clapping.
‘It’s a bit intimidating to do jokes in front of the most powerful man in the world,’ Jimmy Fallon said during the Michaels’ tribute, adding ‘and President Biden.’
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden attended the Kennedy Center Honors
The Bidens wave to the crowd at the Honors, who gave them a standing ovation
Comedian David Letterman (seen at a White House reception ahead of the Kennedy Center Honors) took a swipe at Donald Trump at the Honors, saying it was nice to see a president in attendance after Trump skipped the event during his tenure
Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff joined the Bidens in the presidential box at the Kennedy Center Honors
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin was in the audience at the Kennedy Center Honors, there were a few Republicans in attendance, including former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao
Actor Dan Levy (left) and Amy Poehler and Fred Armisen at the Kennedy Center Honors
Comedian Jimmy Fallon (left) and Scarlett Johansson and Colin Jost at the Honors
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden stand for the national anthem at the 44th Kennedy Center Honors with honorees include Motown Records creator Berry Gordy, “Saturday Night Live” mastermind Lorne Michaels, actress-singer Bette Midler, opera singer Justino Diaz and folk music legend Joni Mitchell
Vice President Kamala Harris applauds President Joe Biden, she sat next to him in the presidential box at the Kennedy Center Honors
Honoree Bette Midler (left) and h onoree Lorne Michaels (right) waves to the crowd during the Kennedy Center Honors
Kennedy Center Honoree Mootown Records founder, songwriter, producer, and director Berry Gordy (left) and Kennedy Center honoree singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell (right) waves to the audience during the Honors Gala
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaking to reporters on the red carpet ahead of the show, said it was appropriate for Biden to attend the Honors Gala.
‘It’s something that should always be the case that the President of the United States would be recognizing the value of the arts,’ she said.
She called the arts the ‘most unifying force.’
In the taping of the show, which airs on CBS later this month, Letterman remarked it was not a night for politics, even as that topic was the the underlying theme of the evening.
‘It’s so great to be in the Capitol, but it’s not a night for politics,’ Letterman said. ‘But I will tell you that I’m a bit nervous to be in the company of unequal power. Makes me a little nervous to be in front of that kind of power.’
Then he added: ‘Lorne, can I get you anything?’ in reference to honoree Lorne Michaels, the creator of Saturday Night Live, who was seated in the presidential box near Biden.
Biden sat in between wife Jill and his running mate Kamala Harris. The rest of the evening’s nominees – actress Bette Midler, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, opera singer Justino Díaz, and Motown producer Berry Gordy – were also seated in the presidential box.
The show opened with cellist Yo-Yo Ma performing a musical rendition of the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’
Ma, born in France to Chinese parents and an immigrant to America, touched on politics in his remarks.
The cellist noted that as a child, he performed for Jack and Jackie Kennedy. The Kennedy Center was named in honor of the president after his assignation. Jackie Kennedy, as first lady, was involved in efforts to raise funds for a cultural center in the nation’s capitol.
Ma quoted from a speech Kennedy gave in 1963 in Texas, saying: ‘Our duty as a party is not to our party alone, but to the nation and indeed, to all mankind. Our duty is not merely the preservation of political power but the preservation of peace and freedom. So let us not be petty without cause so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our nation’s future is at stake.’
Presidents and first ladies add a dash of glamour to the Kennedy Center Honors, which is also attended by members of Congress, justices of the Supreme Court, Cabinet officials, high-profile members of the media, and senior members of the administration.
The event is typically bipartisan but a few Republicans were spotted in the crowd of people walking into the theatre: former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia were among them. Also spotted were Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar, Joe Manchin, Bob Casey, and Bob Menendez. White House press secretary Jen Psaki was also in attendance as was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts.
With Biden, Pelosi and Roberts attending the Honors gala – each in their own box – the three heads of each of the branches of government were in attendance.
This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, guests at the Honors, including the president and first lady, wore face masks. All attendees had to be vaccinated and have a negative COVID test ahead of the event.
Earlier in the evening, President Biden hosted Kennedy Center Honors honorees for a White House reception where he joked with actor Steve Martin about him being the next to portray the president on Saturday Night Live.
Biden resumed the tradition of hosting a White House reception following a four-year pause in the Trump years.
Actress Bette Midler, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, opera singer Justino Díaz, Motown producer Berry Gordy and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels arrived at the White House shortly after 4:00 p.m. for the reception with President Biden, first lady Jill, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff.
President Joe Biden joked with Steve Martin (right) at the Kennedy Center Honors reception at the White House on Sunday when the comedian and actor asked the president if he wants him to play him on Saturday Night Live
Biden, seen shaking hands with honoree and SNL creator Lorne Michaels, joked that he is currently ‘trying out seven guys to play me’
Jill donned a green gown adorned with white, silver and black embellishments by Reem Acra while the president put on his tux for the black tie event.
The group was ushered into the East Room of the White House, welcomed by champagne and music by the President’s Own United States Marine Band.
THE 44th ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS’ FIVE HONOREES
1. Actress Bette Midler
2. Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell
3. Opera singer Justino Díaz
4. Motown producer Berry Gordy
5. Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels
Perhaps the most memorable point of the president’s near-twenty minute remarks was when he cracked a few jokes when honoring Michaels, who he called a ‘wise guy.’
‘He’s trying out seven guys to play me,’ Biden said, which earned the president his biggest round of applause of the night.
Since 1991, six different actors have impersonated Biden.
Kevin Nealon played Biden in 1991 and Jason Sudeikis had a long-standing role as the vice president from 2008-2020.
Between 2019-2020, when Biden was running for and became president, four other actors portrayed him on SNL – Woody Harrelson, John Mulaney, Jim Carrey and Alex Moffat.
‘Laughter is good for the soul. If you can’t laugh at yourself, we’re in big trouble,’ he said to Michaels, adding: ‘And you make me laugh at myself a lot.’
In the audience was actor Steve Martin, who called out from the crowd, asking Biden if he should play the president on SNL.
‘Do you want me to play you?’ Martin jested with the president to laughter.
Biden shot back: ‘Steve, I’m afraid you understand me too well.’
Following Biden’s remark, the crew departed for the formal ceremony at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the northwest Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Foggy Bottom.
Biden told the honorees that their contributions in the arts have helped during the coronavirus pandemic as people ‘search for greater meaning’.
In the audience at the president’s reception were Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who famously loves to attend the Honors each year. Biden’s sister Valerie was also there, as was Caroline Kennedy.
President Joe Biden hosted five honorees at the Kennedy Center Honors reception at the White House on Sunday evening
The president and first lady Jill Biden arrive at the Kennedy Center Honors reception in the East Room of the White House on December 5
Vice President Kamala Harris (left) and first gentleman Doug Emhoff (right) arrive at the White House reception. The two will also attend the Kennedy Center Honors after being seen in public more often with the Biden’s following report of turmoil
The honorees from L-R: Operatic bass-baritone Justino Diaz, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, actress Bette Midler, Motown founder Berry Gordy and Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell
‘Laughter is good for the soul. If you can’t laugh at yourself, we’re in big trouble. And you make me laugh at myself a lot,’ Biden said when honoring SNL creator Lorne Michaels
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously loves to attend the Honors. Here the California Democrat greets a guest at the White House reception on Sunday before attending the event
Musician Herbie Hancock cheers arrivals at the White House ceremony honoring Kennedy Center Honorees on Sunday evening
Actress Bette Midler stands and waves as the audience applauds her career achievements, which were listed by the president
Joni Mitchell arrives at the Kennedy Center Honors reception in the East Room of the White House on Sunday evening before the official ceremony at the Kennedy Center a few miles away
Motown Records founder Berry Gordy stands and pulls down his mask to show off his smile as applause breaks out after Biden honored him at the Kennedy Center Honors reception
Joe and Jill Biden returned to the White House marking the first time in four years a president has attended Washington D.C.’s premiere social event. The first couple arrive at the White House Sunday afternoon from Camp David
Previous presidents have attended the honors since it launched in 1978. Biden also attended in 2009 as vice president, sitting in the presidential box of the ornate theater with Barack and Michelle Obama and his daughter Ashley.
The event is a major fundraiser for the Kennedy Center and the ceremony airs on CBS on Dec. 22. The star-studded performance, which features a tribute to each honoree, is followed by a private dinner.
‘After the challenges and heartbreak of the last many months, and as we celebrate 50 years of the Kennedy Center, I dare add that we are prepared to throw ‘the party to end all parties’ in D.C. on December 5th,’ Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter said.
Sunday’s ceremony, the 44th Kennedy Center Honors, was hosted by Kennedy Center chairman David Rubenstein, the same man whose Nantucket home the Bidens stayed in over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Honorees are selected for their contributions to American culture through the performing arts.
The first awards in 1978 went to Marian Anderson, Fred Astaire, George Balanchine, Richard Rodgers and Arthur Rubinstein — with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter sitting next to them in the presidential box.
This year’s Kennedy Center Honorees: Justino Diaz, Berry Gordy, Lorne Michaels, Bette Midler and Joni Mitchel
Joe Biden (right) also attended the Kennedy Center Honors in 2009 as vice president, sitting in the presidential box of the ornate theater with Barack and Michelle Obama and his daughter Ashley.
Honored: Hollywood heavyweights including honorees Lorne Michaels and Bette Midler were in attendance at the medallion ceremony for the 44th annual Kennedy Center Honors on Saturday evening at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
Recognition: Other honorees at the medallion ceremony including legendary songwriter Joni Mitchell, 78, and Motown founder/record executive Berry Gordy Jr, 92, were also pictured walking the red carpet
There have been a few presidential misses over the years – Carter missed the 1979 event because of the Iran hostage crisis; George H.W. Bush missed in 1989 and Bill Clinton in 1994 because of travel in Europe. First ladies attended on their behalf.
There was speculation Melania Trump might attend without her husband but that never happened. The Trumps skipped the three ceremonies held during their tenures.
The 2020 ceremony was postponed because of the COVID pandemic and was held earlier this year in May.
For that hybrid Honors in May – which featured socially distanced performances during a week-long taping – the Bidens welcomed the honorees during a reception at the White House but did not attend any of the performances.
The mood on Sunday evening is expected to be festive and collegial, a wave of relief after the controversial Trump years where there was genuine fear the bipartisan event – attended by Democrats and Republicans alike – would become a victim to politics.
Safety measures will be in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. Anyone attended must be vaccinated and must be tested ahead of time.
But, in another COVID-related modification, the traditional Saturday night supper – where the honorees receive their medallions on rainbow-colored ribbon – was shifted from the State Department to the Library of Congress.
All five honorees attended Saturday’s black-tie event. Others in attendance included Martin Short, dance veteran and former honoree Debbie Allen, SNL player Fred Armisen, and Schitt’s Creek star Dan Levy.