Joe Biden hosted Kennedy Center Honors honorees for a White House reception Sunday where he joked with audience member and actor Steve Martin about him being the next to portray the president on Saturday Night Live.
Biden resumed the tradition of attending the annual event and hosting a White House reception following a four-year pause under Donald Trump.
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 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.
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 asked Biden from the crowd if he should play the president on SNL. Martin came to public notice as he became a frequent host on Saturday Night Live.
‘[Michaels] has cultivated talent that’s defined American culture in the 20th century and well into the 21st century. Talent like past Kennedy Center honoree Steve Martin, who’s here today,’ Biden said during his remarks as he looked out to the audience at Marin.
‘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’.
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
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
In the audience at the president’s reception were House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who famously loves to attend the Honors each year. Biden’s sister Valerie was also there, as was Caroline Kennedy.
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.
Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff join the first couple in the presidential box.
The Biden’s and second couple have been seen in public together more frequently following reports of dysfunction in the vice president’s office and frustration in the West Wing with Harris.
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.
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
Donald Trump and Melania Trump (seen above at a 2019 formal dinner in England) skipped the Kennedy Center Honors, publicly stating that the Trumps wished to avoid marring the celebration with a ‘political distraction’ after some of the honorees threatened to boycott the awards if Trump attended
Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff will also attend the Kennedy Center Honors; the second couple has been seen more in public with the Biden’s including during a service project at DC Central Kitchen on November 23 (above)
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.
Presidents and first ladies add a dash of glamour to the gala, 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.
Sunday’s ceremony, the 44th Kennedy Center Honors, will be 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.