It’s difficult to read about Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner without seeing the name Michelle Wolf. The comedian delivered the opening monologue at the event, a yearly dinner to bring together political journalists and — ideally — the president. (Trump decided once again not to attend.)
Like previous hosts Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers, Wolf opened by roasting major players in Washington. But her comments on the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, who attended in place of Trump, quickly landed her in hot water. “I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful,” Wolf said about Sanders. “But she burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”
In the aftermath, far-right leaders — and some independent journalists — took to Twitter to express outrage. One of them was Maggie Haberman, the White House correspondent for the New York Times and a political analyst for CNN, who considered the dig to be a superficial attack on Sanders’s appearance.
That @PressSec sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) April 29, 2018
Haberman’s claim that Wolf’s comments were out of line didn’t sit well with others on Twitter, who pointed out that the president she was mocking is one who consistently offends and attack individuals — especially women. “The responses have been: ‘She is a mother, she is a wife, she is a human being.’ Mothers, wives, human beings are being rounded up, ripped from their families and sent away every day, and you have no such vehemence to spare for them,” wrote one Twitter user about the controversy.
The whole world is insane because a lady said how she felt about people who suppress and manipulate the truth at an event about celebrating free speech.
— Bess Kalb (@bessbell) April 29, 2018
In the aftermath of the controversy, the White House Correspondents’ Association’s president, Margaret Talev, sent a statement to members saying that she regretted the way Wolf handled the monologue.
— WHCA (@whca) April 30, 2018
The statement drew ire from many journalists, who called it an “embarrassment” and “performative rubbish.” But as the think pieces continue to roll in about Wolf’s monologue, some have begun joking about how little we actually know about the comedian herself. So, in the midst of the Twitter storm, here is some background to get you familiar with the comedian at the center of it.
She grew up Hershey, Pa., where she was a track and field star.
Wolf, 32, spent her childhood years in Hershey, the Pennsylvania town famous as the birthplace of the iconic chocolate bar. With two older brothers, she grew up running track, a sport she excelled at in high school. She later attended the College of William and Mary, where she ran track and studied kinesiology. But her running career was cut short while there because of an injury.
She moved to New York City to “make money,” first taking a job at Bear Stearns.
In an interview with the Comics Comic, Wolf said her family didn’t grow up with a lot of money and that making enough to support herself was one of the things that prompted her to move to New York. Her first job in the city was at the investment bank Bear Stearns, where she worked for a few years before getting hired at J.P. Morgan.
Her foray into the comedy world was inspired by a visit to the Saturday Night Live set.
While working in finance, Wolf had little free time. But in an interview with Splitsider in 2014, the then-29-year-old said it was after going to a live-taping of SNL with her friend in 2008 that convinced her to try out the comedy world. “I Googled everyone on the cast, and most of them started in improv, so I was like, ‘All right, I’ll sign up for an improv class,'” said Wolf. “Then after my first improv class, I was like, ‘This is the best thing in the world. I love this.'”
The first televised comedy performance she did was in 2014 on Late Night With Seth Meyers.
In July 2014, Wolf — who had then been doing standup for four years — appeared on Seth Meyers’s late-night show, where she discussed solo vacations, obesity in America, and man-repelling tattoos. She appeared on the show again later that year and was ultimately hired to write for it full time. Wolf sporadically appeared on the show during her two years writing there, including with a character called “Grown-Up Annie” — an older iteration of Little Orphan Annie.
In 2016, she was hired for a full-time position at The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.
After two years at Late Night With Seth Meyers, Wolf was tapped to be an on-air contributor and writer for The Daily Show With Trevor Noah. In November of 2016, she appeared on the show in a segment discussing Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. “How did this happen? Experienced politician versus racist, fake gynecologist,” she said. “It’s not even about not voting for Hillary. It’s about people voting for Donald Trump — the worst thing to happen to women since yeast!”
She landed an HBO standup special, which was released in 2017.
Once she became an established name in the comedy world, Wolf inked a deal with HBO for her own comedy special, which was taped at New York University’s Skirball Center for Performing Arts. The special, titled Michelle Wolf, Nice Lady, was released on Dec. 2, 2017.
In the lead-up to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Wolf dared Trump to attend.
The 32-year-old gave several interviews before Saturday night’s dinner, expressing both excitement and nervousness about the gig. In one interview with GQ, she more or less foreshadowed the criticism she now faces, saying that — given she was making jokes about people in attendance — that they might not “play well in the room.” A week before the dinner, she appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, where she dared him to come. “I’ll give you five dollars if you come,” she joked.
Now she is in the midst of working on her own Netflix show, called The Break.
Although the controversy surrounding Wolf’s performance is likely to die down, her comedy career is set to keep taking off. For months, Wolf has been working on a new show she will host on Netflix titled The Break. A weekly half-hour show, it will be a mix of celebrities, jokes, and sketches, aimed at having a less serious focus on the news than many current late-night shows. The trailer fittingly debuted Saturday morning, and the show is set to air May 27.
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