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“President Jarvis told me, ‘This is not a roast,'” said WRC-TV newsman Tom Sherwood, warming up as MC of this year’s Southeastern University Gala at the Washington Hilton.
The yearly benefit for the private school in Southwest D.C., headed by former Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, is well-known as a forum for elected officials, business bigwigs, media types, and other big shots to loosen up and show their sense of humor. Sometimes they get a little too loose: Last year, Sherwood got in a bit of trouble for referring to himself as “not as white as Jack Evans, [but] blacker than Harold Brazil.” The MC alluded to having to write an apology letter to Brazil for last year’s act.
Sherwood, in fact, did keep things less controversial this year, with a few jabs at the likes of developer Victor MacFarlane and Idaho Sen. Larry Craig. The killer material of the night fell to others. And it did turn into a roast of sorts, mainly of D.C.’s most roastable character, Marion S. Barry Jr.
The entertainment, billed as “As the District Turns: A Humorous Spin on the City We Love,” kicked off with a “Dreamgirls” act featuring the ladies of the D.C. Council. Ward 3’s Mary Cheh, Ward 4’s Muriel Bowser, and Ward 7’s Yvette Alexander all donned slinky black dresses (a sequined number for Bowser), feather boas, and long white gloves for their act. None of the three’s dance moves were ever quite in sync, but Alexander—-definitely the Beyoncé of the group—-clearly knew the words better than the other two. Not in attendance: At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz, who was represented late in the act by a proxy holding a campaign picket.
Next up was a skit lampooning the distribution of those coveted low-numbered license plates—-Channel 9 anchor Derek McGinty played the low-tag czar, and among his supplicants was former Mayor Anthony A. Williams. (Williams, of course, was not included on Mayor Adrian M. Fenty‘s low-tag list earlier this year.) Williams’ begging—-“Remember me? Tony Williams? We’re talking…executive baldness”—-didn’t get very far with McGinty.
His retort: “Only Marion Barry gets to be mayor-for-life and gets a low tag.”
After that was a Top 10 list of sorts—-“If D.C. became a state”—-given by a number of other D.C. councilmembers, plus Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi. Gandhi had a lame joke about how the state bird would be a cockatoo because it’s “always talking but never really saying anything”—-you know, like a chief financial officer! Ward 6’s Tommy Wells saved the groaner: “I thought the state bird would be the Anthony Williams, because of its propensity to fly.”
At-Large Councilmember David Catania also had a good one: “The state drug czar is….I’m not even touching that one.”
Then WRC-TV weathercasters Chuck Bell, Veronica Johnson, and Bob Ryan engaged in a painfully bad singing sketch, exacerbated by a malfunctioning microphone, that sent dozens to the ballroom doors.
Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton took the podium to put a little bit of a federal perspective on things, lightly bashing Michigan Sen. Carl Levin and WTOP commentator Mark Plotkin. Her sharpest line, however, connected a neighboring state’s proposal to tax immigrants to the long-proposed D.C. commuter tax: “Interesting idea, Virginia: Tax people who cross your borders for good and services. Good thinking!”
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton recorded a video message for the occasion; it made fun of, among other things, her own controversial laugh, but there were a couple of local zingers. The best: “This is an exciting time for the District….There’s a bold new baseball stadium to delight 40,000 fans. And there’s parking for at least a thousand of them.”
The skits were over, but the Barry roasting continued. Council Chairman Vincent Gray took to the podium for a valedictory speech that was supposedly to be low on laughs, but the chairman read a selection of straight-from-the-dais quotations from his colleagues.
His closer: “Marion said, ‘Mr. Chairman, I want everyone to know that everyone should get a piece of the rock,'” Gray recounted. “True story!”