President Barack Obama “appreciated the sentiment” in comedian Larry Wilmore’s White House Correspondents Dinner comedy speech, even though he called the president “My N*gga.”
“Words alone do me no justice. So, Mr. President, if I’m going to keep it 100: Yo, Barry, you did it, my nigga. You did it,” Wilmore said as he ended his performance.
Earnest said he spoke to the president personally about the speech afterwards.
“He said that he appreciated the spirit of the sentiments that Mr. Wilmore expressed,” Earnest said during the White House press briefing today.
Earnest argued that the context of the word, and the use of it in a comedic setting, was important for critics to recognize.
“I’m confident that Mr. Wilmore used the word by design; he was seeking to be provocative,” Earnest said, adding that “any reading” of him using the word wasn’t making Obama the “butt of a joke.”
He added that it wasn’t the first time that perhaps a WHCD comedian caused controversy, citing previous speeches by Stephen Colbert and Wanda Sykes as examples.
Wilmore’s speech, Earnest asserted, was a “tough assignment,” especially after being asked to follow up a speech from the president, but that Obama knew comedians “get much closer to the line than they ordinarily would.”
“What the president said is that he appreciated the spirit of Mr. Wilmore’s expressions on Saturday night,” Earnest repeated.
Wilmore’s use of the word occurred after he offered tribute to the first black president:
When I was a kid, I lived in a country where people couldn’t accept a black quarterback. Now think about that. A black man was thought by his mere color not good enough to lead a football team — and now, to live in your time, Mr. President, when a black man can lead the entire free world.
Rev. Al Sharpton was not amused, saying the use of the word was “very inappropriate” in an interview with TMZ.