Comedian Michelle Wolf became the fifth woman ever to host a White House Correspondents Association dinner over the weekend, causing quite a bit of controversy with her remarks and angering everyone from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, whom she compared to the Handmaid’s Tale‘s evil Aunt Lydia, to the White House Correspondents Association itself.
But 15 years ago, long before her controversial monologue on Saturday, the former Daily Show correspondent was an up-and-coming Pennsylvania track star. Wolf, 32, from Hershey, graduated from Hershey High School in 2003. During her high school years, she competed in several track events, landing personal bests of 5’4” in the high jump and 35’8” in the triple jump, as well as a 60.3-second 400-meter dash.
“For eight years, all I cared about was track,” Wolf said in Joshua D. Fischer’s 2016 interview collection, Meet the Regulars.
As a teen, she also worked at an Italian restaurant nearby Hershey Park, as she said on Jimmy Kimmel Live! earlier this month. It served, in her words, “real bad food,” and everyone was “terrified of New Yorkers.”
Her performance on the track helped land her a spot at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., where she studied kinesiology. In college, Wolf also tried to continue her career as an athlete, but was sidelined after an injury the day before her first meet as a freshman.
“I got a third-degree ankle sprain practicing long jump,” she told Fischer in 2016. I never fully recovered. That was my first heartbreak. I thought track was going to be something that was going to happen in my life. It never went in the direction I wanted it to, no matter how hard I tried.”
From track star to comedy clubs
Wolf finished college in 2007, and moved to New York to work at Bear Stearns, and later J.P. Morgan after a merger, around the time of the 2008 financial crisis. One of her most tawdry jokes referenced her post-college career.
Now, I’ve worked in a lot of male-dominated fields. Before comedy, I worked at a tech company and, before that, I worked on Wall Street. And, honestly, I’ve never really been sexually harassed. That being said, I did work at Bear Stearns in 2008. So, although I haven’t been sexually harassed, I’ve definitely been f—ed.
According to the Washington Post, a trip to a Saturday Night Live taping that year changed everything for Wolf, who began taking improv classes after finding that the show’s writers mostly began in that form of comedy. Classmates encouraged her to try stand-up.
“Which I think is a nice way of saying ‘You’re very selfish,’ Wolf told the Washington Post. “I kept telling jokes onstage rather than reacting.”
According to the Daily Beast, Wolf switched jobs to work at a biochemistry research lab as a recruiter after a classmate tipped her off to the position. She ultimately was fired because she did “less and less” work due to her obsession with comedy, she told the Daily Beast, but the move helped push her into pursuing stand-up as a career.
With her severance from that job and a small savings, the Village Voice reports, Wolf took a year off from the corporate world and pursued comedy full-time. In 2014, she applied for a position as a writer at Late Night with Seth Meyers and got the job — exactly a year to the day after losing her office job.
“She takes comedy very seriously as a job, and she puts in incredible hours,” Meyers told the Washington Post of Wolf. “I don’t think she caught breaks as much as she fought her way in the door… She made her own luck. She created as many opportunities as possible for people to see her and be impressed by her.”
In April 2016, Wolf jumped from Late Night to The Daily Show, and landed her first one-hour HBO special, Nice Lady, last year. Wolf recently departed from the Daily Show’s on-air staff for Netflix, which debuts The Break with Michelle Wolf, a comedy news show that Wolf will host, premiering May 27.
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner
Wolf hosted the WHCA dinner on Saturday night, delivering a 20-minute monologue that ruffled feathers on both sides of the aisle, and caused problems with the WHCA itself. A primary target was President Donald Trump, as well as cabinet members and White House aides, like New Jersey native Kellyanne Conway, who, Wolf said, has “the perfect last name for what she does.”
“You guys got to stop putting Kellyanne on your shows. All she does is lie,” Wolf said Saturday. “If you don’t give her a platform, she has nowhere to lie. It’s like that old saying: If a tree falls in the woods, how do we get Kellyanne under that tree?”
Wolf also planned to focus on Trump cabinet members but had to scrap a lot of material because “everyone has been fired.”
“You guys are going through cabinet members quicker than Starbucks throws out black people,” Wolf said, referring to the Philadelphia Starbucks incident this month that sparked national outrage.
However, Wolf didn’t focus only on Republicans.
“Republicans are easy to make fun of. It’s like shooting fish in a Chris Christie,” she said, referring to New Jersey’s former governor. “But I also want to make fun of Democrats. Democrats are harder to make fun of because you guys don’t do anything.”
The media was also a target — specifically, Philly native and CNN anchor Jake Tapper.
“I’ve never really wanted to know what any of you look like when you orgasm. Except for maybe you, Jake Tapper,” Wolf said Saturday. “I bet it’s something like this: ‘Okay, that’s all the time we have.’ ”
Initially, WHCA president Margaret Talev celebrated Wolf’s set, calling the comedian a talented performer “who had a message to deliver” in a CNN appearance. In a followup statement, Talev denounced Wolf’s performance after hearing from WHCA members who expressed “dismay with the entertainer’s monologue and concerns about how it reflects on our mission.”
“Last night’s program was meant to offer a unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press while honoring civility, great reporting and scholarship winners, not to divide people,” Talev wrote. “Unfortunately, the entertainer’s monologue was not in the spirit of that mission.”
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, meanwhile, called the dinner “a disgrace” on Twitter, to which Wolf replied, “Thank you!”
Thank you! https://t.co/0Nsx5ZBj8c
— Michelle Wolf (@michelleisawolf) April 29, 2018