When “Saturday Night Live” cast member Cecily Strong was invited to perform at this year's White House Correspondents’ Assn. dinner she was both honored and terrified.
“My thinking was I was hoping we had a live show that weekend so that I could say no,” she said in telephone interview this week from a movie set in Los Angeles. “It’s a daunting task. But I would kick myself if I didn’t do it.”
The event being held this Saturday at the Washington Hilton that gathers power brokers and celebrities from media, journalism, politics and entertainment, should elevate the fame of the 31-year-old Strong, who went from playing Chicago comedy clubs to NBC’s legendary sketch comedy show in 2012. While the WHCA dinner is watched live by political junkies on cable news channels and C-SPAN, her monologue and the reactions at the dais will be analyzed and critiqued on news programs in the days that follow.
After a series of weekly meetings with the comedy writers who are developing material with her, Strong is now conferring with them daily as the event approaches. She’s also getting help from “SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels and “Late Night with Seth Meyers” head writer Alex Baze.
Strong is staying up to the minute on current affairs by checking news apps on her smartphone as she works this week on an independent feature, “The Meddler,” with Susan Sarandon. West Coast pals she has visited with during her trip in from New York have been getting a preview of Saturday's act.
“I’ve turned my friends into focus groups,” she said.
The comic actor, who spent one season of SNL as co-anchor of its “Weekend Update” segment, has been made aware that having a surplus of gags is necessary at the dinner due to the strength of her opening act.
“President Obama goes first and he has a lot of funny people writing for him,” she said. “And I’ve been told by other speakers that a lot of their jokes are told by the president.”
Strong is not looking to score points with either side of the political spectrum. She just wants laughs.
“No. 1, I want the funniest jokes,” she said. “ I was telling Lorne today — I don’t want any stale Fox News jokes because it’s all been done. I would hope to be getting both sides because there are things to laugh at on both sides, luckily.”
Strong is already looking forward to the first cocktail after the show. But she said she’ll have to defer it until she completes a post-dinner interview set with NBC News political director Chuck Todd for the next day’s “Meet the Press.”
Once that’s done, she said, “I’ll have to find something new to dread for months.”