Who Is Michelle Wolf?
Michelle Wolf (born circa 1985) is a standup comedian and writer known for her politically tinged humor. She started writing for Late Night with Seth Meyers in 2014, became a correspondent for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah two years later and had a comedy special air on HBO in 2017. On April 28, 2018, Wolf performed a controversial monologue at the White House Correspondents' Dinner; some journalists and commentators criticized her for engaging in personal attacks, while others commended her for using scathing humor to call out misbehavior and hypocritical stances. The comedian then began hosting The Break with Michelle Wolf on Netflix in May 2018, though she show was canceled after only three months.
Entry Into Comedy
While at Bear Stearns, Wolf went to a taping of Saturday Night Live with some friends. A lifelong fan of the show, she was inspired to start improv classes when she learned that was where most of the actors had come from. While studying improv, she also started taking stand-up comedy classes — and a new career was born.
Stand Up and Comedy Career
Wolf started doing stand-up comedy in 2011. In January 2013, she used severance from her job as a recruiter at a biochemistry research lab, along with savings, to devote herself to comedy for a year.
'Late Night with Seth Meyers'
Wolf's year spent focused on comedy worked — in January 2014, she was hired as a writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers. In addition to penning jokes for the show, she made several appearances as the character of "Grown-Up Annie" and got to make her television stand-up debut in July 2014.
'The Daily Show'
Wanting more on-screen time, in April 2016 Wolf moved from Late Night to become a correspondent for The Daily Show, where she developed a good rapport with host Trevor Noah. On November 9, 2016, she appeared in a memorably emotional segment, talking about her disappointment and fury at the results of the 2016 presidential election.
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Wolf took her standup act to the Edinburgh festival in 2016, where she was nominated as best newcomer.
'Nice Lady' HBO Special
In 2017 Wolf's first comedy special came out on HBO. Nice Lady's early moments had Wolf sharing, "I am a feminist." In it she used humor to highlight misogyny, as when she said, "I do have a theory on why Hillary [Clinton] lost. I think it’s ’cause no one likes her," before noting, "We’re never gonna have a nice lady run for President."
'The Break with Michelle Wolf'
Wolf's half-hour weekly talk show, The Break with Michelle Wolf, premiered on Netflix May 27, 2018. Although she said the show wouldn't be focused on political humor, the comedian couldn't resist herself at times, with some segments, like the commercial parody that equated the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the terrorist organization ISIS, predictably sparking outrage in some quarters.
The Break with Michelle Wolf lasted only 10 episodes before Netflix pulled the plug in August 2018, but the host took the cancellation in stride. "It wasn't the right time," she later told The New York Times. "I don’t think I had a clear enough idea of what I really wanted to do."
Wolf returned to the screen with the Netflix stand-up special Joke Show in December 2019. Reveling in her usual candor, the comedian used her hour-long set to discuss the colorful comments on her Instagram feed and share her personal experiences with abortion.
Comedian Chris Rock asked Wolf to write some jokes for his hosting gig at the Academy Awards in 2016. Wolf has also opened for Rock while he was on tour.
In August 2015, Wolf started working on sets at the Comedy Cellar, where Louis C.K. was also a regular. He became a mentor, Wolf appeared in his TV show Horace and Pete and she opened for him on tour. However, Wolf wasn't keen to discuss the sexual harassment charges that were leveled at C.K., telling the Daily Beast in a 2018 article, "He’s always been very supportive and generous, and my experience with him is very different than others, I suppose. But, in this kind of big moment in my career, I don’t really want to talk about stuff that a man did."
When Was Michelle Wolf Born?
Wolf was born circa 1985 in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Wolf is white but has said she's often mistaken for an African American. In a Daily Show segment from 2017, she joked with Trevor Noah about her ethnicity: "You know how I know I’m white? I can cry myself out of a parking ticket. Hell, I can cry myself out of a murder charge."
Early Years and Education
Wolf grew up in Hershey in a family with two older brothers. She ran track and field, but an injury derailed her college sports career.
Wolf studied kinesiology at the College of William and Mary, graduating in 2007.
Though she hadn't studied finance, Wolf took a job in private client services at the financial firm Bear Stearns after graduation. She's said, "I was an athlete in college, and Wall Street likes athletes because they're very competitive people that are willing to do anything to win."
Wolf was at Bear Stearns during the 2008 financial crisis. She later started working at J.P. Morgan.
White House Correspondents' Dinner 2018
Wolf performed a 20-minute monologue at the White House Correspondents' Dinner on April 28, 2018, making her the fifth woman to host the event. The dinner is sponsored by the White House Correspondents' Association in order to bring its members, politicians and government officials together for a night of camaraderie — and to raise funds for WHCA scholarships. Though comedic styles have varied, past hosts (such as Stephen Colbert and Don Imus) mocked politicians and the president, a tradition Wolf followed.
Michelle Wolf and Sarah Huckabee Sanders
In her monologue, Wolf called out White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was attending as the president's representative. Wolf's remarks about Sanders began with, "We are graced with Sarah’s presence tonight. I have to say I’m a little star-struck. I love you as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale." A moment later, Wolf said, "I actually really like Sarah. I think she's very resourceful. 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."
Sanders listened, without smiling and evincing some discomfort, a few feet away from Wolf. Afterward, New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman applauded Sanders on Twitter for absorbing "intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out." MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski also tweeted, "Women who use their government positions to spread lies and misinformation deserve to face the same withering criticism as men. But leave our looks out of it. Watching from home, I hurt for Sarah, her husband and her children."
Wolf responded to Haberman on Twitter to say in part, "All these jokes were about [Sanders’] despicable behavior." (Sanders has shown herself willing to stretch and evade the truth while on the job, as in March 2018 when she said a question about citizenship status has "been included in every census since 1965, with the exception of 2010 when it was removed." In fact, the question was taken off the census in 1950.) Other commentators agreed that, while Wolf had criticized Sanders, the comments were not about the press secretary's appearance.
Other Jokes and Commentary
Wolf's WHCD monologue did not restrict itself to mocking Sanders. Her other targets included:
Ivanka Trump: "She was supposed to be an advocate for women, but it turns out she's about as helpful to women as an empty box of tampons."
Donald Trump: "Mr. President, I don't think you're very rich. I think you might be rich in Idaho but in New York you're doing fine. Trump is the only person that still watches Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and thinks, 'Me!'"
Democrats: "Democrats are harder to make fun of because you guys don't do anything. People think you might flip the House and Senate this November, but you guys always find a way to mess it up. You're somehow going to lose by 12 points to a guy named Jeff Pedophile Nazi Doctor."
The media: "I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn’t sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric, but he has helped you. He's helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster, and now you're profiting off of him. If you're going to profit off of Trump, you should at least give him some money, because he doesn’t have any."
Wolf didn't close on a joke, instead ending her performance by saying, "Flint [Michigan] still doesn’t have clean water."
Criticism and WHCA Response
During her monologue, Wolf seemed to foresee the upcoming negative response, noting, "You should have done more research before you got me to do this." Many did defend Wolf, reminding critics that she'd been hired to do a comedic roast, which is intended to push buttons; others pointed out that the president had been crass in the past as well, and he was the one with much more power over the lives of others.
However, WHCA decided to disavow Wolf with a response that stated in part, "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. Unfortunately, the entertainer's monologue was not in the spirit of that mission."
This did not mollify critics, including the president, who tweeted early on Monday, April 30, that the dinner "was a total disaster and an embarrassment."
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