Narendra Modi Showcases Humor at White House Dinner in His Honor

by Gabriel Martinez
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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delighted the attendees of Thursday’s grand White House dinner in his honor with his remarkable sense of humor. He amused the nearly 400 guests with jokes about his lack of singing skills, a humorous incident when President Joe Biden wanted him to eat during his fasting period, and the growing camaraderie between Indians and Americans.

Although not widely recognized for his comedic side, the prime minister had the audience in stitches as he delivered a toast to President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden before the dinner commenced.

“I am aware that your hospitality has inspired your guests to sing. I wish I possessed the talent for singing as well,” Modi quipped. “Then I could have entertained all of you with a song.”

His reference was to South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who pleasantly surprised attendees during a White House state dinner in April by taking the stage and delivering a spirited rendition of his favorite song, “American Pie,” which garnered resounding applause.

Modi’s current visit to the United States aims to strengthen and deepen the ties between India and the U.S. He expressed his belief that with each passing day, Indians and Americans are understanding each other better.

“We can now correctly pronounce each other’s names, and our understanding of each other’s accents has improved,” he humorously remarked. “On Halloween, children in India dress up as Spider-Man, while America’s youth is grooving to the tune of ‘Naatu Naatu,’ a catchy song from the Indian movie ‘RRR.'”

Modi also took the opportunity to address a past banquet when he was unable to eat due to religious fasting. He jokingly recounted President Biden’s repeated inquiries about what he could consume during the fast.

“I remember how concerned you were at that time, repeatedly asking me what I could eat. Unfortunately, it was impossible for me to eat anything, but today, I am making up for it. I am fulfilling all your desires from back then with utmost affection,” Modi playfully stated.

In a less humorous tone, President Biden recalled his statement from two decades ago when he served as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressing his belief that the world would be safer if the United States and India grew to become the closest friends and partners.

“Today, as the President of the United States, I believe in that sentiment even more strongly,” Biden affirmed.

The distinguished audience consisted of notable figures from various fields such as business, fashion, and entertainment. Among them were designer Ralph Lauren, filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, and tennis legend Billie Jean King, who mingled with technology leaders from Apple, Google, and Microsoft.

M. Night Shyamalan briskly made his way past reporters, declaring his delight at being present at the White House. Ralph Lauren, dressed in a tuxedo paired with gray New Balance sneakers, revealed that he had designed the off-shoulder green gown worn by the first lady, praising her style as “chic and elegant.” Renowned violinist Joshua Bell, who performed during the post-dinner entertainment, remarked that the evening presented a unique experience compared to his previous engagements.

Bell stated that he would leave the dinner early to practice and treated the audience to a rendition of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Summer.”

Attendees at the black-tie event, predominantly influential Indian Americans, displayed a vibrant array of saris, including modern designs and a striking hot pink one influenced by the Barbiecore aesthetic. Sequins also adorned the attire of the fortunate guests. Notable politicians from both major parties, such as Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, and Maryland’s recently elected Lieutenant Governor Aruna Miller, were in attendance.

The CEO lineup included Tim Cook from Apple, Sundar Pichai from Google, and Satya Nadella from Microsoft. Influential figures like social media influencer Jay Shetty, prominent Democratic donor John Morgan from Florida, and civil rights activist Martin Luther King III were also among the distinguished guests.

The dinner featured a plant-based menu catering to the prime minister’s vegetarian preferences. The meal included dishes such as millet and corn salad, Portobello mushrooms, and strawberry shortcake. For those desiring an alternative, roasted sea bass was available upon request.

Despite significant differences on human rights issues and India’s stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine, Biden extended his administration’s third invitation for a state visit to Modi. This invitation included a state dinner, an esteemed diplomatic honor reserved for the United States’ closest allies.

Biden hopes that the extensive grandeur and attention bestowed upon Modi, from the enthusiastic crowds that gathered on the White House lawn to welcome his arrival in the morning to the spectacular dinner in the evening, will help solidify the relationship with the leader of a country that the U.S. views as a pivotal force in Asia for decades to come.

Guests descended to a pavilion on the White House south grounds in trolley cars, where the decorations prominently displayed the green and saffron colors of India’s flag.

Despite concerns regarding the state of democracy in India, Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington, emphasized her attendance as a message that the nation of 1.4 billion people holds significance, and “we must address the real issues that threaten democracy’s viability in all our countries.”

A group of over 70 lawmakers, organized by Jayapal, had written to President Biden earlier in the week, urging him to raise concerns about the erosion of religious, press, and political freedoms with Prime Minister Modi.

Sundar Pichai expressed his anticipation for the dinner, describing it as “an exciting time for U.S.-India relations.”

“I believe that our two countries, with their shared foundations, vast democratic systems, and common values, have an incredible opportunity ahead,” Pichai stated in an interview earlier that day. He also highlighted technology as an area of mutual interest. “I am pleased to witness the substantial investment in strengthening bilateral relations.”

To assist in the kitchen, Jill Biden enlisted the expertise of California-based chef Nancy Curtis. Known for her plant-based cooking, Curtis designed a menu that “showcases the best of American cuisine infused with Indian elements and flavors.” Saffron risotto accompanied the mushroom main course, and the dessert incorporated cardamom and rose syrup. Curtis incorporated millet into the menu, aligning with India’s efforts to promote the grain through an international year of recognition.

Throughout the pavilion, lotus flowers, which hold cultural significance in India, were featured alongside saffron-themed floral arrangements that varied from table to table.

“As you sit at your table, we hope you feel as if it was set just for you—because it was,” the first lady expressed during the staff’s preview of the setup.

The post-dinner entertainment featured the South Asian a cappella group Penn Masala, founded by students at the University of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Marine Band Chamber Orchestra.

This report includes contributions from Big Big News Philanthropy Editor Glenn Gamboa in New York and AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro in Washington.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about comedy

What was the purpose of Narendra Modi’s visit to the White House?

Narendra Modi’s visit to the White House aimed to strengthen and deepen the ties between India and the United States.

What did Narendra Modi joke about during the White House dinner?

Narendra Modi made jokes about his lack of singing talent, a humorous incident when President Joe Biden wanted him to eat during his fasting period, and the growing camaraderie between Indians and Americans.

Who attended the White House dinner in honor of Narendra Modi?

The dinner was attended by nearly 400 guests, including notable figures from business, fashion, entertainment, and technology. The guest list included designer Ralph Lauren, filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, tennis legend Billie Jean King, as well as tech leaders from Apple, Google, and Microsoft.

What was served at the White House dinner?

The dinner featured a plant-based menu catering to Narendra Modi’s vegetarian preferences. Dishes included millet and corn salad, Portobello mushrooms, strawberry shortcake, and roasted sea bass available upon request.

What was the significance of the state dinner for Narendra Modi?

The state dinner, which is an esteemed diplomatic honor, demonstrated the United States’ recognition of India as one of its closest allies. It aimed to further solidify the relationship between the two countries and foster stronger India-US relations.

Did Narendra Modi address any serious issues during the dinner?

While Narendra Modi’s speech was mostly light-hearted and humorous, it is worth noting that there were concerns raised by lawmakers regarding human rights and religious, press, and political freedoms in India. However, the focus of the dinner was primarily on cultural diplomacy and strengthening bilateral relations.

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