The black-tie event — at which the president, followed by a bona fide comedian, regale journalists and their celebrity guests with jokes about government and the media — is an annual inside-the-beltway ritual.
Obama poked fun at himself, the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, and reporters. On a serious note he praised Washington Post former Tehran correspondent Jason Rezaian, released in January after 18 months in an Iranian prison.
"This is a big and intimidating room," Rezaian said when he was given an award. "But it beats solitary confinement." Obama made fun about how he has aged on the job and how in his final year his approval ratings have been rising.
"The last time I was this high, I was trying to decide on my major," Obama said, a reference to smoking pot in college.
- Bipartisan jabs -
"Here we are. My eighth and final appearance at this unique event," Obama said. "If this material works well, I'm going to use it at Goldman Sachs next year. Earn me some serious Tubmans."
That was a jab at Hillary Clinton, criticized for not releasing the transcripts of speeches to the bank she delivered in 2013 and for which she was reportedly paid $675,000. And 19th century abolitionist Harriet Tubman will soon appear on the $20 bill.
Democrat Bernie Sanders - who wore a suit and tie instead of a tuxedo - was the sole presidential candidate present. "Bernie, you look like a million bucks. Or, to put it in terms you will understand, you look like 37,000 donations of $27 each," Obama said, a reference to the flood of small contributions to Sanders' insurgent campaign.
"I am hurt though, Bernie, that you have distanced yourself from me. That's not something that you do to your comrade." Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus "is here as well," Obama said. "Glad to see that you feel that you have earned the night off.
"Congratulations on all of your success. The Republican Party, the nomination process, it's all going great. Keep it up." The Republicans are split and in disarray over what to do with Donald Trump, the 2016 Republican White House frontrunner.
- Trump absent, still a target -
Trump, a frequent event guest, was absent on Saturday. He was the target of some pointed jabs at the 2011 dinner and said he would not attend this year's event.
Trump's sons Eric and Donald Jr. however were among the guests, as was billionaire Republican former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who earlier toyed with the idea of entering the presidential race.
"Mike, a combative, controversial New York billionaire is leading the GOP primary and it's not you," Obama told Bloomberg.
"That has to sting a little bit. Although it is not an entirely unfair comparison between you and The Donald. Mike was a big city mayor. He knows policy in depth, and he is actually worth the amount of money that he says he is."
Obama said that he was "a little hurt" that Trump was absent. "We had so much fun the last time... and it's surprising, you have a room full of supporters, celebrities, cameras, and he says no. Is this dinner too tacky for The Donald? What could he possibly be doing and saying? Is he at home eating a Trump steak? Tweeting insults to Angela Merkel?"
Contrary to what critics say, Obama said that Trump has foreign policy experience. "He has spent years meeting with leaders from around the world — Miss Sweden, Miss Argentina, Miss Azerbaijan..." a reference to Trump's role in beauty pageants.
The president also mocked reporters for giving Trump so much coverage, noting that the bombastic billionaire has received "the appropriate amount of coverage befitting the seriousness his candidacy. You all ought to be proud of yourselves."
- "Obama out" -
Obama ended with the words "Obama out" followed by a microphone drop, a celebrity and pop culture way of saying that the performance was so good there is nothing to add. A slew of Hollywood A and B-list celebrities were among the 2,600 dinner guests, including Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, Helen Mirren, Bryan Cranston, Rosario Dawson and Priyanka Chopra. "Star Wars" actress Carrie Fisher came with a French bulldog name Gary.
Also present: singers Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight, and sports celebrities including US football star Hope Solo. Lost among the glitterati and big names, there were also some White House correspondents.