President Obama is shifting from consoler to comic for his appearance before a mix of politicians, celebrities and journalists at Washington's premier black-tie dinner.

Obama was to attend the White House Correspondents' Association annual dinner Saturday night, one day after traveling to Alabama to meet with residents affected by the deadliest tornado outbreak in 40 years and view what the president said was the worst devastation he's ever seen.

The president's speech at last year's dinner came just days after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Obama ended his otherwise humorous speech by asking the audience to remember those affected by the spill. He traveled to the Gulf Coast the next morning to assess relief efforts.

But in a town consumed by politics and partisanship, the dinner is typically a light-hearted affair and an opportunity for the president to show off his humorous side. Obama has used his past appearances to crack jokes at everything from the infamous couple that crashed his first state dinner to the off-the-cuff speaking style of his vice president, Joe Biden.

Obama's political rivals haven't been safe from the president's zingers either, and this year will likely be no exception. In fact, some Republicans who may get into the 2012 presidential race were expected to attend. They included Obama's first ambassador to China, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, as well as Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and businessman Donald Trump.

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The association was formed in 1914 as a liaison between the press and the president. Every president since Calvin Coolidge has attended the dinner.

In recent years, the dinner has attracted a wide array of Hollywood celebrities. Among the 3,000 guests expected to attend this year's event are actors Sean Penn and Jon Hamm, American Idol judge and Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler, and Bristol Palin, daughter of 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

"Saturday Night Live" comedian Seth Myers was booked to provide laughs at the dinner.

Some of the proceeds from the dinner pay for journalism scholarships for college students.

Several journalists will also be honored at the dinner:

-- Dan Balz of The Washington Post and Jake Tapper of ABC News, for winning the Merriman Smith Award for presidential coverage under deadline pressure. Balz won for his coverage of an unexpected appearance by Obama and former President Bill Clinton in the White House briefing room. Tapper won for a story revealing that Obama was about to ask Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair to step down.

-- Peter Baker of The New York Times, for winning the Aldo Beckman award for sustained excellence in White House coverage. Baker won for what the judges called a "remarkable run" in 2010 with dozens of stories dubbed "the education of a president."

-- Michael Berens of The Seattle Times, for winning the Edgar A. Poe Award for excellence in coverage of news of national or regional significance. Berens won for a series that uncovered flaws in a health care plan for seniors that resulted in neglect, abuse and even death.