Comedian Michelle Wolf has roasted President Donald Trump at the White House Correspondents' dinner.

The second White House Correspondents' Association dinner in a row without the president was held on Saturday night at the Washington Hilton, as Trump held a campaign-style rally in Michigan.

Wolf's routine was raunchy and controversial at times, including one joke about abortion that visibly unsettled the crowd, reports Daily Mail.

"It's 2018 and I am a woman so you cannot shut me up. Unless you have Michael Cohen wire me $130,000," said Wolf, referencing the Stormy Daniels controversy.

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"You can find me on Venmo under my porn star name: Reince Priebus," she added, receiving a thumbs up from the former White House chief-of-staff Priebus in the audience.

Wolf also addressed Trump's absence head on: "I would drag him here myself, but it turns out that the president of the United States is the one p***y you're not allowed to grab," said Wolf, best known from her work on The Daily Show.

Wolf said she decided to attack Trump on the basis of his finances, saying that when it comes to racism, xenophobia or ignorance "he's heard all of those and he doesn't care".

Using call and response from the audience, she shouted "Trump is so poor", to which the audience responded "how poor is he?"

Among her responses were: "He has to fly failed business class"; "He looked for foreign oil in Don Jr's hair"; "Southwest used him as one of their engines"; and "He had to borrow money from the Russians and now he's compromised".

Wolf promised however that she wouldn't dwell too much on jokes about Russia, since there were many members of the "liberal media" present.

"I wouldn't want to see what you look like when you orgasm," she noted.

Wolf is just the fifth woman to host the annual dinner since the tradition of having comedians perform began in 1983.

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Trump speaks during a rally at Total Sports Park in Washington, Michigan on Saturday night, instead of attending the dinner. Photo / AP
Trump speaks during a rally at Total Sports Park in Washington, Michigan on Saturday night, instead of attending the dinner. Photo / AP

Before Wolf delivered the keynote she said she wished Trump had come to the event.

"I like making fun of people to their face ... more than behind their backs, so it would have been more fun" if Trump were in the audience, Wolf told CBS' This Morning Saturday.

"None of my jokes changed. It's just nicer to make fun of them when they're there. I think it's cowardly not to go."

She also drew audible gasps from the audience during her savage, minute-and-a-half long takedown of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, according to news.com.au.

She delivered the cringe-worthy monologue while standing mere metres away from Huckabee Sanders.

During the excruciating 85-second roast, Huckabee Sanders visibly fumed, and was seen raising her eyebrows, awkwardly pursing her lips and squirming as Wolf's devastating monologue was delivered.

During the speech, Huckabee Sanders was repeatedly branded a liar and was likened to Aunt Lydia from The Handmaid's Tale — a character who indoctrinates handmaids with the beliefs of the new society and forces them to accept their fates.

"And of course we have Sarah Huckabee Sanders. We are graced with her presence. I love you as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid's Tale, Mike Pence if you haven't seen it you'd love it," Wolf began.

"Every time Sarah steps up to the podium I get excited because I'm not sure what we're going to get, a press briefing, a bunch of lies or divided into softball teams. It's shirts and skin and this time don't be such a little bitch Jim Acosta.

"I really really like Sarah, I think she's very resourceful. Like, she burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smokey eye. Like, maybe she's born with it, maybe it's lies. It's probably lies."

Wolf also labelled Huckabee Sanders an "Uncle Tom" — a derogatory term for a subservient person based on the character from the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.

She also likened the press secretary to conservative social and political commentator Ann Coulter.

"And I'm never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders," she continued.

"You know, is it Sarah Sanders, is it Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Is it Cousin Huckabee, is it Auntie Huckabee Sanders?

"What's Uncle Tom for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh I know, it's Ann Coulter."

Before Wolf spoke, House Sepaker Paul Ryan performed in a video skit about seeking a new job after he retires from Congress at the end of his term. It was poorly received online.

Unlike last year's event, some of the top current White House staff were in attendance this year, signalling a possible thaw in Trump's often contentious relationship with the press. They included press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and counsellor to the president Kellyanne Conway, according to the Daily Mail.

Ex-White House staffers were also in abundance at the event, including former Trump advisor Omarosa Manigault-Newman, ousted Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn, ex-chief of staff Reince Priebus and former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

The DC journalism elite was also out in force, of course, including CNN personalities Jake Tapper and Don Lemon.

Comedian Kathy Griffin, who created uproar last year by posing with a fake severed Trump head, also made an appearance on the red carpet, as did outspoken anti-gun activist David Hogg.

"The president encouraged his staff to attend and so we did, we felt like it was important," said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in a red carpet interview with CNN. "It's gonna be a great night both here and in Michigan."

As Sanders spoke next to Counsellor to the President Kellyanne Conway, Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti photobombed the pair, lurking over Conway's shoulder with a grin.

Moments later Avenatti spoke to the network, blasting Trump for failing to attend.

"I think it's entirely disrespectful, I think it's disrespectful to the First Amendment," said Avenatti, who is representing Daniels in her suit against Trump attempting to invalidate a hush agreement, in which the porn star says she was paid $130,000 to remain silent about a 2006 one-night-stand with Trump.

"If you can't laugh at yourself you have no business being in the position," Avenatti said of Trump.

Trump's former chief of staff Reince Priebus gave his own CNN interview on the red carpet, predicting the president might even attend next year's dinner.

"I think there might be a little bit of a thaw occurring in the West Wing and maybe next year the President's going to be here," said Priebus.

The Washington dinner known as "nerd prom", which once attracted Oscar winners and buzzed-about stars, comes as Trump routinely slams reporters as dishonest and their work as "fake news".

Trump posted on Facebook this past week that he would hold a Saturday evening rally in Michigan with his "favourite deplorables" - a term that Democrat Hillary Clinton used in 2016 to describe some of Trump's campaign supporters.

Trump's aides skipped last year's dinner, when some accompanied Trump to a rally in Pennsylvania where he celebrated his 100th day in office.

This year, however, even with Trump out of town, many White House aides were expected to hobnob with the journalists who cover them.

In 2017, Trump became the first president to skip the event since Ronald Reagan in 1981; Reagan was recovering from an assassination attempt.

He spoke to a large crowd in Total Sports Park in a campaign style rally.

"Is this better than that phony White House Correspondents Dinner," Trump asked the roaring crowed during his speech. "I could be up there tonight smiling like I love when they're hitting you, shot after shot. These people, they hate your guts."

- additional reporting by news.com.au