“How do you write jokes about a town that already is one?”
-Kevin Spacey, as his House of Cards character Frank Underwood, in the spoof video produced for the dinner
I’ve never covered Hollywood, so the White House Correspondents Dinner is the only place I’ve seen so many celebrities in one room. Granted, the dining room at the Washington Hilton holds 3,000 so it’s a large pool from which to find bold-faced names. The dinner — and the weekend of partying that grew up around it — is quintessentially “Washington,” for better or for worse. (Much like SXSW, apparently the event has gone from a well-meaning celebration of one idea to a marketing-laden orgy of totally different priorities.) A glutton for new experiences and an avid reader of celeb-blog The Superficial, I am game to witness the absurdity.
The whole event is sensory overload. You can’t turn your head without seeing someone famous or familiar-for-some-reason-you-can’t-quite-place. The long hallway shoot of pre-dinner receptions and a few post-dinner parties is in a basement, probably the only time Michael Douglas or Nicole Kidman hang out in a basement. After going through security with Don Draper’s wife Megan (actress Jessica Pare) to get in the ballroom, the likes of Kevin Spacey, Steven Spielberg and Claire Danes get gawked at near the stage. Packed in that giant ballroom, it was easy to walk right into and nearly run over a tiny Hayden Panettiere. Last year, I found myself reapplying lip gloss next to Kate Upton* and Anna Paquin. Ron Kirk snapped iPhone photos of people wanting pics with his friend Eric Holder. Tony Romo and his wife told me details about the birth of their baby, since we Texans just instantly bond that way, I guess. This year the Romo’s showed up again.
“Y’all are becoming real White House Correspondents Dinner regulars,” I said to him.
“It’s her. She loves to put on a dress,” Romo said jokingly, of his wife.
Saturday, Friend Matt decided to offer me his dinner ticket with only 90 minutes to spare. It took an incredible amount of perfect timing and logistical savvy for us to drive across town and do the pass off in time. (And to shower and get ready in 10 minutes.)
What I learned last year was that it’s actually the parties preceding and following the meal, the ones sponsored by real power — Fortune 500 companies and VC-backed startups — that are actually “fun”, if you want to call it that. (Fun in the weird Washington way.) Loved seeing old friends** and meeting new ones. Frankly, it was all so much better than when I attended while pregnant last year because this time I could drink through it. (!)
My memories of the weekend exist in single frames: A Swavorski crystal toilet at a late night house party. Asking Kevin Spacey about House of Cards spoilers (“I don’t know anything,” he said). Making new friends while in a super long bathroom line at The Atlantic’s Friday night confab. Seeing Gayle King and Joaquin Castro at every hoppin’ spot in town. Getting momentarily spooked when Gus Fring (the Breaking Bad villain who got half his face blown off) walked past my dinner table and looked me right in the eye WITH HIS WHOLE FACE. The AC dropping to temps in the 50s so a room of 3,000 wouldn’t wind up sweating. Conan really yelling into that mic. My gal pal Judy. Piano renditions of Coldplay at the Turkish Ambassador’s house. Delicious dolmas. Lots of red carpets and velvet ropes but way more gawkers than celebs. Celebrating a startup incubator in an unexpected place. Signature drinks named AT&Tini’s. Gorgeous views at the Sunday brunch. Corporate sponsor after corporate sponsor after corporate sponsor. Big brands. Medium brands. Small brands. Business cards. Bacon. Introductions. Jewel tones. John Oliver!
*When Kate Upton first walked by our table at dinner, I thought to myself, that woman should be a model! Doh.
** Including a sorority sister I hadn’t seen in 13 years