I attended the White House Correspondents Dinner once in 1998 and felt incredibly out of place. Perhaps it was because I was the only one wearing sneakers with my tuxedo (I wore Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars all the time in those days, although I did buy a new pair for that night). I was there because Art Brodsky of Communications Daily invited me to join them at their table, which was a long way across the Washington Hilton ballroom from the dais where the president sat.
I didn’t go to any of the cocktail parties beforehand, but I did wander around the ballroom before the festivities started to see who else was there, stopping every once in a while when I came across a celebrity who had guested on my radio show in the dozen years I’d been in town (James Carville and Mary Matalin, Connie Chung and Maury Povich, et al). There wasn’t as much of an emphasis on bringing Hollywood stars as guests, but it was odd to see such a large gathering of politicians and reporters pretending to get along.
The highlight of the evening was Clinton’s speech, which included lots of well-produced visuals and videos. I’m pretty sure my friend Jon Macks, a former political consultant turned monologue writer for Jay Leno, contributed some of the material, and Clinton, with his natural comedic timing, knocked it out of the park. He was followed by Ray Romano, whose sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond” was beginning to hit its stride in its second season. He wisely stayed away from political material, opting instead for a half-hour of killer stuff from his stand-up act about his family.
Afterwards, most of the crowd moved on to more cocktail parties hosted by Vanity Fair and other media outlets. Since I hadn’t been invited to any, I thanked my hosts and walked outside to get to my car, stopping for a moment when I realized I was standing exactly where John Hinkley had been when he took several shots at President Reagan seventeen years earlier. It was pretty odd being there with such a heavy security presence surrounding the area that night.
Tomorrow night, when that same ballroom fills up again for the so-called Nerd Prom, the celebrity quotient will be much higher. Here are some of the stars who have been invited by various media outlets. Many of them have no connection to politics, but get to go as a perk of having a show on a network or its parent company, others simply generate enough star wattage to guarantee free media exposure. At which table would you like to sit?
- CBS: Claire Danes, Admiral Mike Mullen
- ABC: the cast of Scandal, Connie Britton, Hayden Panatierre, Eric Stonestreet, Sofia Vergara
- NBC: Matthew Perry, Michael J. Fox, Michael Douglas
- CNN: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Ware, Gerard Butler
- Reuters: Fred Armisen, Jeremy Renner, Steve Zahn, Kathleen Turner, Madeline Stowe
- NPR: Tracy Morgan, George Lucas, and Jessica Alba
- Time: Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gabby Douglas, John Legend
- USA Today: Courtney Cox, Ashley Judd, Kristin Chenoweth, Josh Gad, Kate Walsh
- Daily Beast: Senator Claire McCaskill, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Olivia Munn, Harvey Weinstein
- Huffington Post: Scarlett Johannsen, Jon Bon Jovi, Chris Christie, Shaquille O’Neal
- Bloomberg: Barbra Streisand, Kevin Spacey, Ted Sarandos (Netflix chief content officer)