“I’m going to drink a bottle of vodka and I’m just going to go do it,” said Larry Wilmore on the eve of the White House Correspondents Dinner. He was speaking from The New Yorker’s pre-party on Friday night at the top of the W hotel in Washington D.C., which famously overlooks the White House, and he didn’t seem nervous at all considering he was delivering the official roast the next day. “All my nervousness is gone. I’ve thrown up all I can throw up. I’m just in a zen state right now,” he said, though maybe he should have held on to some of those nerves - many of his jokes were met with groans, or worse, silence the following night. “You guys are tough,” he even admitted halfway through his speech.
D.C. is tough, for a number reasons of course, but for a visiting New Yorker on this particular weekend, navigating the social scene is at the forefront.
“This is not a typical Washington night,” said New Yorker editor in chief David Remnick in-between greeting guests at his party. “Washington is a slog, but it’s gotten better than it used to be. There’s more money now, there’s more showbusiness.”
The city did its best to attract some showbusiness for the weekend, anyway. At The New Yorker party on Friday night, Sting and Damian Lewis posed for photos - the New York-based DJ Brendan Fallis played music. But for most of the big celebs, the official WHCD brunch on Saturday is the first can’t-miss stop. Hosted by media consultant and power party planner Tammy Haddad, the likes of Helen Mirren, Bryan Cranston, top White House aide Valerie Jarrett and plus-sized Sports Illustrated model Ashley Graham attended the buffet brunch inside the Beall-Washington house in Georgetown. Each year, the scene seems to grow - “Like a weed, like a whole crop of marijuana plants,” observed the actor Jeff Goldblum. “This event used to be a very quiet, sleepy event," Remnick had said the previous night. "[Now] it is a bizarre event. All the animals in the zoo are there. I’m not one of these people who think it’s the worse thing that ever happened.”
It was Graham’s first year coming to what’s popularly known as "Nerd Prom," and she was looking forward to what the Prom Queen would be wearing. Michelle Obama, that is. “Why is no one talking about the fashion?” she said. “Look, we’re in D.C., it’s not New York or Paris, but I know people are going to come and slay.”
What was she planning to wear?
“Something cute and sexy, but not too sexy,” she said. “I can’t give you an Oscars moment but I can give you a White House moment.”
Lisa Edelstein, the actress from Girlfriends Guide to Divorce, had learned from previous years to plan ahead for the evening. She’s a vegetarian, you know, and so can’t eat the fish or steak served at the dinner. “You pre-eat,” she said. “And I’m bringing protein bars.”
Elsewhere, Rosario Dawson chatted away (likely about her support of Bernie Sanders), as did Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who after the dinner would fly on to New York to prepare for Monday’s Met Gala. “The people-watching, I’m so excited,” said Mbatha-Raw. “[D.C.] is a totally different world than L.A. or London.”
That it is, and yet on Saturday night, some of L.A. and London’s familiar faces showed up at the various media cocktail receptions ahead of the dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel. There was Michelle Dockery, Tom Hiddleston and Emma Watson representing the Brits, and then Hollywood-types Morgan Freeman, Rachel McAdams and Kendall Jenner - though even the president wasn’t sure why she was there. “We had a chance to meet backstage, she seems like a very nice young woman,” he said during his speech. “I’m not exactly sure what she does. But I’m told that my Twitter mentions are about to go through the roof.”
And every type of person in between was invited too, including Karlie Kloss, DJ Khaled, The Fat Jew, Hope Solo, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Cameron Dallas, the 21-year-old Vine star and new face of Calvin Klein.
“My mom thought it was a very important dinner to come to, so I made sure I was here,” said Dallas later at the MSNBC after party. Asked what he thought of the jokes, he offered up: “Some were funny, some were interesting, some were very political.”
Elsewhere at the MSBC shindig inside the United States Institute of Peace, Darren Criss and Al Sharpton watched a man making pancakes in the shape of presidential candidate’s faces. Harley Viera Newton DJ’ed - yet another New York party fixture flown down - or more likely, Acela'ed in - for the occasion.
But the most interesting thing happened around 1:30 a.m.: a fight broke loose between Jesse Watters, a correspondent for the O'Reilly Factor on Fox News and the Huffington Post's Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim. “They thought it was a Trump rally,” one guest dead-panned.
It was the type of scandal that the D.C. media world loves, but that most other guests promptly forgot. Besides, there was talk of a CAA after after party - Creative Artists Agency represents many of the correspondents.
“Wait...the Central Intelligence Agency?” asked one D.C. native, perplexed.
The don’t call it the Nerd Prom for nothing.