WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two secretaries of state, actress Tea Leoni and former diplomat Madeleine Albright, arrived arm in arm as a wide mix of Hollywood and Washington players gathered for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, in what many attendees self-proclaim as “Nerd Prom.”
Leoni, who plays the chief U.S. diplomat on TV’s “Madam Secretary,” was part of an entourage Saturday evening with Albright, the first female secretary of state. The two joked that they trade notes on acting.
The dinner has become a celebrity magnet, this year drawing some big names from television, sports and movies to rub shoulders with members of Congress and to hear the president speak. It has grown to become one of Washington’s biggest events since its smaller origins in 1914 when journalists gathered to push for greater access to the president.
The event is also a night the president does stand-up comedy to raise money for scholarships for young journalists – and provides tongue-in-cheek payback for those already on the job as well as political opponents.
A few of the presidential zingers U.S. President Barack Obama tossed out Saturday night:
“Washington celebrates itself. Somebody’s got to do it.”
“Just this week Michele Bachmann actually predicted that I would bring about the biblical end of days. Now, that’s a legacy.”
“I have one friend … just a few weeks ago she was making millions of dollars a year, and she’s now living out of a van in Iowa,” Obama joked about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is currently campaigning for president.
“After the midterm elections, my advisers asked me, ‘Mr. President, do you have a bucket list?'” he told those attending the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents’ Association.
“And I said, well, I have something that rhymes with bucket list …”
“Take executive action on immigration? Bucket! New regulations? Bucket!”
Noting that “Saturday Night Live” cast member and the dinner’s featured performer Cecily Strong impersonates CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin, Obama said that’s surprising, “Usually the only people impersonating journalists on CNN are journalists on CNN.”
Strong had her own list of zingers, aiming them at C-SPAN, which broadcasts the event, the Secret Service, NBC and its news anchor Brian Williams, the upcoming presidential election and the President’s gray hair.
Alfre Woodard, who plays the president on NBC’s “State of Affairs,” said she enjoys hearing President Barack Obama’s humor because “with him, it comes out of nowhere and it’s very dry, and he does have a wicked sense of humor.”
Celebrities in attendance:
The wide array of celebrity guests included actors from other popular political dramas as well, including Kerry Washington and Darby Stanchfield from ABC’s “Scandal.” The mix of politicians, the media and Hollywood celebrities was surreal, Stanchfield said.
Much of ABC’s “Modern Family” cast also joined the party, along with would-be presidential candidate and reality TV star Donald Trump.
Politics was also on the mind for attendees as another presidential election approaches. Jane Fonda said she thinks it will be a tough campaign but that Hillary Clinton is strong, “and she can take it.”
Newswoman Katie Couric said she warned her husband the dinner would be a crazy mob scene “full of a lot of great people, a lot of self-important people, some celebrities, and it’s fun.”
Gayle King of CBS This Morning said she doesn’t understand why people call this the “nerd prom,” though.
“I’m thinking ‘where are the nerds?'” she said. “These are people who are at the top of their game who really enjoy meeting other people. It’s great.”
Olympians Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, who have become popular commentators for NBC’s Olympic coverage, joined the network for the Washington event for the first time and walked carefully on the red carpet. Lipinski said she was honored to attend, and Weir said the entire spectacle was “pretty amazing.”
“We’re just so excited to be here to celebrate being one with our media brothers and sisters and really celebrating the spirit of the night and the spirit of what we all do in entertaining and educating the world,” Weir said