The lead up to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner is typically defined by a mad scramble for tickets to the event and the many cocktail parties, brunches and mini-concerts that surround it.
This year, that’s especially the case, as it will be President Barack Obama’s final appearance at the Washington Hilton fete.
While there has from time to time been friction between the administration and the press corps, Obama has not missed a dinner, and has consistently scored with his delivery of one-liners and comedy bits. It also tends to put the featured entertainer in the unenviable position of following the president.
“I think it will be generations before we see a president better at it than Obama,” Seth Meyers, who performed at the 2011 dinner, said in a recent interview.
Steve Scully, C-SPAN’s political editor, said that Obama “has a really keen comedic ear. He has really moved it up a level with his performance.”
“For this president, they start planning on this weeks and weeks in advance,” Scully said. “He really puts a lot of time and effort into it. For whoever succeeds him, he has set a pretty high standard.”
This year, Obama’s team appears to have some kind of video bit in the works. A recent White House pool report noted the presence of a disc-shaped, 360-degree camera set up in the briefing room and also on the South Lawn for the president’s departure by helicopter.
Larry Wilmore, host of Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show,” is this year’s featured entertainer.
The dinner is now far more than the Saturday night event, which is officially a scholarship and awards banquet for the White House Correspondents’ Assn., albeit one that routinely draws a collection of cabinet officials, media news stars and a handful of Hollywood A-listers.
It is still an opportunity for correspondents to mix with their sources, but it started to draw a significant contingent from entertainment during the years of the Clinton presidency, as media outlets tried to outdo each other with big-name guests.
It’s the only time of the year that C-SPAN is in the mix along with “Entertainment Tonight” in covering red carpet arrivals (which the public affairs channel started in 2011), and it is an entire weekend of about two dozen other parties and functions, starting on Thursday night and running through Sunday afternoon.
Patrick Gavin, who directed a documentary about the weekend called “Nerd Prom,” said that what has changed during the Obama years is “scope and size.”
“It has become a really big business opportunity too, if you were trying to market something or establish yourself as a media brand,” he said. “You can get your product in front of some incredibly powerful people, and show the influence and moxie you have.”
A few years back a PR firm tried out a gifting suite, the type that are pervasive in the week before the Oscars or at the Sundance Film Festival. But that was too much for the White House Correspondents’ Assn., which sent a cease-and-desist letter objecting to the use of their name in connection with the lounge.
While the celebrity mix has cooled off a bit from the early Obama years, there seem to be no fewer events.
On Thursday is the Bytes & Bylines party, hosted by Allen Gannett, Eric Kuhn, John McCarthy and Susanna Quinn at the residence of H.E. Ramon Gil-Casares, the ambassador of Spain to the United States. The event is a mix of tech executives, political figures and media types.
Also that evening, Independent Journal Review is teaming with Tinder and Rock the Vote for a “Swipe the Vote” party on the rooftop of the W Hotel.
On Friday, a number of media outlets are continuing their tradition of hosting pre-WHCD receptions, including The New Yorker (at the W), Time-People (at the St. Regis Hotel) and The Hill and “Extra” (at the Canadian Embassy). The Creative Coalition will host their annual Night Before “supper suite” benefit at STK Washington DC.
Variety is co-sponsoring an event with The Washington Post and SAG AFTRA called A Celebration of Journalism at the Post headquarters.
Google and HBO are teaming for an event at the Renwick Gallery, with Bryan Cranston and Jay Roach scheduled to attend. Cranston plays Lyndon Johnson in Roach’s upcoming HBO project “All the Way.”
Talent manager Eric Podwall is hosting his annual party at Sheppard, Top Chef Spike Mendelsohn’s pop-up speakeasy at Dupont Circle. Tony Romo, Matthew Morrison, Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg and JC Chasez are expected to attend.
Later in the evening, Funny or Die and UTA are hosting their annual “No sponsors. No cameras. No press. No hassle” event at an undisclosed D.C. location.
On Saturday, Tammy Haddad, Hilary Rosen, Kevin Sheekey and David Adler are among the hosts of the annual Garden Brunch, an event that outgrew Haddad’s home and moved to the Beall-Washington Home, owned by businessman Mark Ein, one of the co-hosts.
The WHCA dinner, held in the cavernous ballroom of the Washington Hilton, starts with a frenzy of pre-parties at the hotel hosted by major news organizations, and producing the unexpected mix of government and glitter. Last year, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia sipped a martini as he chatted with a mix of folks at the ABC News party.
This year, the National Press Club is hosting a viewing party at its 14th Street headquarters for those who can’t get a ticket to the dinner — or who aren’t into the crowd scene.
Later in the evening, Bloomberg and Vanity Fair host one of the most exclusive after-parties, and MSNBC hosts its annual post-dinner event at the Institute of Peace.
That’s not all. On Sunday are a series of brunches, including those hosted by Politico, CNN and Thomson Reuters.
The weekend is not all about schmoozing. On Friday, Politico is hosting a lunchtime conversation at the Newseum with Billy Eicher, host of “Billy in the Street”; Mike Farah, president of production at Funny or Die; and David Litt, head writer and producer for Funny or Die DC, with Politico’s Mike Allen moderating.
At the White House, members of the cast of CBS’s “Mom” are participating in a “Champions of Change” event to recognize individuals who have worked to prevent drug abuse and support recovery. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Michael Botticelli, director of National Drug Control Policy, are scheduled to speak.
Not expected this weekend: Donald Trump.
He will undoubtedly be the focus of one-liners, as he was in 2011. That was the year that he was considering a bid for the presidency, and went to the dinner to find that he was the target of some of Obama’s and Meyers’ most memorable dinners. He recently told The Hill that he doesn’t trust the press to report correctly whether he can have good humor about it all. “I would have a good time and the press would say I look like I wasn’t having a good time,” he said.