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Posted at 11:16 AM ET, 05/ 1/2010

Correspondents' Dinner weekend: The Friday party scene

By Jen Chaney

'Entourage's' Adrian Grenier (in blue) chats at Friday night's Funny or Die party. (Jen Chaney for TWP)

On the night before Nerd Prom -- otherwise known as the party-filled Friday evening prior to Saturday's White House Correspondents' Dinner -- every famous person I talk to seems beyond happy to be in Washington, D.C. Don't they know this city, lovely as it is, is filled with wonky, public policy-debating nerds?

Actually, for at least some celebrities, that seems to be the appeal.

Shortly after making my way into the People/Time magazine party at the St. Regis Hotel, I find myself at the far end of the bar, listening to Steven Weber -- former star of "Wings," current star of "Happy Town" -- talk about how excited he is to be in the presence of so much political and media star power.

"There's Andrea Mitchell over there. I'm kvelling," he gushes, gesturing toward the NBC correspondent, who is huddled a few feet away with Time columnist (and "Anonymous" "Primary Colors" author) Joe Klein. Weber says he really hopes to meet Brian Lamb of C-Span at some point during the weekend. And he's not kidding. "I'm a C-Span junkie," he confesses.

(During a later conversation Weber tells me he met that guy who's always on MSNBC, Chris Something. "Chris Matthews?" I guess. No. Turns out he means the Post's Chris Cillizza. Even my own colleagues are celebrities at this event.)

Everyone in the hotel bar -- and on the adjacent, outdoor terrace, which becomes the epicenter of the party on this exceedingly warm last night in April -- is in a pleasant, politically conscious mood, even if they're not quite as amped-up as Weber.

I corner Matthew Morrison (Mr. Schuester! From "Glee"!) while he's choking down a tiny plate of appetizers, and he notes that the weekend may mark his fourth time meeting President Obama. He says he likes Washington, and is interested in playing more of a role in advocating for arts education. He's also equally happy to share the fact that he and his manager, a University of Maryland alum, spent the previous night at a fraternity house in College Park playing beer pong. Oh, to be able to chuck tiny balls into plastic cups with that guy.

Thievery Corporation -- aka DJs Rob Garza (left) and Eric Hilton -- spin records at the Funny or Die? party. (Jen Chaney for TWP)

Who else is at the People party? Gayle King floats in a few steps behind Academy Award nominee and recent SNL host Gabourey Sidibe. Sidibe later parks herself permanently at the far end of the terrace, where I overhear her confess to another party guest that she watches "Jersey Shore." Several actors who work closely with the Creative Coalition -- its co-president, Tim Daly, Richard Schiff, Wendie Malick, Cheryl Hines -- are here, as is "Gossip Girl" star Chace Crawford, who joins Morrison at a table outside, forming the party's vortex of hotness.

But after a couple of beef sliders and a decision to bypass People's swag bag -- because of a. journalism ethics and b. the fact that it appears to weigh 55 pounds -- I grab a cab and head west on M Street to the Funny or Die party.

Co-sponsored by the Impact Film Fund and (full disclosure, kids!) The Washington Post, this is a late-night affair held in Cady's Alley in an empty space that used to be a bathtub store. Tonight, though, it's tricked out with swank bars, TV screens playing Funny or Die videos on a loop and the text of the First Amendment -- the party is technically called The First Amendment Party -- projected onto a wall. This soiree is hip. How do I know? Because it's so freaking dark in here, I can't even see the color of the cocktails the waitresses are offering.

This party starts out slow, but improves as the hour gets later. Terrence Howard sequesters himself in the back corner of the upper level of the venue, which I am told is the VIP area. Evidence of that fact: there is a card on a table near the couch where Howard sits that bluntly states: "Reserved: Talent."

Howard chats amiably but only for a quick minute; when asked why he has returned to D.C. for his third Correspondents' Dinner, he says, "It's the one time when everyone lets their hair down. You get to see and hear what they really think."

Zipping from the VIP area to the jam-packed balcony, we encounter Angela Kinsey from "The Office" who is happily obliging requests for photos. She is a Correspondents' Dinner newbie and says she just loves the idea of any patriotic event. "I'm cheesy like that," she admits. She looks almost like she does on TV: petite and pretty, but with her lips much less frequently pursed than Angela's.

The night goes on. Tony Romo shows up. So does Adrian Grenier. I spend a very delightful 15 minutes in a corner with Zach Galifianakis, wearing a gray blazer and sporting a beard that's been appropriately trimmed for the weekend's formal occasions. He notes that he may have confused another guest at the New Yorker party earlier in the evening. Apparently a woman asked if Galifianakis knew any Greek and he responded "Only racial slurs." She didn't seem to understand that he was kidding. Oh, Washingtonians. Why so serious?

Crawford and Morrison show up and the gawking in the VIP area gets so out-of-control that ropes are put in place to keep the riff-raff away from the Talent. Meanwhile Thievery Corporation continues to spin killer tunes, champagne cocktails continue to be sipped and on the dance floor, right in front of me, Elisabeth Shue and husband/filmmaker Davis Guggenheim bump, grind and, briefly, make out. Good for them.

But just as things start getting into a late-night groove, the party winds down. Grenier leaves the building. So does Morrison. And then I do, too.


From the Scene: Going to tonight's dinner? Send us your party pics.

Gallery: White House Correspondents' Dinner Through the Years

By Jen Chaney  | May 1, 2010; 11:16 AM ET
Categories:  White House Correspondents' Association Dinner  
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