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Posted at 11:01 AM ET, 05/ 2/2010

White House Correspondents' Dinner: Navigating the fever dream of famous faces

By Jen Chaney

Jon Bon Jovi, meet the Rev. Al Sharpton. (AP)
Photo Galleries: Red carpet | Dinner

The amount of star power ratcheted up a few notches at this year's White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, where at least one representative from virtually every current, mainstream American pop culture phenomenon joined the swirling, overheated mass of humanity inside the Washington HIlton.

A cast member from "Iron Man 2"? Check. (Scarlett Johansson, in a pink dress and hair teased to the high heavens.)

Someone from "American Idol"? Check. (Ryan Seacrest.)

"Glee"? Bingo. (Matthew Morrison, once again getting mobbed by fans.)

The "Hurt Locker"? Uh-huh. (Jeremy Renner and Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow.)

"Lost"? Of course! (Co-creator and executive producer J.J. Abrams.)

Justin Bieber? Yes, represented in the form of ... Mr. Tween Heartthrob/Perpetually Trending Twitter Topic himself.

There is a fever dream-like quality to navigating this event. Only in a flu-induced haze would one ever expect to see Charlie Rose, Seth MacFarlane, Jessica Alba, Steven Spielberg, Larry King, Demi Lovato and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in the same party space.

So what makes all these Hollywood A-listers (and B-listers) so eager to come to Washington to dine on filet mignon in a massive underground ballroom with President Obama?

"It seemed odd that I would get invited," admits director/producer Judd Apatow, a guest of the New Yorker and a man who knows a thing or two about what happens when freaks get together with geeks. "I'm two bad movies away from never getting invited again. So I wanted to take advantage of it while it was offered."

That's probably the most honest answer we get all night, and the real reason Hollywood people show up, no matter what they may say about patriotism or their passion for arts advocacy. They got invited and thought, that's cool. Why not?

Apatow then shows off a picture of himself with Michael Steele -- the Republican National Committee Chairman that Obama would later refer to in his dinner speech as the "Notorious G.O.P." -- taken earlier in the evening on Apatow's digital camera. What the heck did those two talk about?

"We talked about how I think he's funny," Apatow says. "People don't get that he's funny."

These cultural collisions are what give the dinner that social train wreck quality that, frankly, you just don't find at the Oscars. It's why Betty White is seated happily a few chairs over from Eric Holder.

"I've never felt such energy at an event," she says. "I cannot believe I'm sitting at the same table with the Attorney General. It's rather mind-boggling."

It's why former Secretary of State Colin Powell tells me he almost got run over earlier in the evening by a Jonas brother.

It's also why recently elected Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and one of his very attractive daughters are fawning over Bradley Cooper in the middle of the dining room, making it difficult for servers to get by with their heaping trays of food. I ask Cooper about the weirdest Hollywood-meets-D.C. pairing he's seen so far that evening. We stare at each other for a few beats while he thinks.

"Hey, this is just like our interview," he says, referring to the movie trivia game in which both of us spent an inordinate amount of time staring at each other while trying to come up with answers. Any excuse to look at the guy, right? (He promises to share a weird spotting with me later in the evening if he thinks of something. It never happens.)

While doing a full-court press in the high-wattage center of the dining room, I spot Spielberg, wife Kate Capshaw, Michelle Pfeiffer and husband David E. Kelley at one table, Abrams at another. I say hey to Jimmy Fallon, who is just as adorably perky in person. I ask Bill Maher for his take on Obama's speech at the University of Michigan earlier in the day, in which he characterized the current political climate as poisonous.

"Poisonous?" Maher says, feigning shock. "At least the problem has finally been identified. Alert the media."

I chat with Alec Baldwin, who, not surprisingly, has nothing but praise for the President in this so-called poisonous environment.

"I am very admiring of Obama for keeping his cool," he says.

Then the dinner begins, and the President does his comedy routine. And pretty much everyone in the room is admiring Obama because the dude is funny. (I laugh hardest at the joke he makes at Jay Leno's expense, in which he explained why he chose to speak before the night's official talent: "We've all seen what happens when somebody takes the time slot after Leno's.")

Leno follows with a video clip-heavy routine, and gets laughs, although not nearly as many hearty ones as Obama.

After the dinner, I slide into the ladies' room behind "ER" alumnae Julianna Margulies (in a beautiful purple gown) and Gloria Reubens. "Curb Your Enthusiasm's" Cheryl Hines and "Today" co-host Meredith Viera wind up in there a few moments later. Consensus in the ladies' room: Obama rocked to a much greater degree than Leno. "Modern Family's" Julie Bowen breezes by as I walk out, shouting politely that she's just running in to fix her make-up and not cutting in line. Love that woman.)

CNN's Wolf Blitzer echoes the restroom verdict when I catch him a short time later at Capitol File's after-party. "Tonight, the President was funnier than Jay Leno."

Of course, every bold-facer in town goes to the Bloomberg/Vanity Fair after-party, which is being covered by our Reliable Source colleagues. So I wander around Cap File's lavish bash at the Mayflower for a little while and try to spot who I can spot. I see Dominic West and Sonja Sohn from "The Wire." A friend reports that both Ewan McGregor and Kim Kardashian were here earlier, but left, undoubtedly to go to Vanity Fair.

I do a couple of passes through the VIP balcony area, and spot Aasif Mandvi from "The Daily Show" but the '80s music the DJ is blaring ("Let's Hear It for the Boy"? Really?) is so ear-burstingly loud, it's a little hard to talk to anyone.

Dennis Quaid arrives well after midnight. As I attempt to Tweet this fact, I wipe out on some steps and nearly sprain an ankle.

A near Twitter accident? Yeah, that's when you know it's time to call it quits on this year's fun and decidedly surreal White House Correspondents' Dinner.

More: Full coverage | Were you there? Submit your celeb sighting pix.

By Jen Chaney  | May 2, 2010; 11:01 AM ET
Categories:  White House Correspondents' Association Dinner  
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Comments

This should be known as the "who cares bowl"

Posted by: farmsnorton | May 2, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Here is my report on the Wines of the evening, from Benzinger
http://www.schiller-wine.blogspot.com/2010/05/benziger-wines-served-at-2010-green.html

Posted by: cgeschiller | May 2, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Shiller wines is right.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 3, 2010 7:37 AM | Report abuse

Very disappointed in the quality of the pics of Scarlett Johansson They don't show off her shoes very well. And we all know what big feet she has.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 3, 2010 7:40 AM | Report abuse

Good times! I wish I could have been there.

By the by, does WaPo cover Twitter-related injuries?

Posted by: Bawlmer51 | May 3, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Just wanted to give a big shout out to my fellow Avon Walkers who got to "crash" the party at the Washington Hilton after walking 26.2 in the first 1/2 of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. We walked into the hotel behind Tom Brokaw and "ran into" Rahm Emanual and Sheri Sheppard. One of my teammates walked in beside Bon Jovi! They only had one entrance to the hotel open so it was pretty funny to see all these beautifully dressed actors, gov't peeps and news folks followed behind really sweaty, hot, dressed in pink walkers! We decided to believe the crowd was really cheering for us!

Posted by: Dukegirl | May 3, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

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