Move it to a Friday night (for the first time), bring a celebrity bartender to the after-party, and the night is guaranteed to go long. The Radio-TV Correspondents’ dinner festivities didn’t break until several hours after midnight.
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The MSNBC-thrown after-party, attended by Obama advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, among others, had a different vibe than Fox’s fondly remembered 2004 disco affair: more cocktails and comfort-food. Contessa Brewer’s black dress, with its open back, was one of the more daring of the evening and drew admirers; her lengthy conversation with NBC News president Steve Capus had some guessing. The special drinks that Rachel Maddow was mixing up behind the bar — including her “signature cocktail” the Hearst (gin, sweet vermouth and bitters) — must have been potent: The last of the NBC junior staffers trickled out after 3 a.m.
As for the dinner itself, the reviews are in: President Obama was pretty funny. Then again, it’s hard to know — it could be just another manifestation of that whole being-in-bed-with-the-press phenomenon that he poked fun at in his remarks last night. “Why bother hanging out with celebrities when I can spend time with people who make me one?” Obama said, comparing the RTCA event to the Hollywood celeb-studded White House Correspondents Association dinner in May.
Unlike the WHCD, there was no one line that everyone grabbed on to, but the papers, Twitterers and bloggers found plenty to like, although they appear to be tiring of his frequent jokes about chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s colorful vocabulary. (Last night’s: “In Egypt, we had the opportunity to tour the pyramids. And by now, I’m sure you’ve all seen the pictures of Rahm on that camel. I admit, I was a little nervous about the whole situation. I said at the time, ‘This is a wild animal known to bite, kick and spit. And who knows what the camel could do.’ “)
He got pick up for his one about health-care reform, in which he noted that he had gained the American Medical Association’s support and then added: “It proves true the old expression that it’s easier to catch flies with honey. And if honey doesn’t work, feel free to use an open palm and a swift, downward wrist motion,” a reference to his fly-killing skills exhibited in a recent CNBC interview.
And they even repeated his joke at their expense: “But you probably wouldn’t understand the concept of troubled industries, working as you do in radio and television,” with the audience groans inspiring him to add: “What, I can’t joke about that?”
Ousted Miss California Carrie Prejean, a guest of Fox News, appeared to be the biggest celebrity in the Hollywood mold, along with Tate Donovan (“Damages,” “The O.C.”) But with no red carpet, it was hard for some to tell as they scanned the crowd. Many attendees had a jury’s-still-out reaction to the move to the Convention Center, although the extra bathrooms and better Internet access, compared to the Hilton, were plusses for some.
The paucity of non-D.C. boldface names and the dinner’s first appearance on a Friday night made for less frenzy and a more laid-back clubby affair. “PC” guy John Hodgman from the Mac ads got mostly raves from the Twitterati (with a few dissenters) for getting Obama to flash the “live long and prosper” Vulcan salute, in his why-Obama-is-the-“first nerd President of the modern era” speech that marked a decided detour from traditional comedian topical humor fare.