Finally, some stars came out at the Republican National Convention Tuesday night. Infiltrating enemy territory, a platoon of Hollywood actors took the stage at a Chelsea nightclub to support a safely nonpartisan issue: free speech. They quoted Thomas Jefferson, William O. Douglas, John Milton and even Madonna to rally support for the First Amendment at a gala hosted by the Creative Coalition, a non-profit arts advocacy group.
"Madonna said, 'Free speech is as good as sex,' " Giancarlo Esposito, an actor on Showtime's "Soul Food," and other TV series, told several hundred GOP revelers. They responded with light applause and subdued laughter. But when George Wendt of "Cheers" took his turn at the mike, they chanted, "Norm! Norm! Norm!" (everyone knows his crowd-pleasing character's name). Wendt quoted the immortal words of eccentric film director John Waters: "To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about."
Perhaps that isn't a maxim conservatives live by. But as Creative Coalition co-president Joe Pantoliano, a veteran actor perhaps best known as Ralphie on "The Sopranos," reminded everyone, "The First Amendment is not an amendment of convenience."
Though lacking the luminance of the A-list celebs who partied everywhere with the Democrats in Boston, the actors here -- among them, Joe Piscopo (surely you remember him from "Saturday Night Live"), Tim Blake Nelson (recently in "The Good Girl") and Richard Kind ("Spin City") -- did their best to bring star power to the GOP convention, where country-western singers Travis Tritt, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn have proved to be the biggest marquee names. Excepting, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who once had himself a little career in Hollywood. (The Governator didn't show at this party, attending his own bash in Central Park.)
"Everyone's having a good time," Pantoliano said at the bar while Max Weinberg's band brought dancers to the floor with hits such as "Love Train."
Weinberg, who serves as Conan O'Brien's bandleader, is also Bruce Springsteen's drummer. And, no, the Boss, a noted John Kerry supporter, didn't show either.
Revelers included Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), talk-show moderator John McLaughlin and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. In from Los Angeles, KABC-AM radio talk-show host Kim Serafin shared a VIP lounge booth with Fox News Channel's Rita Crosby and conservative film critic Michael Medved. Serafin regaled us with a story about the Chinese character tattooed on the small of her back: "It's Chinese for 'angel,' which is what my last name means. . . . But it's not so original. Every girl in L.A. has one there."
Cosby laughed and told us earnestly, "For the record, I have no tattoos."
We didn't think so.