D.C. is an awkward city at the best of times. It is full of people, and people tend to be awkward. People in D.C. have the added impediment of believing (either correctly or not) that they are engaged in Deeply Important Work, and this tends to make them more awkward still.
Introduce celebrities into the mix, and this can turn into a jungle quickly. This is why the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the legendary Nerd Prom that comes but once a year, where all the faceless bylines flock moth-like around the visiting luminaries they have binge-watched on Netflix, can be such a slobbering debacle. An anonymous source told the Hollywood Reporter that “there are way too many A-listers who have had pretty weird experiences at the dinner.” It’s gotten to the point where we might be scaring them away!
People who in the ordinary course of their days are classy, self-possessed and put-together adults, capable of forming coherent sentences and going for hours at a time without wedging our feet into our mouths, transform instantly into gibbering drink-spilling buffoons in the presence of celebrities.
People are always saying that D.C. is Hollywood for Ugly People. They would not say this if they had ever seen D.C. around actual celebrities. Suddenly, we completely and entirely run out of things to say, even those of us whose job it is to say things for a living.
Within moments of being introduced to Actual Celebrities, we run out of words and have to fall back on such standards as, “Nice face” and “I see that you have legs” and “So method acting, huh, is that still a thing? Are you method acting now? ‘Cause if so it seems like you’re doing a good job maybe you could incorporate me in the process I have plenty of experience with methods or some such. Use lots of methods in my work.”
“YOU,” we say. Silence ensues. “YOU!” we say again.
We know, in theory, that we aren’t supposed to stroll up to celebrities and droolingly announce, “YOU WERE BY FAR THE BEST PART OF ‘CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER’ EXCEPT FOR ALL THE EXTERIOR SHOTS OF D.C. THAT WERE OF ACTUAL D.C. LOCATIONS, SOMETHING THAT ‘SCANDAL’ DOES LESS WELL.” But in practice, it’s much harder to resist. Also, “My grandmother is a big fan of your work” never sounds like quite the compliment you wanted it to.
It took the celebrities a while to figure this out.
You can see how they might be confused. Fictional Washington is “in” these days. And Fictional Washington is not like this at all. From “House of Cards” to “Scandal,” Fictional Washington is populated by sexy journalists with excellent body tone and low, smoky voices who drink straight whiskey in wood-paneled rooms, crisis managers in impeccable coats, and political wheeler-dealers with flawless tailoring and a ready word for any situation.
This bears little resemblance to actual life.
Yes, there’s “Veep,” but that doesn’t count. “Veep” is not fictional Washington. “Veep” is real Washington. And the only thing cringier than watching Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s fictional vice president Selina Meyer interact with “normals” is watching Real Washington trying to play it cool with Actual Celebrities.
Still, we should try. All this TV exposure has been crafted expressly to give us the benefit of the doubt when we run into real celebrities, who may mistakenly assume we are suave and put-together, like our fictional counterparts. The trick is not to do anything that might ruin the illusion. Surely we can do that for one weekend? It’s such a short time.
We have it in us! Somewhere!