PHILADELPHIA — We are at a criminal justice panel in some sort of skyscraper office building, and California’s attorney general is talking about sentencing guidelines, and suddenly there is a piano onstage — what is happening? — and now one of the panelists is playing it, and the panelist is Alicia Keys. Alicia Keys was on this panel the whole darn time, hiding among the politicos here at the Democratic National Convention.
After a Republican fame dearth last week, this convention has produced a surfeit of celebrities. Instead of bringing in a political boss to unify the party, the Democrats brought in Sarah Silverman. Demi Lovato came onstage one night to talk about mental health issues. Chloë Grace Moretz was also scheduled as a speaker, to . . . to do what, exactly? To prove that the Democrats had stars to spare? Behold, Scott Baio will fight each one of you in turn.
At the CNN Grill, the one oasis of cool air and free beer in the vast sweltering concrete desert of Wells Fargo Center, Ashley Judd wanders through the door. “One friend told me I’d be a caged bird in the Senate,” the perpetual Senate-bid flirt tells us. “Another told me I’d be a songbird.”
She settles in at a long, empty table, doing — is that paperwork? Yup, turns out Judd is going back to school to get a PhD at the University of California at Berkeley. “Orientation begins in a couple of weeks,” she chirps. “Wooo.”
But there’s no time for homework now — here comes the gang: David Schwimmer, finally pompadour-free, accompanies “Book of Mormon’s” Josh Gad. Jake Tapper dines with Elizabeth Banks. Real journalists and sources schmooze at the bar, while fake ones (Alison Pill from “The Newsroom,” Reid Scott from “Veep”) pass around a communal Caprese salad nearby.
“I was told to not be surprised if people asked me about policy and s--- I know nothing about,” Scott tells us when we stop by, and then Judd says she has to swing by a party held by the Kentucky delegation: “I’ve got to see if anyone asks me to run.”
What makes someone an appropriate celebrity for the Democratic National Convention? It must be something about having the right alchemy — a connection to politics or a message of the moment. That must be why Tony Goldwyn is here, because he plays a U.S. president on “Scandal.” It must be why the camera keeps panning to Bernie supporter Susan Sarandon in the stands.
It must be why — no, there is apparently no cohesive plan, because then we go to a pro-D.C.-statehood lunch sponsored by the Creative Coalition, and the celebrities there include a random jib-jab of folks: the bald guy who played Hank on “Breaking Bad” and the young guy who played Artie on “Glee,” and the tiny lady who plays Maritza on “Orange Is the New Black,” and Billy Baldwin, who is looking more Alec-y every day.
Maybe they just ask whoever is available?
The Creative Coalition celebrities take their places at a table in a large hotel meeting room, while the other nonfamous guests gawk to see whether the celebrities will actually eat. Then they don’t eat, and a caterer flies back to the staging area whispering “Vegetarians!” But then the small OITNB lady starts to eat after all, dessert first, so everything is okay.
Idina Menzel is apparently here in Philadelphia, probably singing “Let It Go,” probably to Bernie Sanders supporters.
George Takei is on every press release we receive.
And these are just the people we can mingle with. Meryl Streep? Paul Simon? They have been in Philadelphia, but they are cosseted behind many velvet ropes and need never appear before the masses.
Rumor: The Clintons might be coming to a party hosted by the liquor lobby.
Fact: This rumor was started by the liquor lobby.
“You will want to do this,” the publicist emails one of us. “Surprise guests coming.”
“Secret Service may have closed the list,” he tells the other of us. “They had to do that because someone is going to show up.” [He waits for us to bite.] “The Clintons. The Clintons are going to try to make it.”
There is absolutely no way that the Clintons are coming to this party. (But what if they come to this party?)
We’re overbooked. Too many events. Should we draw straws? The loser must go harass celebrities on the red carpet at a party sponsored by the recording industry, and the winner must go wait for Schrödinger’s Clintons at the liquor lobby party; never mind, we are both losers.
At the liquor party, Ronan Farrow waits outside with microphone and camera for someone famous to interview. Was he told the Clintons were coming, too? Inside, there are a lot of small men with big bellies sipping on bourbon and listening to performances by Jason “Drive-By Truckers” Isbell and Joe “The Eagles” Walsh, whose Maserati did 185 and who lost his license and now doesn’t drive.
We learn that the two musical headliners at this party thrown by the liquor lobby are both in recovery.
The Clinton rumor has been downgraded: Now it’s not “the Clintons,” it’s “a” Clinton, and maybe Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Over at the recording-industry party, we hear Nelly isn’t walking the red carpet, but other VIPs are, including “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” alum Jazzy Jeff. So we get to the music hall and Jazzy Jeff is not just walking the red carpet, he is the whole red carpet. It is a long red carpet and . . . Jazzy Jeff.
“We have Jeff for you, if you would like,” a publicist whispers.
Mr. Jazzy. Tell us about how you ended up here.
“I started this morning in Newcastle, England,” he begins, and we realize that he thinks we meant “Literally, like what flights were you on?” but then it’s okay because now he’s politely chatting about how the best Philadelphia cheesesteak is this little place on South Street. Oh, right! We forgot Jazzy Jeff was from this city.
“Yes,” he says.
From West Philadelphia, in fact. Born and raised. On the playground is where he spent most of his days. Then he goes inside and begins to spin a mix of dad music, including a mash-up of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Africa” by Toto.
“There will be Clintons, dammit,” the one of us trapped at the booze bash texts the other.
“Should I come meet you there?” the other writes back.
“What if they were talking about George Clinton?”
Quick, to the Funny or Die Party in Center City, where it turns out we are not on the list, and where we will spend the next 15 minutes pretending to check our phone, creeping out security guards, and wondering whether that short guy in the vestibule is Aziz Ansari.
Back at the liquor party, the night is winding down. Ronan Farrow left. Dick Durbin (Ill.) is here, though. So is Chris Murphy (Conn.). Two senators, so that’s something. Celebrities in their own right at this convention.
The Clintons never came.