The care and feeding of celebrity guests has become a crucial if often overlooked skills set in Washington. Yeah, it’s great if you can decorate your White House Correspondents’ dinner table or party with a Hollywood star or seven — builds buzz, impresses your corporate clients — but have you stopped to ask if the stars are happy?
Last year, we watched Charlize Theron hustle out of the humid, overcrowded National Journal/Impact Arts + Film Fund party after some uncomfortable time in a roped-off VIP pen, throngs of partiers clustered around its edges to stare and reach for her like a petting-zoo animal. This year, Impact Arts + Film Fund — one of the savviest celebrity-wrangling party hosts in town — went in a completely different direction for its Friday night party with the comedy Web video folks Funny or Die: “The No Sponsor, No Cameras, No Press, No Hassle Party.”
Only 150 guests, instead of 800. The secret location, divulged to guests at the last minute, of Hogo, a small rum bar in Shaw, rather than a cavernous nightclub-like basement. Impact Film’s Kimball Stroud kept the guest list low by shedding their usual corporate/media co-hosts (the only sponsor was Distilled Spirits Council, which provided the booze). As for the “no press” promise: Well, Stroud didn’t truly violate the spirit of White House Correspondent’s weekend – the room was filled with attractive young media types – but she did oblige guests not to tweet or file stories until after the fact, and there were no paparazzi.
“We wanted to keep it simple, and it worked,” she told us. “Made it really comfortable for the celebrities, which was the main priority.”
And yes, the celebrities — Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis; “Portlandia” stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein; “Homeland’s” Navid Negahban; “1600 Penn’s” Josh Gad; “Homeland’s” Morena Baccarin name a few – seemed happy, many lingering well after 1 a.m.
Speaking of which, there’s a way to make celebrities comfortable at these things.
How not to do it: “AHHHHHHH! It’s you!!!!! Lady Mary!!!” screamed a journalist friend, encountering “Downton Abbey’s” Michelle Dockery in the radiantly alabaster-skinned flesh.
Better: “I’m really enjoying the work you’re doing on the show,” Josh Radnor, star of “How I Met Your Mother,” said simply yet genuinely as he gave Corey Stoll a manly handshake; Stoll – the compromised young congressman on “House of Cards” – nodded appreciatively. You see? Do unto the celebrities as they would have done unto each other.