Have you heard the one about the roomful of elite Washington journalists rubbing shoulders with the city’s power players?
Of course you have. The annual ritual of the Gridiron Dinner, with its white-tie dress code, creaky jokes, and hokey song-and-dance acts performed by the Fourth Estate, might seem as anachronistic as bipartisan socializing. Still, it’s going strong in its 129th year.
On Saturday night at the Renaissance Washington Hotel, Secretary of State John Kerry filled the headliner’s slot usually reserved for the president (President Obama has attended twice, but bowed out of this year’s festivities). And we’re told by even the skeptical journos in the audience that the SecState put in an impressive performance, greeting the crowd by telling them it was “so nice to put faces to the metadata.” (Government surveillance: it can be funny!)
Kerry, in keeping with the Gridiron’s roast-y traditions, in which the speakers take good-natured shots at themselves and one another, first offered an appetizer course of self-deprecation by poking fun at his own wealth. “White tie and tails — or as we call it at our house, workout gear,” Kerry joked, according to prepared remarks. “Or as we call it at our other house, pajamas. … Or as we call it at our other house, swimming costumes.”
And then he served up the entree, in which he moved on to joshing the evening’s other speakers, former Florida governor Charlie Crist (D) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), with inside-baseball punchlines.
“Is Charlie Crist still here?” Kerry asked. “I had to check — he’s always so quick to leave a party.” Of course, everyone in the room knows Crist as a perennially tan party-switcher. “You were great tonight, Charlie — or, as the people of Florida call you, ‘that nice young man.’ Of course, we Vietnam vets just call you ‘Agent Orange.'”
Of Cruz, Kerry offered this zinger, which was only a zinger if you knew (as surely the well-heeled crowd did) about the Republicans’ many State of the Union rebuttals: “Ted Cruz was also really funny. But this is the first time in Gridiron history that the Republicans asked for time to respond to the Republican speech.”
Kerry’s raciest line of the night came during a tribute to his predecessor at Foggy Bottom. “Ted and Charlie are tough acts to follow,” Kerry said. “But no one was harder to follow than Hillary Clinton. Not since J. Edgar Hoover has a presidential appointee left such high heels to fill.”
Cruz, whose appearance in such a clubby venue might seem at odds with his image as a Washington outsider, got off a few funny bits himself. “I’ve been thrown out of our Senate lunches, so it’s really nice to be invited to dinner,” he joked.
And Crist referred to himself as a “person” of color” and ribbed Cruz’s fans as wearers of “tri-cornered aluminum-foil hats.”
Among the skits performed by journalists mocking both parties, we’re told a number spoofing New Jersey Gov. Chris Cristie’s recent “Bridgegate” scandal got laughs. Sung to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feelin’ Groovy,” the lyrics, “Hello, Fort Lee/ How’s it flowing? /I’ve come to watch your gridlock growing,” were made particularly funny by use of sight gags — new Gridiron members Bret Baier of Fox News and NBC News Washington bureau chief Ken Strickland appeared onstage sporting an elaborate getup as the George Washington Bridge.
This year marked the 129th Gridiron dinner, held by the exclusive Gridiron Club, which has 65 members. This year’s event drew more than 640 guests, organizers said, including members of the Cabinet, military brass, White House aides, administration officials, “plus two senators, a governor and 10 ambassadors.”
Guests also included Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert and tennis legend Martina Navratilova.
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