“They’re all just very polite,” said Susan Davis, USA Today’s chief congressional correspondent and a 2015 Gridiron inductee. Saturday night, the club hosts its 130th annual white-tie dinner filled with musical numbers and very important people (the president) giving very silly speeches at the Renaissance Washington Hotel.
“There were no cloaks,” said Davis of her initiation last month. The ceremony at the Renaissance included iced tea, a banquet lunch and her official, gold Gridiron pin. “It was very civil,” she said. Sounds a lot like a very nice visit to see grandma and grandpa to us.
At 35, Davis is one of Gridiron’s youngest members, who include most of the, shall we say, veteran members of Washington’s press corps. After being nominated (and seconded) new members are voted on by committee. There can only be 65 active members, defined as journalists currently living and working in and around Washington at any given time. So to get in (there’s no angling or campaigning) an active member has to either die, move or leave the business.
You’re not supposed to know when you’re being inducted. But new members get the tip off when they’re asked to be in the lobby of the Renaissance at noon on a random weekday.
Of course, the real point of all this is the annual dinner, where hokey jokes meet super produced musical sketches backed by the U.S. Marine Band.
So, is she nervous about performing in front of some 650 people, including, you know, the president of the United States?
“Believe me, if you needed to have musical talent I would never would have gotten in,” said Davis who’s clocked something like 20 hours of rehearsal time in the past two weeks. Practices, she said, are pretty intense three-hour affairs held at the Renaissance. “Having a bar there helps,” she said.
The dinner isn’t completely “off the record” per se, but Facebooking and Tweeting isn’t allowed, not so much to protect the club’s secrecy but instead to promote its mission of civility and fellowship.
“I think they take that very seriously, and everything else is ridiculous. It’s just more about being in the moment,” said Davis. “The upside is there will be less pictures of me dancing in the cow suit on the Internet.”
Wait, what? There will be a cow suit involved?
According to Davis, it’s club tradition that new inductees sing and dance in some form of animal suit. Past neophytes had to suffer together in stuffy two-person horse costumes, but the buddy system was scrapped in recent years because it was too cumbersome. Davis called that a “small blessing.”