Laverne Cox, ‘Modern Family’ cast among guests at Obama’s ‘Nerd Prom’

WASHINGTON (AP) – Two secretaries of state, Tea Leoni and Madeleine Albright, arrived arm in arm April 25 as a wide mix of Hollywood and Washington players gathered for the national “Nerd Prom.”

The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner has become a celebrity magnet, this year drawing some big names from television, sports and movies to rub shoulders with members of Congress and to hear the president speak. It has grown to become one of Washington’s biggest events since its smaller origins in 1914 when journalists gathered to push for greater access to the president.

Leoni, who plays the nation’s chief diplomat on TV’s Madam Secretary, was part of an entourage with Albright, the first female secretary of state. The two joked that they trade notes on acting. They arrived with CBS’ Bob Schieffer and Leoni’s TV husband, Tim Daly. But Daly claimed Albright as his own.

“She’s my White House Correspondents’ Dinner girlfriend,” he said. “We met here, and we sat together one year, and now she’s officially my date, so I’m a lucky guy.”

The wide array of celebrity guests included actors from other popular political dramas as well, including Kerry Washington and Darby Stanchfield from ABC’s Scandal. The mix of politicians, the media and Hollywood celebrities was surreal, Stanchfield said.

“I’ve been taking notes, actually,” she said.

Alfre Woodard, who plays the president on NBC’s State of Affairs, said she enjoys hearing President Barack Obama’s humor because “with him, it comes out of nowhere and it’s very dry, and he does have a wicked sense of humor.”

Much of ABC’s Modern Family cast also joined the party, along with would-be presidential candidate and reality TV star Donald Trump.

Recent news was also the talk of the red carpet, including the TV special where Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner revealed on national television that he identifies as a woman. Laverne Cox, a transgender actress known for her role on Orange is the New Black, said viewers who saw Jenner’s story saw “a beautiful human being who cares deeply about their family, who’s a parent and at 65 can no longer live a lie.”

“I think that’s someone everyone can relate to,” Cox said. “Stepping and living into our truths is something all of us must do.”

Politics was also on the mind for attendees as another presidential election approaches. Jane Fonda said she thinks it will be a tough campaign but that Hillary Clinton is strong, “and she can take it.”

Newswoman Katie Couric said she warned her husband the dinner would be a crazy mob scene “full of a lot of great people, a lot of self-important people, some celebrities, and it’s fun.”

Gayle King of CBS This Morning said she doesn’t understand why people call this the “nerd prom,” though.

“I’m thinking `where are the nerds?'” she said. “These are people who are at the top of their game who really enjoy meeting other people. It’s great.”

Olympians Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, who have become popular commentators for NBC’s Olympic coverage, joined the peacock network for the Washington event for the first time and walked carefully on the red carpet. Lipinski said she was honored to attend, and Weir said the entire spectacle was “pretty amazing.”

“We’re just so excited to be here to celebrate being one with our media brothers and sisters and really celebrating the spirit of the night and the spirit of what we all do in entertaining and educating the world,” Weir said.

The dinner also drew attention on social media, though some pointed out news networks were ignoring protests that turned violent just 40 miles north in Baltimore where a man died in police custody.

The featured performer for the night was Cecily Strong from Saturday Night Live. She poked fun at many media organizations in the room, but when it came to NBC’s Brian Williams, she stopped short and said she had “nothing, because I work for NBC.”

When he finally took the stage, Obama joked it was the night when”`Washington celebrates itself. Somebody’s got to do it.”

Later, Obama brought out comedian Keegan-Michael Key as his “anger translator” to wonder aloud why he had to be there at all.

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