Party time with prez, pols, personalities

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“Veep” meets V.P. video for the 2014 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner

WASHINGTON — “These days,” President Barack Obama is saying, moments from a punch line at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, “the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me, which means orange really is the new black.”

Obama’s zinger — the political insider asides about the speaker’s tan and tea party headaches, blended with the reference to the popular book and TV show, garnished with the sly aside about his race — sort of summarized these past four days here, when D.C. celebrates the annual intersection of Hollywood  and inside-the-Beltway.

It’s the biggest week of the year in D.C. — Thursday-through-Sunday rounds of events — with celebs of all stripes mixing with political figures, staffers, operatives and reporters in rounds of furious networking, gawking and, new this year, the proliferation of selfies.

The association was formed a century ago in 1914 — then a clique of white, male White House reporters. Through the years the dinner evolved into a gawk-fest celebrity extravaganza. The Saturday night spectacle had about 2,600 packed in the ballroom of the Washington Hilton.

The events — increasingly joint ventures between media companies and corporate sponsors — range from parties to policy forums, with celebs as a draw.

I know this dinner and the related tumult has critics. I’m not one of them.

Of all the things wrong with how this town operates, the least of my concerns is taking advantage of opportunities to hang around with staffers, functionaries, elected and appointed officials and assorted other people who may know things that can turn into stories.

Yes, it is fun to meet show-business celebs up close, especially because I don’t cover them. My celeb highlights:

◆ Chatting with Robert De Niro at a Sunday brunch about how the best speeches are almost always short.

◆ Meeting actor Casey Affleck and his wife, Summer Phoenix, at a Saturday brunch. Affleck is working on a project dealing with gangs — and he was very interested in the problems Chicago is facing.

◆ At the same brunch, I met some of the stars from HBO’s “Veep” — Reid Scott, Anna Chlumsky, Timothy Simons and Matt Walsh — and as soon as I mentioned I was with the Sun-Times, Chlumsky, Simons and Walsh chimed in about their Chicago roots.

Simons moved to Chicago after college for the theater scene. “I lived in Edgewater and Uptown, on the North Side on the Red Line.” Chlumsky (U. of Chicago) attended Walther Lutheran High School in Melrose Park; Walsh (NIU) grew up at 103rd and Kedzie, Mount Greenwood and Downers Grove, and lived on the North Side after college.

And speaking of “Veep” . . . HBO merged fact and fiction with a hilarious video kicking off the program starring the real vice president, Joe Biden, and “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus in her character (most of the time) as Selina Meyer, the self absorbed, ambitious vice president, with bits from first lady Michelle, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (taped in a real D.C. tattoo parlor) and Boehner.

The entertainer was comedian Joel McHale,host of “The Soup” on E! and a star of NBC’s “Community.”

McHale was edgy — and in a genre where taste or lack thereof is in the eyes of the beholder, I thought his joke about Bill Clinton and a cigar did not work, while his ribbing of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over his Bridgegate controversy was funny.

Obama always brings slick comedy material to these dinners, and on Saturday was pretty good — though he’s been better.

He started his bit with a sight gag: Aides brought two ferns to the podium, a salute to his guest spot on Zach Galifianakis’ talk show to promote Obamacare enrollment.

The president jabbed at CNN, MSNBC and Fox News: “And speaking of conservatives heroes, the Koch brothers bought a table here tonight. But, as usual, they used a shadowy right-wing organization as a front. Hello, Fox News.”

Obama took note that in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is naming a high school for him, “which is extremely humbling. I was even more flattered to hear [Texas Gov.] Rick Perry, who is here tonight, is doing the same thing in Texas.” And with that — another sight gag — a photo of  the sign in front of the “Raging Socialist Preparatory School.”

Obama lamented his sagging poll numbers: “I did notice the other day that Sasha needed a speaker at career day, and she invited Bill Clinton. I was a little hurt by that.”

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