Celebs, jokes, Obama all part of big time at press dinner

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(CNN) — Hollywood heavies and other glitterati descend on Washington on Saturday night to light up the capital and lighten up the press corps.

It’s the annual White House correspondent’s dinner.

There’s a red carpet, a presidential appearance, comedic relief and to make it all real, swanky after-parties.

This year marks the 100th soiree, most of which have featured a fancy dinner and the president in attendance.

In the early years, it was a small affair for 50. But in contemporary times, it has ballooned into a premier D.C. event at a huge hotel ballroom.

CNN asked Julia Whiston, who serves as the dinner’s executive director, when did it become such a mob scene, and why?

“Coincidentally, when I first started,” she said and paused for effect, with a chuckle.

It happened in 1993, she said. “But it was because it was Bill Clinton’s first dinner. They had a very large Hollywood following, and they wanted to be at the dinner.”

The President tells jokes, a famous entertainer tells jokes, and reporters are called to the dais to collect awards. This year, CNN’s Brianna Keilar will be recognized for some of her reporting on the Obama administration.

Over the past two decades, it’s become something of a Washington parlor game to see what news organization can snag the hottest movie stars, reality show personalities, pop singers and sports greats of the moment to be guests.

Oh, and up-and-coming politicians or heavy-hitters in the Obama administration are good gets, too.

This year, CNN employees will dine with actress Diane Lane, as well as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus on the right, as well as White House spokesman Josh Ernest and Democratic National Committee spokesman Mo Elleithee on the left.

But with the crush of bold-faced names from Hollywood getting bigger each year, Washingtonians have gotten increasingly star-struck. By the time the dinner arrives, well-known journalists rush for celeb autographs and selfies for their social media feeds.

The dynamic led to the moniker “Nerd Prom.”

It’s a title not everyone involved finds particularly affectionate, like Whiston.

At 68, she says she still has energy to keep doing this job, and this will not be the last dinner she oversees.

“When I get that head table in, and they start to present the colors and the Marine Band starts playing, I think, ‘this is not Kansas, this is pretty cool,'” she said.

She got the now-coveted job after several years running a similar — but smaller — press dinner. And every year since she began, demand has risen.

That’s especially true since Barack Obama became president, in part because he has an even bigger Hollywood following than the Clintons had during their White House years.

Joel McHale, best known as host of E!’s satire show “The Soup” and star of NBC’s comedy “Community,” is this year’s host.

He’s excited about the honor, and even got some advice from some of the entertainers who came before him, which he shared with CNN’s Jake Tapper.

“And it was … all pretty much the same advice, which was, ‘this will be the weirdest thing you ever do and it will be the most exhilarating thing you ever do … And keep it short.'”

By Erin McPilke