Prom season is upon us, and the nerdiest one of all is happening soon. But instead of high school kids dancing awkwardly to the sound of slow, romantic jams, a bunch of grown journalists will make jokes and talk about the importance of the First Amendment in one fancy evening.
We're talking, of course, about the White House Correspondents' Dinner (WHCD), taking place April 28. This glitzy event is one of the biggest annual parties in Washington, D.C. (It's also the geekiest, hence the nickname "nerd prom.") The lines between the media, the federal government, and Hollywood always get a little blurry on this night. But, in the Trump era, the soiree has become something a bit different.
Ahead, we break down everything you've ever wanted to know about the WHCD.
How did the dinner get started?
According to the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA), the first dinner was held on May 7, 1921 at the Arlington Hotel in Washington, D.C. About 50 men were in attendance, but President Warren G. Harding didn't go.
The event was basically a celebration of Warding's renewal of regular White House press briefings, which were previously abandoned by President Woodrow Wilson, sending the White House Correspondents' Association into hiatus. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge became the first sitting president to attend the dinner.
People of color were banned from the dinner until the 1950s, and women until 1962. Women were allowed to join the soiree because Helen Thomas, the first female White House reporter, said she would start a boycott unless the rules were changed. Eventually, President John F. Kennedy agreed, and the WHCA let women participate.
What's the deal with the celeb guest list?
There were always celebrities involved with the dinner. For a long time, the event included musical acts, variety shows, and even movies. Some entertainers who once graced the WHCD's stage include Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, and Irving Berlin.
In 1983, comedian Mark Russell hosted the evening, and after that, a comedy routine by the president and the host became the soiree's most recognized tradition. It also inevitably led to media organizations inviting celebrities as guests, which seemed fitting because President Ronald Reagan (a former movie star) was in office. Since then, the event has resembled a Hollywood awards show more than a dinner for political journalists.
Some celebs who have attended in recent years include Chrissy Teigen, Emma Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Laverne Cox, and the casts of House of Cards, Scandal, and Veep. Even President Trump attended as a guest in 2011, when he was famously roasted by both President Obama and Seth Meyers, who was hosting that year.
Will President Donald Trump attend this year?
Why is he not going?
The administration hasn't given a reason.
"The White House has informed us that the president does not plan to participate in this year's dinner but that he will actively encourage members of the executive branch to attend and join us as we celebrate the First Amendment,” White House Correspondents’ Association President Margaret Talev said in a statement. "In keeping with tradition, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders also will represent the administration at the head table."
Last year, Sanders acknowledged that the clashes between the administration and the media were the reason why Trump wouldn't attend.
"I think it's kind of naive of us to think that we can all walk into a room for a couple of hours and pretend that some of that tension isn't there," she told ABC News in February 2017. "You know, one of the things we say in the South, 'If a Girl Scout egged your house, would you buy cookies from her?' I think that this is a pretty similar scenario. There's no reason for him to go in and sit and pretend like this is going to be just another Saturday night."
Has any other president skipped the dinner?
Yes. Last year, Trump became the first sitting president in 36 years to skip the event. Before him, the last president to not attend was President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
However, Reagan had a pretty good excuse for his absence: He was recovering from a gunshot wound he suffered during an assassination attempt. He still called in and made some jokes, even referencing the attempt.
"If I could give you just one little bit of advice," he said, "when somebody tells you to get in a car quick, do it."
Before Reagan, two other presidents skipped the dinner: Richard Nixon in 1972 and 1974, and Jimmy Carter in 1978 and 1980.
Is the dinner still going to happen?
Yes. The absence of President Trump won't deter the event.
Who will host this year?
"I'm delighted to announce 'Nice Lady' Michelle Wolf as our featured entertainer this year," Talev said. "Our dinner honors the First Amendment and strong, independent journalism. Her embrace of these values and her truth-to-power style make her a great friend to the WHCA. Her Pennsylvania roots, stints on Wall Street and in science and self-made, feminist edge make her the right voice now."
Read these stories next: