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Of small historic significance: Mr. O’Brien hosted the event in another century, appearing as a 30-something upstart at the 1995 dinner during the Clinton administration.

“Congressmen, please refrain from switching parties during dinner,” he told the crowd.

Mr. Spacey has reason to be among the polticos. He is, after all, starring in “House of Cards,” a successful political thriller now going into its second season on Netflix. Ditto for former “Seinfeld” mainstay Julia Louis Dreyfus. She is the thespian pointwoman for “VEEP,” the smirky HBO comedy also going into its second season.

The dinner itself goes off like a controlled demolition.

There’s salad often adorned with things like green apple slices and studded with startling things like blue cheese or walnuts. The main course usually combines a delicate round of sea bass and a filet mignon gussied up with a wine reduction; there’s baby vegetables and some sort of molded potato extravaganza. Dessert in these times offers a combination of little tarts balancing raspberry something with chocolate something and lemon something. The coffee is excellent, the service is amazingly brisk considering that 3,000 people are waiting for their chocolate somethings.

Surely all good Americans want to know: are the guests drunk? Will they put on a floor show themselves, or fall off their chairs?

No. The guests are not drunk.

A few may be “a little tiddly,” as great aunts said, once upon a time. Something bigger than all of them prevents bad behavior.

There is presidential decorum at work here. The “President’s Own” U.S. Marine Corps band and a military color guard are present — which does not inspire many people to get reckless. Besides, it is an early evening, with official proceedings ending about 10 p.m. There are many more parties to come for those with an inclination, or an invitation to such fare. And more events on Sunday. And business as usual on Monday.

And while former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw has garnered considerable press for declaring that the dinner itself has been “ruined” by the presence of edgy starlet Lindsay Lohan and her ilk, at least host-with-the-most Mr. O’Brien appears philosophical about it all.
He’s charged with the formidable task of wrangling this larger-than-life crowd into submission, just long enough to hear a few one-liners.

“In D.C. to perform at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Practicing my opening ‘Goofy Sunglasses’ bit,” Mr. O’Brien noted in a Tweet, some 24 hours before countdown.

And that is preparation enough.