Interplanetary Prom

“I am a social debutante, and I’m here looking for a lady caller,” said Kenan Thompson of Saturday Night Live, literally on tiptoes as he peered into a crowd of pretty girls. He was cornered next to the bar with some of his co-stars at the Winter Dance, a schmoozy nighttime benefit for the American Museum of Natural History on Feb. 17.

This year’s theme was “Celestial Bodies,” but it really wasn’t any more cosmic than your basic winter prom. It all happened under the stars in the museum’s Rose Center for Earth and Space, and there was slow dancing, fast dancing and mostly a lot of standing around, as well as small talk and the cautious shuffling of feet. The room smelled like a Sephora store a few days after an earthquake-somewhat subdued, but still a thousand scents strong. Women arrived late, in competing dresses, tipsy. Men tipped the limo driver and slid flasks into their coat pockets. At some point during the night, everyone snuck outside for a smoke, the girls wearing the boys’ tuxedo jackets, Zippos aflame. Everyone went out, that is, except one group of faux Fabians (the real one was around, too), a threesome of rebels with their bow ties loosened, who lit up right inside the place. In time, some narc security guard came over and told them to put the cigs out: “Boys, please.”

Inside, there was a silent auction featuring such hot commodities as a $5,000 smile makeover from the Rosenthal Group, for which none of the young philanthropists had offered a bid a few hours into the evening. The crowd by then was thick but full of holes, forming a kind of socialite Swiss cheese when viewed from above. This was because the floor of the Rose Center is polka-dotted with scales that give a person’s weight on, for example, the sun. (The Transom’s weight, we are not ashamed to admit, would be 3,654.72 pounds.) Little wonder the waifs steered clear. One woman nearly fell while passing by, a martini in each hand. “I would rather die than step on that thing,” she snarled to a friend.

Feeling very 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Transom jetted around the room. We found the ubiquitous Moby, this year’s honorary chairman. We stared star-eyed while he talked about-what was it? Oh, science. “I’ve been coming to the museum since I was 6 months old,” he told us. “It’s kind of been a regular fixture in my life, before I even had memories. I’m very fond of the dusty old dioramas. I hope they never change. I also like the anthropologic ones-the humans walking across the mud flats of Africa. I think when I was 6 years old and I used to come here with my grandmother, I remember walking under the blue whale, just thinking it was the most remarkable thing I’d ever, ever seen.”

And speaking of remarkable: Hey, look over there! The Transom scurried off to the bar.

The first person we saw there was Mr. Thompson, google-eyed and busy surveying the scene. We wondered whether Mr. Thompson had any thoughts to share on space-say, on the supernova information panel where he was resting his drink-or any particular preferences among the cosmos? “Yeah, I got a favorite celestial body,” he said. “Her name is Halle Berry”-ba-dum ching!-“no, I’m kidding. Hmmm … I don’t know. I like Pluto, ’cause it’s blue. And Jupiter’s nice, ’cause it’s big. Saturn’s got the rings around it, and …. ” He trailed off in contemplation of the infinite. Then a pretty girl walked by in a sheer blue gown, snapping him back to this planet. “Have you met my friend Darrell Hammond?” (who was standing behind the pretty girl, away from everyone else, staring at his watch).

The Transom had not, but then, in a flash, we had-and what’s more, moments later we were chewing a piece of his gum (Trident, peppermint). Scattered around the room were modern dancers standing on platforms, wearing body suits and glow ropes (“I think it’s what we’re gonna wear in the future!” said SNL blonde Amy Poehler), dancing under translucent sheets, begging for George Lucas’ wardrobe department. Mr. Hammond and Ms. Poehler spent most of the evening doing internal monologues for the out-of-work actors writhing slowly beneath those sheets. What were the poor saps thinking?

Ms. Poehler: “So, if I pay half the rent this month …. “

Mr. Hammond: “I hope my agent will get some video of this and fucking start pushing me!”

Ms. Poehler: ” … maybe if I use my gas card to buy the groceriesÊ…. “

Mr. Hammond: “What is it going to take for William Morris to call me back? Well, maybe this will do it.”

As the evening wound down, The Transom approached one of the dancers and tapped her sheet. We wanted to know: What exactly was the idea behind these weird decorations? What prom committee came up with her ridiculous costume? Is this really a vision of the future? The space dancer just shrugged, crouching on her pedestal, and rolled her eyes toward the heavens.

-Rebecca Dana

Who’s the Beeyatch Now?

“I’m kind of in a bad mood,” said Charlie Murphy as he launched into his routine for the 10:30 p.m. show at Caroline’s on Broadway, the second night of a nine-show, three-night stand. “This is the end of a 47-week tour, and I’ve been getting on a plane every week-and every week I get randomly selected.” Big laugh. “And they know me on a first-name basis, because I fly out of Newark airport on the same airline. First-name basis-why you still checking me?”

Mr. Murphy, who is seen on Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show and who toiled for years as a bodyguard for his younger brother Eddie, is the opener on the “I’m Rich, Beeyatch!” comedy tour, which also features show regulars Bill Burr, an adult Opie Taylor look-alike, and Donnell Rawlings, whose nom de guerre is Ashey Larry.

“‘I know you! Why are you doing this to me?'” Mr. Murphy continued. Then he mimicked the airport security guard’s response: “‘We gotta do it, Charlie, because we have a fugitive with the same name as you.'” Medium laugh. “YOU KNOW IT’S NOT ME, MOTHERFUCKER, SO WHY YOU STILL CHECKING ME?” Another big laugh. “I don’t know too many fugitives that are on television. I’m not on America’s Most Wanted … I’m on a comedy show!”

While Mr. Murphy’s brother has been making people laugh for three decades, the elder Mr. Murphy is just warming up. Over the next few months, he has two movies coming out (King’s Ransom and Roll Bounce), is starting production on a DreamWorks comedy he co-wrote with Eddie (Death Do Us Part) and will begin a Clear Channel comedy tour called “Charlie Murphy Presents” in the summer. And there’s the third season of Chappelle’s Show, which debuts sometime before ’06, when Mr. Chappelle is cured of either the flu or writer’s block.

Unlike his younger brother’s disarming gap-toothed smile, Mr. Murphy has the intense, wide-eyed stare of a caged tiger. He unleashed that look during his debut in the Chappelle’s Show’s first season as a menacing roommate in an all-black-with the exception of one hapless white guy-Real World sketch. Around the lunch table, Mr. Murphy regaled Mr. Chappelle and show producers with stories of 80’s celebrity encounters with his younger brother. The popular “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories” debuted in Season 2 with sketches about Rick James (“I’m Rick James, bitch!”) and Prince (shirts-vs.-blouses basketball game). The upcoming season may feature Mr. Murphy’s more famous brother in a “True Hollywood Stories” sketch and another one that focuses on Mike Tyson.

The first part of Mr. Murphy’s act also touched on subjects like the tsunami (“I know if I was laying on the beach and I saw a chicken, a horse and a snake running by together, I’d think something’s wrong”) before a male heckler interrupted him and was promptly slapped down by Mr. Murphy. (“You can’t get famous in the dark, motherfucker-all you can do is be a cockroach!”)

But the cease-fire didn’t last. Soon after Mr. Murphy commented on the plight of sprinter Marion Jones-who “grew a mustache and beard, and now you want to take her gold medals back? I feel sorry for her!”-a full-figured woman seated against the back wall blurted out, “Boring!”

“Who said that?” said Mr. Murphy as he glared into the crowd. The heckler, Cheryl Williams, 41, of East Orange, N.J., eagerly raised her hand. “She even the nerve to raise her hand!” Mr. Murphy marveled.

“Don’t be scared,” Ms. Williams said, mocking the comic.

Mr. Murphy tried his cockroach line, but Ms. Williams was undaunted, yelling back, “I be scared!” After comparing himself to a Times Square peep show, Mr. Murphy turned towards Ms. Williams and bellowed: “None of them came to see you, motherfucker. SO SHUT THE FUCK UP!” The audience roared with approval.

Although repeatedly told to leave, Ms. Williams was undaunted. “I could have took a nap at home!” she declared-refusing to go quietly into that cold Broadway night.

-Andrew Stengel

J.S. + B.S. = 2005

Ever wonder what that journalism degree will be worth in a world of bloggers, pundits and provocateurs?

“It’s much easier to be Ann Coulter than Richard Ben Cramer,” exclaimed Wonkette blogger Ana Marie Cox at N.Y.U.’s Hemmerdinger Hall.

J-schoolers, take heed! On Feb. 17, three Washington insiders were asked whether the mainstream media still has a fighting chance. Ms. Cox was joined by Bush/Cheney campaign media advisor Russ Schriefer, Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter and moderator Ellen Hume, director of the Center on Media and Society.

“Journalists look at you as this odd breed,” said Mr. Schriefer, a conservative who encounters the press daily. Not surprisingly, he was outnumbered, as only three students admitted voting for President Bush. Mr. Schriefer’s tribulations with the media were on full view when Ms. Hume asked what the President reads each morning.

“The President gets an extensive clips package,” he said matter-of-factly.

That works as a sound bite, but Mr. Schriefer practically begged the moderator to challenge whether the commander in chief actually reads this carefully constructed “clips package.” The formerly resolute media advisor began to stutter and stammer a bit before blurting out, “My sense is the President is well-informed.”

Laughter broke out in the auditorium. (Message to Roger Ailes: that dreaded liberal bias starts early.)

The evening’s discussion inevitably turned to the role bloggers played in the Presidential election, “Rathergate” and the recent Jeff Gannon debacle. Although she graced the cover of The New York Times Magazine during the campaign season, flanked by shoe-leather veterans Jack Germond and R.W. Apple Jr., Ms. Cox refused to accept any “future of the media” burden often bestowed on bloggers. “I’m not doing any reporting,” she glibly stated. “I’m making fun of people.”

Overall, the young scribes who fawn over Jon Stewart seem far less enraptured by John McLaughlin. They criticized those bickering TV pundit shows and something called the “Foxification” of news (certainly a pejorative amongst this crowd). Mr. Alter, a pundit-show veteran, eventually responded, “The easiest way to respond to bad media is a channel changer.”

Strangely, for a crowd of young journalists presumably leaping into the field, there was a running theme about there being too much media. Afterward, The Transom asked Ms. Cox-who filters through the news daily-how beleaguered J-school students can cope.

“You need a finely tuned bullshit detector,” she said.

-Michael Calderone

The Transom Also Hears …

In Utero? Not anymore. On Feb. 18, at 9:14 p.m., Frances Beatrix was born to accessory moguls Kate and Andy Spade, both 42, who have been married for 10 years. (A rep for the company denied reports that they had briefly separated last summer.) This first Spade spawn weighed eight pounds, four ounces, said the spokesperson, who added that the baby was “nice and healthy.” No word on the knockoff name, however.

-Anna Schneider-Mayerson

Interplanetary Prom