An Oscars viewing party is only as good as the people you’re watching with. Do they know when to be snarky and when to keep silent? (Julianne Moore is speaking. That means you are not.) Do they get appropriately emotional at the right moments? (When David Oyelowo cries, you cry too.) Have they seen most of the nominated films, or are they at least willing to withhold judgment based on a single clip? (I sat through The Judge, and I have earned your respect.)
Which is to say, a lot can go wrong. After all, there’s a reason I’ve taken to hosting a viewing party for one where the only mandatory attire is sweats and the only distraction is my own tweeting. Nevertheless, this year, I ventured out into the world outside my apartment for a chance to check out Elton John’s annual Oscars viewing party, a fundraiser for the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and an excuse to rent a decent tux.
First things first, the Elton John AIDS Foundation does amazing work, having raised more than $45 million, according to a publicist. That’s not really surprising given the fact that the viewing party is punctuated by stars like Alec Baldwin and Sharon Osbourne asking attendees to dig a little deeper into their pockets. Guests’ pledges are also projected onto a large screen, which adds incentive to make a big donation. (I know exactly how much you gave, Chris Colfer, and I’m proud of you.)
I acknowledge the great cause, because regardless of my personal experience at the Elton John viewing party, I’m glad that it happens every year. But since you asked, my personal experience was actually rather uncomfortable. When I first arrived, I milled about trying to go against my better judgment and make conversation with strangers. I did engage Lisa Rinna for a few seconds before realizing I had nothing particularly interesting to say, aside from complimenting her dress. And I managed to sneak a peek at Aaron Paul’s ballot, but only after I’d turned mine in.
Eventually, we were escorted into the dining room where the dinner and viewing party would take place. And that’s when things took a turn. I quickly realized my table was chatty. Listen, I am not an antisocial monster. I think it’s nice when the people around me want to know my name and what I do for a living and where I got my tux. (Men’s Wearhouse, thank you very much.) But this is the Oscars. This is the one night of the year I actually care about watching TV live and sharing my opinions with the internet, because I’m a millennial. The people at my table were more interested in loudly talking about how they hadn’t seen the vast majority of nominated films. Ida is streaming on Netflix, people! Come on.
I tried to focus on the show, but it was increasingly difficult to hear. (With each drink, the woman next to me was becoming drunker and drunker and louder and louder, which might have had something to do with that.) I took note of the fact that Gillian Anderson and JC Chasez were sitting at a table together, and I desperately looked for reasons to join them. Can you imagine how well-timed and expertly delivered Gillian Anderson’s barbs are? I can just see JC Chasez throwing his head back with laughter.
I continued to live-tweet the drunken exploits of my neighbor and tried to mentally will Sir Elton John to turn up the audio so I could actually hear the broadcast. Things reached their nadir at my table when John Legend and Common performed “Glory” — which was, to be clear, the highlight of the Academy Awards themselves — as another woman at the table rolled her eyes, accused people of fake crying, and loudly lamented the public conversation about racism in Hollywood that Selma‘s snubs had inspired.
I wish I could say I handled this all better than I did. I asked her what her issue was with “Glory,” and she claimed she didn’t have one, just that it had to win the Oscar for Best Original Song because people were so angry about the film not getting other nominations. And when it did win, she kept repeating “no surprises here,” before muttering something to her friend about having to give the blacks something. “I’m not going to sit here with a racist,” I said to no one in particular, before getting up and walking away. (I am a man of honor, but one who is also terrified of confrontation.) I never returned to my table, watching the rest of the broadcast from the cocktail area. My biggest regret is that I didn’t actually try to engage with that woman over her racism, and my second biggest regret is that I left the table before dessert was served.
That uncomfortableness at my table was luck of the draw: I happened to be at a viewing party with the wrong people. (And to be clear, not everyone at my table was terrible! But as with any family gathering, the drunkest and the most racist attendees always get the most attention.)
Once the show was over, I quickly discovered that the Elton John Oscars viewing party is a lot more fun once the actual viewing portion ends. As is the case with any Hollywood party, I spent most of my time walking around, silently acknowledging the presence of various actors (it was basically a shit ton of TV people, who are often considered to be less important than movie stars; but I happen to watch more TV than movies, so nyah), and wondering how long the valet line would be (it ended up being not so bad. I stood next to Dance Moms star Abby Lee Miller, who is always a hoot, bless her heart).
Ultimately, I feel very lucky that I was able to experience a glamorous Hollywood night, but I was also comforted by the fact that my sweats were waiting for me at home.