Hollywood’s Most Exclusive Club Is Password-Protected on Zoom

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(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Some people—introverts, poets, couples returning from their honeymoon—are good candidates for weathering the lockdown. Richard Weitz wasn’t. The Hollywood agent’s pre-Covid-19 Instagram posts show him courtside at a Los Angeles Lakers game with Josh Groban, at a party in George Lucas’s Chicago apartment, going to the movies with LL Cool J, eating with Lionel Richie at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills, posing with Chrissy Teigen in a photo booth, and hanging backstage with Lizzo at her show in Brooklyn, N.Y. For his 50th birthday last year, a fellow agent gifted him a “Richard Weitz 2018-2019 Tour” T-shirt listing the locations of 100 events he’d attended.

Now, like the rest of the country, Weitz is stuck in his house, trying to work with only a laptop, spotty Wi-Fi, and a Zoom account. “When shelter-in-place started, I asked Richard if he was OK,” says Candace Nelson, founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes and a judge on the shows Cupcake Wars and Sugar Rush. “Then he started his first Quarantunes. I said, ‘Of course. He’s bringing the events to him.’ He is in his flow right now unlike anyone else I’ve seen.”

On Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, Weitz is throwing the most exclusive party—password required—in Los Angeles. And New York, London, and Sydney. Quarantunes, which can run four hours or more, is a combination of talk show (“Don’t go anywhere!” Weitz often implores, as if anyone could) and Hollywood party, the kind that were popular on TV in the 1960s. Weitz, with a scruffy, cropped beard and even scruffier voice, emcees performances by Rick Astley, Weird Al Yankovic, and many more. Attendees flip through 20 pages of screens of other homebound artists, catching a glimpse of actress Tina Fey in her gorgeous library, while her husband makes pizza dough in the background; John Stamos in his den, adorned with a framed, signed photo from his days on General Hospital; pop singer Debbie Gibson going for a walk in a stylish hat; and singer/songwriter Taylor Dayne belting it out from her car while driving.

Music producer Clive Davis celebrated his birthday at a Quarantunes. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti stopped by to give updates on fighting the virus before being serenaded by Randy Newman with I Love L.A. After playing I Wanna Get Better, Jack Antonoff said the quarantine made him realize he needs animals in his life; so he talked to songwriter Diane Warren for advice on getting some birds. While Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez sang their songs from Frozen with their two daughters around a piano as Josh Gad smiled along, Walt Disney Co. Chairman Bob Iger went into the chatroom to plug Frozen 2: “Everyone can find it on Disney+ right now.”

One night, Jimmy Fallon couldn’t get in because Zoom had reached its 500-person limit. Howard Stern decided not to try. As he said on his radio show, “I don’t want to be stopped by the Zoom doorman.”

The parties have become a bright spot in what otherwise hasn’t been the best year for Weitz, a WME partner who co-heads the talent agency’s scripted department. Last April, the Writers Guild of America required its members to give up their agencies amid a fight about television show packaging, decimating his business. “I had no clients. Nothing was going on,” he says. “A year later I’ve made the pivot from representing writers to taking my passion and connecting music artists. I’m talking to everyone I’ve ever been a fan of, directly. From my kitchen.” Weitz’s change in fortunes came via his daughter, Demi. He had no idea what to do for her 17th birthday on March 27. In desperation, he got Chicago piano bar singer Dario Giraldo to perform on a Zoom party for her family and friends, forgetting that teenage girls aren’t typically denizens of piano bars. “It was not my friends’ speed,” Demi remembers. “I was like, ‘Dad, Dad, can we please make this stop?’ ”

Weitz wasn’t deterred. A few hours later, he set up a second Zoom party, having convinced his friend John Mayer to sing Happy Birthday. Soon, Mayer was playing guitar for his onetime crush Gibson while she sang Only in My Dreams from her house. This went over much better.

Weitz proposed that he and Demi throw another Zoom party the following week. As Quarantunes took off, though, Demi felt discomfited by all the attention she was getting in the Zoom box in their Beverly Hills kitchen. “I felt a little overly privileged to be doing this with what is going on now,” she says. “It wasn’t a good feeling.”

She suggested they ask for donations, hoping to raise $10,000 for the Saban Community Clinic in L.A. So far, Demi and her dad have raised more than half a million dollars in total for the clinic, the United Way, and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and chief executive officer of dating app Bumble, gave $50,000. Yvette Lee Bowser, the creator of the shows Living Single and Half & Half, made a $100,000 donation to the United Way.

“Even if people are in isolation, they don’t want to feel like victims,” says Arthur J. Ochoa, senior vice president and chief advancement officer at Cedars-Sinai. “They want to feel like they can do something. And Richard embodies the best of that.” Weitz is planning an event to support a New York-based organization, focusing on Broadway singers and pop artists. So far, no one has turned down his offer to perform, and no one has been paid.

Comedian Jeff Ross, whom Weitz yells for between acts to demand a joke (after the fourth hour he told Weitz that he puts the “long” in “sing-along”) says Quarantunes has been a highlight of the lockdown. He and his girlfriend have danced in their kitchen to the performances. “No disrespect to the great artists of our time who are doing these great benefits, but they’re dreadfully depressing,” Ross says. “They’re playing sad songs.” Quarantunes, he says, “has a party spirit. A hopeful vibe.” The events could also provide a glimpse of life after the worst of the pandemic is over. Broadway actress Emmy Raver-Lampman landed two well-paid gigs after covering a Lizzo song. People have gotten back in touch—such as St. Elmo’s Fire actor Rob Lowe and David Foster and John Parr, the writer and singer of the movie’s title song—after not speaking in decades. Actor Henry Winkler keeps coming by because he says it feels “normal,” a feeling everyone is longing for. “You’re happy to see people you haven’t seen in a long time,” he says. “Happy to be a part of the community. We could have been in his living room.”

Jonnie Davis, president of ABC Studios, says the parties are “the closest you can get” to real-life interactions. “You probably wouldn’t get all these people in a real party anyway,” he says. “You’d want to go, but your kids have this thing at school. Everybody is sort of here now. It’s not like people are going to dinner at Craig’s tonight.” Weitz is also adjusting to the new normal. As he introduces artists in the virtual greenroom, he asks them to pose on a split screen with him. “I’m still able to get my backstage selfies,” he says.
 
Read more: There Isn’t an Easy Way to Say ‘No’ to a Zoom Meeting

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