The single best joke told by every president, from Obama to Washington

By Dan Zak

Barack Obama: "I have a lot more material prepared, but I have to get the Secret Service home in time for their new curfew". Photo / AP
Barack Obama: "I have a lot more material prepared, but I have to get the Secret Service home in time for their new curfew". Photo / AP

Presidential humour is only a half-step from dad humour, which in the world of comedy is considered light treason. But we've tried to find at least one zinger from every US president, to mark President Barack Obama's final set of stand-up comedy at his eighth White House Correspondents' Association dinner on Saturday.

Some zingers have less zing than others. Some are flat, some are apocryphal, some are just threats and some, in the case of Warren Harding, are quaint, loving references to the chief executive genitalia. But they are presidential, by definition, and therefore funny, by acclamation.

• "I have a lot more material prepared, but I have to get the Secret Service home in time for their new curfew." - Barack Obama, at the 2012 White House correspondents' dinner

• "Cheney's a good man. He's got a good heart. (Pause) Well, he's a good man." - George W. Bush, at the 2006 White House correspondents' dinner

• "Over the last few months I've lost 10 pounds. Where did they go? Why haven't I produced them to the independent counsel? How did some of them manage to wind up on Tim Russert?" - Bill Clinton, at the 2000 White House correspondents' dinner

• "People say I'm indecisive, but I don't know about that." - George H.W. Bush, at the 1989 Gridiron Club dinner

• "'Make love, not war'? By the looks of you, you don't look like you could do much of either." - Ronald Reagan, to protesters at UCLA

• Press Secretary Jody Powell "has been trying to persuade me to reopen the White House swimming pool - suddenly ... Any of you that survive would, of course, have permanent swimming privileges." - Jimmy Carter, riffing at the 1979 correspondents' dinner about the old White House indoor swimming pool that Richard Nixon covered over to build the press room

• "At a time when funds for the defence budget may be cut, it's comforting to see so many of the big guns from your industry still getting loaded." - Gerald Ford, at a boozy Radio and Television Correspondents' Association dinner in 1974

• "Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I wouldn't want to wake up next to a lady pipefitter." - Richard Nixon, in Ms. magazine in 1971 when asked about women's lib

• "So dumb he can't fart and chew gum at the same time." - Lyndon Johnson, on Ford

• "I don't see anything wrong with giving Bobby a little legal experience before he goes out on his own to practice law." - John F. Kennedy, responding to criticism that Robert Kennedy wasn't qualified to be attorney general

• "If you give me a week, I might think of one." - Dwight D. Eisenhower, when asked to name one big decision that Nixon helped make as vice-president

• "He's no better than a regular sissy." - Harry S. Truman, on Adlai Stevenson

• "I'm not surprised. But what for?" - Franklin D. Roosevelt, when told his wife was in a prison

• "Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt." - Herbert Hoover

• "That man has offered me unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad." - Calvin Coolidge, on Hoover

• "Jerry - you recall Jerry, whose cards I once sent you to Europe - came in while I was pondering your notes in glad reflection, and we talked about it." - Warren G. Harding, referring to his penis, which he named Jerry, in a 1915 love letter to his mistress Carrie Fulton Phillips

• "A conservative is someone who makes no changes and consults his grandmother when in doubt." - Woodrow Wilson

• "Some men are graduated from college cum laude, some are graduated summa cum laude, and some are graduated mirabile dictu." - William Howard Taft

• "A flub-dub with a streak of the second rate and common in him." - Theodore Roosevelt, on Taft

• "Well, Judge Day, every change so far in the office of secretary of state has been an improvement!" - William McKinley, to his outgoing secretary of state, William R. Day, after he expressed sadness for leaving.

• "No man has ever yet been hanged for breaking the spirit of a law." - Grover Cleveland

• "When I hear a Democrat boasting himself of the age of his party, I feel like reminding him that there are other organised evils in the world older than the Democratic party." - Benjamin Harrison

• "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa? Gone to the White House. Ha ha ha!" - Grover Cleveland, who had two separate administrations but just not enough good quips to fill them both, so we turn to a joke told not by but about Cleveland during the 1884 race, concerning rumours that he had fathered a child out of wedlock

• "If it were not for the reporters, I would tell you the truth." - Chester A. Arthur, dishing at a Republican banquet about how his ticket won Indiana

• "My God! What is there in this place that a man should ever want to get into it?" - James Garfield, on the presidency

• "Mr. Tilden will be arrested and shot." - Rutherford B. Hayes, when told that a congressional uprising wanted to remove him and install Democrat Samuel J. Tilden

• "No, he didn't write it." - Ulysses S. Grant, when told that Charles Sumner, a righteous senator from Massachusetts, didn't believe in the Bible

• "Washington, D.C., is 12 square miles bordered by reality." - Andrew Johnson

• "If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?" - Abraham Lincoln

• "Pints are very inconvenient in this house, as (champagne) is not used in such small quantities." - James Buchanan, to his liquor merchants regarding their small bottles of bubbly

• "There's nothing left ... but to get drunk." - Franklin Pierce, when asked about a president's duties after leaving office

• "I have not the advantage of a classical education, and no man should, in my judgment, accept a degree he cannot read." - Millard Fillmore, declining an honorary degree from Oxford (and possibly poking fun at Andrew Jackson's acceptance of one from Harvard)

• "Stop your nonsense and drink your whiskey!" - Zachary Taylor, when a Whig first suggested that Taylor run for president

• "Mr. Buchanan is an able man but ... sometimes acts like an old maid." - James K. Polk, on Buchanan

• "Doctor, I am going. Perhaps it is best." - John Tyler, on his death bed

• "To Englishmen, life is a topic, not an activity." - William Henry Harrison

• "As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it." - Martin Van Buren

• "John Calhoun, if you secede from my nation I will secede your head from the rest of your body." - Andrew Jackson

• "A barbarian who cannot write a sentence of grammar and can hardly spell his own name." - John Quincy Adams, on Jackson

• "You are a scoundrel." - James Monroe, to Alexander Hamilton

• "I always talk better lying down." - James Madison, on his death bed

• "He is as disinterested as the being who made him." - Thomas Jefferson, on John Adams

• "That bastard brat of a Scottish peddler!" - John Adams, on Alexander Hamilton

• "Now you are well served for coming to fight in favour of the American Rebels, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, by catching that terrible Contagion - domestic felicity - which like the small pox or the plague, a man can have only once in his life: because it commonly lasts him (at least with us in America - I don't know how you manage these matters in France) for his whole life time." - George Washington, in a 1788 letter congratulating the Marquis de Chastellux on his recent marriage

- Washington Post

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