WBUR News

The Funniest Presidents In History?

President Obama speaks — and jokes — during the White House Correspondents Association Dinner on Saturday. (AFP/Getty Images)closemore
President Obama speaks — and jokes — during the White House Correspondents Association Dinner on Saturday. (AFP/Getty Images)

We open with a joke: What do you call a graying politician who moonlights as a comedian?

Answer: Mr. President

Republican presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan, right, listens to the Rev. Jerry Falwell during a campaign stop in Lynchburg, Va., in October 198 (AP)
Republican presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan, right, listens to the Rev. Jerry Falwell during a campaign stop in Lynchburg, Va., in October 198 (AP)

In the aftermath of President Obama's teleprompted routine at the 2012 White House Correspondents Association dinner Saturday night, observers have been weighing in on his performance.

Some didn't think he was all that funny. On his radio show Monday, Rush Limbaugh criticized Obama for telling "dog-eating jokes."

Others thought the president was hilarious.

Obama "is the best I have seen," news show host Lawrence O'Donnell said Monday night on MSNBC. "And he has had some very good competition." O'Donnell went on to praise the comedic deliveries of former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Before the event, Jimmy Kimmel, who emceed the dinner, told C-Span that Obama "could probably be a comedian himself if he wanted to."

It is emblematic of our confusing time that our policymakers could be comedians and our comedians could be — and, in Minnesota Sen. Al Franken's case, are — policymakers.

But the question comes up: Is Barack Obama among the funniest presidents ever?

Larry Jacobs, a professor at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, doesn't think so. "Obama is famously humorless," he says. And when it comes to making a list of the funniest presidents in history, Jacobs says, "we have to discount the scripted comments."

The White House Correspondents dinner, he says, "is now farmed out" to professional comedy writers.

So who are the funniest presidents in history?

Several years ago, former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., — author of Great Presidential Wit (I Wish I Was in the Book) -- named four of the funniest former presidents who were in "a class by themselves." Here is the list and anecdotes from Dole's book.

Share

Support the news

Next Up

Where to now?

More NPR or Explore Audio.