The Best White House Comics

The Best Gags From Past Presidents. Also: The UFO Postmark and the Toupee Law

By Buck Wolf

April 3, 2001 — What's the difference between George W. Bush and David Letterman when one of them tells a joke? Answer: You can swipe the president's best lines.

Just try to cop a Letterman Top 10 list. CBS attorneys will sue the rubber chicken suit off you faster than you can say intellectual property law.

But you can hunt for jokes in presidential archives, make yourself a comedy album, and forget about paying royalties to the commander-in-chief. That's what Malcom Kushner did. He's charging $49.95 for a six-cassette "Leading With Laughter" compilation, which includes the comic artistry of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

"You paid for those jokes with your tax dollars. They belong to the American people," says Kuchner, America's Favorite Humor Consultant (a self-bestowed title).

"Just about every president had someone writing gags. Ford hired Bob Orlen, who used to write for Red Skelton, and he eventually became one of Ford's top speech writers."

Kushner spent months through audio recordings to find the best one-liners of commanders-in-chief. And offers the tapes with commentary he thinks is essential for speech makers, historians — and of course aspiring presidents.

Jimmy Carter, Stand-up President

You might think Kushner had to dig extra hard for Carter's best lines. But in the right mood, Carter would turn his loudmouthed, beer-guzzling brother Billy into a full-blown comedy act.

He told one audience: "He [Billy] is doing his bit for the economy, he's put the beer industry back on its feet." And he told another: "Billy brings me a lot of good publicity … I wish we could have gone along with my plans to involve him in the government. I had it all arranged, I was going to reorganize and put the CIA and the FBI together. But Billy said he wouldn't head up any agency he couldn't spell."

Reagan's commie jokes may not translate well into the post Cold War era. And George Bush's musings on setting the VCR isn't exactly Chris Rock. But hey, those were your tax dollars hard at work.