National Presidential Joke Day is observed annually on August 11. This day recognizes the humor often found and yet not so appreciated in the highest office in the land. With a nod to the blunders, take a look back at some of our presidents’ social missteps. Many of them are awkward.
While in the moment, the Commander in Chief might not find them so funny. Looking back, sometimes, they’re downright hilarious mistakes.
- Everyone loves hot dogs. There’s even a National Hot Dog Day. However, when the President of the United States serves them to the King and Queen of England, things might become awkward. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt hosted a good old-fashioned wiener roast when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited the U.S. in 1939.
- In 1968, President Richard Nixon joined the set of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. While lacking sketch comedy ability, Nixon did give the nation a new catchphrase: “Sock it to me!”
- George H. W. Bush pledged in 1988, “Read my lips: no new taxes.” Two years later, Bush raised taxes.
- Sometimes the gaffes are vice presidential. At a Trenton, New Jersey spelling bee in 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle misspelled the word potato.
- National Presidential Joke Day began on August 11, 1984. During a soundcheck for his Saturday evening radio broadcast, President Ronald Reagan joked, “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”
- While we usually think of George Washington as a stoic political and military leader, he did have a sense of humor, especially when it came to his dogs. Mount Vernon notes that Washington had several dogs with funny names. Washington had a Dalmatian named Madame Moose and a hound named Sweetlips. Records show that he had other dogs with names like Tipsy, Mopsey, Ragman, Truelove and Vulcan.
- Every year during his administration, Obama delivered a “corny-copia of dad jokes about turkeys,” as he said during his 2016 ceremony, notes NPR.
- The Library of Congress noted that President Abraham Lincoln did have a sense of humor. For example, Lincoln said that during the Black Hawk War in 1832, he didn’t see any fighting Indians, but had “a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes.” His sense of humor was so well known that his opponents wrote a song called “Hey! Uncle Abe, are you joking yet?”
- James Madison: President Madison, our nation’s fourth president, got laughs even on his deathbed with the line, “I always talk better lying down.”
- Franklin Pierce: Our 14th president was little-known until he ran on the catchy slogan, “We Polked You in ’44. We Shall Pierce You in ’52,” a reference to 11th President James K. Polk, a fellow Democrat. It’s often cited as one of the ten winningest presidential campaign slogans.
- Ulysses S. Grant: Grant, the 18th American president, once said, “I only know two tunes, one of them is ‘Yankee Doodle’ the other isn’t.”
- Chester Arthur: President Arthur shared this quip at a Republican banquet when dishing about how his ticket won the vote in Indiana, “If it were not for the reporters, I would tell you the truth.”
- Theodore Roosevelt: There was no lost love between Theodore Roosevelt and Congress, especially after he famously said, “When they call the roll in the Senate, the senators do not know whether to answer ‘present’ or ‘not guilty.’”
- Woodrow Wilson: President Wilson was a wonderful speaker and knew exactly how to lob a barb without sounding petty. A great example of this was when he spoke to the World’s Salesmanship Congress in 1916. Regarding his relationship with Republicans, he quipped, “I have long enjoyed the friendship and companionship of Republicans because I am by instinct a teacher and I would like to teach them something.”
- Herbert Hoover: “Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the National Debt,” said President Hoover, in his address to the Nebraska Republican Conference in 1936.
- Lyndon Johnson: “Did you ever think that making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg?” he once asked economist Kenneth Galbraith. “It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else.”
- George W. Bush, at the 2006 White House correspondents’ dinner: “Cheney’s a good man. He’s got a good heart. [Pause] Well, he’s a good man.”
- Bill Clinton, at the 2000 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?”
- 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: 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.”
- John F. Kennedy, responding to criticism that Robert Kennedy wasn’t qualified to be attorney general: “I don’t see anything wrong with giving Bobby a little legal experience before he goes out on his own to practice law.”
- George H.W. Bush: The funniest thing the first President Bush said had to be this joke, which the Washington Post reports he delivered at the 1989 Gridiron Club Dinner: “People say I’m indecisive, but I don’t know about that.”
- 1862 – Abraham Lincoln’s Humor in the Workplace. Lincoln calls for a session of all War Cabinet members to discuss something important and then reads funny stories from a book.
- 1984 – August 11, 1984, Inspired by President Ronald Reagan’s hilarious gaffe, America decides to celebrate all such leaders who joke around by establishing National Presidential Joke Day.
- 2001 – Senator Bob Dole publishes a book about the witticisms and funny quips by those in charge; this novel is named “Great Presidential Wit (…I Wish I was in this Book).”
- 2016 – April 2016 The “First Alt-Comedy President”. An article in the “Washington Post” describes Barack Obama as such, adding that he contributes deadpan flourish(es) to his punchlines; one of his speechwriters, David Litt, tells the newspaper that these flourishes come from Obama himself.
- Multiple lists and websites rank Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, James Monroe, among the funniest presidents in U.S. history.
- Eleanor Roosevelt visited a penitentiary. Upon asking where his wife was, President Franklin Roosevelt was given the answer “prison;” he replied, “I’m not surprised. But what for?”