1. Entertainment
Send to a Friend via Email
Daniel Kurtzman

Obama Cracks Jokes on Leno Show, Makes 'Special Olympics' Gaffe

By March 20, 2009

Follow me on:

Obama on Tongith Show with Jay Leno There was something for everyone in President Obama's history-making appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno": a pitch for his economic recovery plan, a rebuke of AIG, musings about "American Idol" and puppies, and even a clumsy attempt at humor that may have offended some disabled people. (Watch the video and read the transcript)

It was the first time a sitting president has appeared on a late-night comedy show, the perils of which were illustrated when Obama made an off-hand joke about his bowling prowess.

Leno asked Obama whether the White House bowling alley had been "burned and closed down" in light of Obama's gutter ball disaster on the campaign trail last year.

"No, no. I have been practicing...I bowled a 129," Obama said, adding, "It's like -- it was like Special Olympics, or something." (Watch video clip)

This is why comedy should be left to the professionals. The audience laughed, but the White House quickly issued an apology, saying the president intended no offense to the Special Olympics. Obama later even called the chairman of the Special Olympics himself to apologize. (It was the second time Obama has had to pick up the phone to apologize for an off-hand joke. Late last year, he called Nancy Reagan to apologize after making a crack about her having held "séances" in the White House.)

Obama stuck to safer comedic targets during the rest of the interview. He drew the biggest laugh of the night after Leno asked if it was fair for him to be "judged so quickly" after less than two months in office. "I welcome the challenge," Obama replied. "In Washington, it's a little bit like 'American Idol,' but everybody is Simon Cowell."

More humorous highlights from Obama's appearance with Jay Leno:

On when daughters Malia and Sasha would get their pet dog: "This is Washington. That was a campaign promise," Obama said, drawing laughter from the audience. "No, no, no, no, no, I'm teasing. The dog will be there shortly."

On playing pickup basketball games under the watchful eyes of the Secret Service: "I will say that I don't think I get the hard fouls that I used to."

On flying on Marine one: "My daughters, they're just not as impressed. The first time we went on Marine One -- right, you've got the Marines in front and they're saluting you. And we go up and we're passing the Washington Monument, circling around on the way to Camp David -- and Sasha looks over and she says, 'Are those Starbursts?' (Laughter.) There's, like, the candy in the little canister. (Laughter.) That's – 'Can we have some?' (Laughter.) So they're splitting up the Starbursts and we're flying over the Lincoln Memorial. So they got a whole 'nother level of cool. (Laughter.)

Watch the video and read the full transcript.

Obama Late-Night Jokes
Funny Obama Quotes
Surviving the Obama Comedy Crisis

Follow Me on Twitter


March 20, 2009 at 8:34 am
(1) jd says:

This is why comedy should be left to the professionals…
And this is a problem in America – too thin skinned and too easily offended.
Special Olympics? Should he have called it ‘challenged bowling’?
I shudder to think what Bush might have called it!

March 20, 2009 at 10:44 am


March 20, 2009 at 10:52 am


March 20, 2009 at 11:44 am
(4) GregA says:

Primo, stop yelling.

March 20, 2009 at 2:04 pm
(5) Lois says:

Well, at least he’s classy enough to admit the mistake and apologize for it personally, and not just issue a press release! Let’s cut the guy some slack. He’s still new in the job!

March 20, 2009 at 5:12 pm
(6) Robert says:

Obama violated one of the basic commandments of comedy: thou shalt not make fun of cripples, especially if you are the President of the United States.

March 20, 2009 at 5:22 pm
(7) CJ says:

I thought it was funny. Everyone needs to lighten up.

March 20, 2009 at 6:43 pm
(8) D. J. says:

I work with people (all ages) who participate in Special Olympics competitions and they would not even comprehend, let alone be offended, by President Obahma’s comment. Why does the media love to accentuate and dwell on the negative side of everything instead of moving along? Obahma made some funny comments but nobody is complimenting him on his sense of humor. I think he’s cool.

March 20, 2009 at 7:54 pm
(9) SAM says:

I think that was funny. All the loud mouths
maybe would rather think 4256 dead GI’S would
be funnier.

March 21, 2009 at 12:05 am
(10) Sue says:

Everyone now days gets offended about EVERYTHING it is beyond preposterous how No one can say anything without getting offended. REALLY PEOPLE (LIGHTEN UP) don’t take everything so personally.

March 21, 2009 at 2:59 am
(11) Fathead says:

Whether or not it was offensive, it was a lame joke. Obama should know better. Any time you go on a late-night comedy shows and have to place a phone call to apologize afterward, you have failed.

April 3, 2009 at 5:50 pm
(12) Edward Ayres says:

I don’t think, in this case, America is being too thin-skinned. A President, of all people, shouldn’t be making jokes at the expense of people who cannot defend themselves. It seems making jokes about the “retarded” has become a staple of young comics, and has become pervasive though out American society. I can only assume it’s because this particular group is defenseless.

May 20, 2011 at 7:48 pm
(13) Christie says:

I am a Mother to a Special Needs child who by the way would spank him in bowling and yes I am offended! This is a man who was elected to represent all the people of the United States not just the ones who he can benifit from! I don’t consider myself to be thin skinned and those that say America is has never walked through a store or tried to get help for your special needs child… It’s easy to make jokes and poke fun of those who can’t or wouldn’t defend themselves. It is so great that he called and said he was sorry after he realized or should I say his staff realized he had just SCREWED up! What an awsome role mole we have for our Country..

October 16, 2012 at 2:11 pm
(14) Austin Security System says:

Appreciation to my father who stated to me regarding this
website, this webpage is in fact awesome.

October 16, 2012 at 2:22 pm
(15) Aimee says:

Hmm it appears like your blog ate my first comment (it was super
long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any tips and hints for inexperienced blog writers? I’d really appreciate it.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.