Whether they are guiding our nation through difficult times, or simply showing American citizens that they matter, when the U.S. president speaks, the world listens. From Franklin D. Roosevelt’s intimate “fireside chats”, to presidents using social media, the words of these leaders are powerful, but they can also be hilarious. Self-deprecating humor, sarcasm, puns, and “dad jokes” have all been told by these funny leaders of the free world. Check out our list of the funniest jokes told by American presidents.
1. Herbert Hoover
Herbert Hoover is best known for his role in the construction of the Hoover Dam and the St. Lawrence Seaway, which helped facilitate trade. Hoover was also known for heading the American Relief Administration, which fed tens of millions of people across Europe and the former Soviet Union who had been affected by famine and war.
Unfortunately much of his presidency was marred by two devastating events: the crash of the stock market in 1929, and the beginning of the Great Depression. Despite Hoover’s accomplishments, the destruction of the economy took with it any hopes of reelection. Hoover remarked in a joke that was both humorous and sad, “Blessed are the young, for they will inherit the national debt.”
2. George W. Bush
Often the target of endless gibes by late night comedians and impersonators, President George W. Bush still managed to poke fun at himself. The 43rd president often joked about his perceived lack of intelligence, and the poor grades he received as a student in his youth.
While opening the George W. Bush Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas, the president joked, “There was a time in my life when I wasn’t likely to be found at a library, much less found one.” While many comedians made fun of his “Bushisms”– mispronunciations or linguistic errors in his speeches — Bush found humor in his mistakes as well. After mispronouncing the word “strategy”, he jokingly began to refer to his gatherings as “The Strategery Meeting”, and used the word “misunderestimate” frequently.
3. Calvin Coolidge
Despite becoming president during the vivacious Roaring Twenties, President Calvin Coolidge was known for an icy and quiet demeanor. His quiet persona led to his nickname “Silent Cal”, and a reputation as a man who watched the economy, and his words, closely. Under his administration, the U.S. economy was highly prosperous and boomed.
The 30th president often avoided interviews or speaking to the press. He once said, “No man ever listened himself out of a job.” Coolidge’s most famous example of his wit was when he was seated next to a woman at a dinner party who attempted to engage conversation with him. “I bet I can get more than two words out of you,” she challenged. Coolidge, not one for small talk, simply retorted, “You. Lose.”
4. William Howard Taft
While President Taft was not a fan of politics, he was able to accomplish many achievements while in office. Supported by his predecessor, President Theodore Roosevelt, Taft carried on his legacy as a “trust-buster”, tackling the often immoral large corporations and monopolies.
Taft also created the Department of Labor, passed the 16th and 17th amendments centering on federal income taxes and the way U.S. senators would be elected, added New Mexico and Arizona to the U.S., and created a parcel post service which would improve trade. Despite his many achievements, Taft was happy when he was no longer in the Oval office. He once famously joked, “Politics, when I am in it, makes me sick.”
5. Jimmy Carter
As the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter wasn’t always the recipient of positive ratings. The politician served during a time of domestic and international unrest. The former peanut farmer held a reputation as a Washington ‘outsider’ who often clashed with Congress.
Carter, in a self-deprecating joke, quipped: “My esteem in the country has gone up substantially. It is very nice now that when people wave at me, they use all their fingers.” Carter’s popularity surged after he left office and made foreign policy his focus. He co-founded the nonprofit Carter Center, which not only awarded him a Nobel Peace Prize, but has helped countries in conflict seek peaceful resolutions.
6. Gerald Ford
Former president Gerald Ford’s time in office began in an unorthodox way, becoming the 38th president after President Richard Nixon resigned. Ford’s pardon of his predecessor became a highly contested decision, as well as his decision to offer amnesty to all Vietnam draft evaders or deserters. The economy under Ford was plagued by high inflation and high unemployment. The energy crises caused fuel prices to surge, adding additional struggles to the nation.
The nation was suffering under a fiscal crisis, which Ford attempted to resolve by budgeting and increasing taxes. At a dinner for the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association, Ford directed his frustration at the media bigwigs, saying, “At a time when funds for the defense budget may be cut, it’s comforting to see so many of the big guns from your industry still getting loaded.”
7. Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant became known as one of the great heroes of the American Civil War. The former general and commander of the Union armies became the 18th president of the United States after gaining popularity for helping the Union win the war.
While Grant was not known for his charm or humor, he was known as a fierce defender of the Union, and what it represented. He once famously stated, “I only know two tunes, one of them is ‘Yankee Doodle’ the other isn’t.” This was a reference to the song once sung by British troops to stereotype American soldiers, which was later reclaimed by the Americans as a way to show national pride.
8. Bill Clinton
While President Clinton’s time in office may have led to great economic success, his presidency was marred by a variety of scandals. As the 42nd president, he implemented important trade agreements, passed important bills to reform welfare, and dealt with conflicting nations in the Balkans.
Despite his achievements, Clinton’s public and political moves were heavily scrutinized. When asked about living in the White House, Clinton dryly remarked: “I don’t know whether it’s the finest public housing in America or the crown jewel of the American penal system.” While he is no longer directly involved in politics, Clinton continues to make public speaking appearances, and is considered to have been one of the more successful presidents of the United States.
9. Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson served as president of the United States for two terms. He is best known for leading the United States through World War I. Wilson was driven by a desire to reform; he once stated: “Nothing was ever done so systematically as nothing is being done now.” He created two important regulatory federal agencies: the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Trade Commission.
He won the Nobel Peace Prize for establishing the League of Nations, which eventually evolved into the United Nations. Wilson was also known for his wit: while describing his relationship with Republicans, he joked, “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.”
10. Barack Obama
Often surrounded by some of the funniest names in Hollywood, former President Barack Obama was famous for having some of his own jokes up his sleeve. The 44th president was known for his puns and “dad jokes”, which he routinely displayed during public events. During his last Turkey Pardoning Ceremony before Thanksgiving, he promised to deliver a “corny-copia” of jokes.
He often poked fun at his opponents and even his team members, comparing Hillary Clinton to an older aunt trying to engage with her younger relatives over Facebook. Obama also poked fun at himself, after it was revealed that he may have smoked a certain something as a college student. He jokingly told the press, “In my final year, my approval ratings keep going up. The last time I was this high, I was trying to decide on my major.”
11. George H.W. Bush
George Bush the father may have been our nation’s 41st president, but he was still afraid to incur the wrath of his mother for refusing to eat his vegetables. It became a well-known joke in the White House that Bush abhorred broccoli. Rumors were even started that he banned the cruciferous vegetable from the menu aboard Air Force One.
Even a handwritten letter by a five-year-old boy convincing him to give the vegetable another chance was met with a kind, but stern “no”. Bush jokingly but firmly stated, “I do not like broccoli and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”
12. Lyndon Johnson
As vice president, Lyndon Baines Johnson became president under the most tragic circumstances possible: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As the 36th president of our country, he was responsible for a variety of achievements. These included space exploration and an extensive role in promoting civil rights by signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Nonetheless, historians often joked that the former president had “the manners of a barnyard dog”. While speaking to economist Kenneth Galbraith, he asked if Galbraith ever thought speeches on economics were like urinating on oneself: “It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else.” He also mentioned the bias of the media, saying: “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: President can’t swim.
13. Ronald Reagan
Before becoming the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan had an illustrious career in Hollywood. No stranger to zinging one-liners, Reagan’s public speaking appearances were often littered with funny quips and powerful messages. While he may be best known for his stern demand “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”, directed at Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan also possessed an obvious sense of humor.
When describing politics, he once said: “ Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.” As a man of action, and less a man of meetings, he once also joked, “I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency — even if I’m in a Cabinet meeting.”
14. Harry S. Truman
Following the death of President Franklin Roosevelt in his fourth term in office, Harry S. Truman became the 33rd U.S. president. Truman sought to reform the country through changes in housing programs, increasing minimum wage, creating national medical insurance, and promoting civil rights by ending segregation in the armed forces.
Truman’s social reforms were often met with resistance from economists and members of Congress. He once joked, “Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, ‘On the one hand…on the other’.” Referring to his role in politics, he once joked: “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician, and to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.”
15. John F. Kennedy
For many Americans, John F. Kennedy was one of the most beloved and promising politicians. Kennedy believed in promoting civil rights, and finding ways for the country to work together. JFK’s administration worked to achieve civil rights and quell the spread of Communism throughout the world.
Understanding the poor reputation that most politicians have, he once said, “Mothers all want their sons to grow up to be president, but they don’t want them to become politicians in the process.” Kennedy, who had fiercely debated opponent Richard Nixon, once asked the crowd at a presidential campaign, “Do you realize the responsibility I carry?” He then added, “I’m the only person standing between Richard Nixon and the White House.”
16. Dwight Eisenhower
Dwight Eisenhower is most remembered for his role as commander in several crucial military operations including the invasion of Normandy, known as D-Day. Domestically, he helped expand Social Security, signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and enforced integration in once-segregated schools. Eisenhower is also well known for expanding the Interstate Highway System across the country, changing transportation forever.
Although he had a strong military background, he was not a proponent of massive spending on defense and military manufacturers. He once stated that this spending would negatively impact the country’s people, remarking, “There are a number of things wrong with Washington. One of them is that everyone is too far from home.”
17. Franklin D. Roosevelt
Faced with not only the Great Depression, but also World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt helped lead the United States from darkness towards light. He is responsible for signing the Social Security Act to benefit senior citizens and others in need, as well as a variety of government programs and reforms, which he called the New Deal. As the 32nd president, he is also considered as serving the longest time in office, having been elected to four terms.
Roosevelt was known for his uplifting and intimate speeches, called “fireside chats”, which he delivered to the American public via radio. He also possessed a biting sense of humor. When told that his wife was “in prison” (Eleanor Roosevelt had gone to visit a penitentiary), he joked, “I’m not surprised. But what for?”
18. Theodore Roosevelt
Considered to be one of the most influential presidents in American history, Theodore Roosevelt was also known for his strong opinions and words. Known as a powerful reformer and “trust-buster” for breaking up the monopolies that dominated certain industries, the 26th president of the United States often spoke plainly about industrial corruption.
Roosevelt worked hard to address corruption within the U.S. government. In speaking about the Senate, he famously joked: “When they call the roll in the Senate, the senators do not know whether to answer ‘present’ or ‘not guilty’.” He was also a firm believer in taking responsibility, saying: “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”
19. Chester A. Arthur
Chester A. Arthur was forced to take position as the 21st President of the United States after President James A. Garfield was assassinated. Arthur was a firm believer in reforming civil service hiring practices, and passed the Pendleton Civil Service Act.
The act stated that certain jobs in politics should not be given because of political connections, but should be based on merit. While publicly he campaigned for reform, privately he was known for receiving kickbacks, and engaging in less-than-clean political dealings. While describing how he won Indiana’s vote, he slyly quipped, “If it were not for the reporters, I would tell you the truth.”
20. Martin Van Buren
Considered one of the least notable presidents of the United States, Martin Van Buren’s presidency came with a variety of financial, and later political, issues. As the eighth president, Van Buren was faced with a nation in financial ruin thanks to a crash in the stock market and the ill-fated transfer of federal funds to state banks, which resulted in business failures and property loss.
While an independent treasury would be created after his presidency, Van Buren bore the brunt of the nation’s financial instability. Unable to even carry his home state of New York, he was often nicknamed “Martin Van Ruin”. It is no surprise that the former president remarked upon leaving office, “The two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it.”
21. Andrew Johnson
Before pundits were filling our television screens and news media, arguing over the government’s increasing distance from everyday people, President Andrew Johnson commented on the phenomena. The 17th president of the United States, Johnson was not well-liked, and became the first president to be impeached.
While many of his policies were considered to be detrimental to the fledgling nation, his quip about Washington, D.C. still rings true for many who follow politics today: “Washington, D.C. is twelve square miles bordered by reality.” While he is often considered one of the worst presidents, his comment still proves relevant for many, even more than a century and a half later.
22. Abraham Lincoln
While many remember Abraham Lincoln as the man who fought to preserve the Union during the United States Civil War, and for helping to emancipate slaves, few historians mention Lincoln’s timeless wit and humor. According to former Senator Bob Dole, who wrote a book on presidential humor, Great Presidential Wit (I Wish I Was in the Book), Lincoln was one of the funniest presidents due to his “natural gift for sarcasm”.
In listening to one particularly long speech, Lincoln sarcastically remarked: “He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas of any man I ever met.” Lincoln, who wasn’t exactly known for his looks, often joked about his appearance. During a fierce debate between him and Stephen A. Douglas over a Senate seat, he was accused of being two-faced. Lincoln jokingly replied, “I leave it to my audience: if I had two faces, would I be wearing this one?”
23. Franklin Pierce
Long before the era of hashtags, and bumper stickers, one politician understood the importance of a slogan. Franklin Pierce, who served as the 14th president, ran under the slogan “We Polked You in ’44. We Shall Pierce You in ’52”.
The word “Polked” was a reference to the 11th president, James K. Polk, who was also a Democrat. While Pierce may have been a talented copywriter, he was a less than successful president. His political moves, such as the Kansas-Nebraska Act, are considered to have led to the American Civil War. He was seen as a supporter of slavery by Northerners, creating tension that eventually snowballed into a war between the North and South.
24. John Tyler
John Tyler was the 10th president, and the first vice president to take office following the death of an elected president. Because of his unusual rise to power, he was often jokingly referred to as the “Accidental President” or “His Accidency”. Despite the unanticipated circumstances involved in becoming elected, Tyler was able to accomplish many things.
Tyler’s administration helped develop and reorganize the Navy, create the United States Weather Bureau, and help end Florida’s Second Seminole War. He also annexed Texas, which later became a part of the United States. Tyler was known for his sense of humor. In describing the pitfalls of popularity, he joked to the House of Representatives, “Popularity may aptly be compared to a coquette — the more you woo her, the more apt is she to elude your embrace.”
25. James Madison
Considered to be one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, James Madison served as the fourth president of the United States. Madison is most remembered for his creating the framework for the Constitution, and for writing the first ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights. For this reason, he is also referred to as the “Father of the Constitution”.
While he was known for his contributions to our country, he also possessed a well-known sense of humor. According to the James Madison Institute, he and his wife Dolly would “tease each other like two children”. Even while on his deathbed, Madison elicited laughter, saying, “I always talk better lying down.”