Perhaps President Obama may have had an inkling Thursday evening why he was the first sitting president to appear on a late night comedy show. Seeking to lighten the mood during a week plagued by economic turmoil and congressional in-fighting, the president appeared on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" despite calls from some that he should instead focus on the economy.
Toward the end of Obama's interview with Leno, he joked about how he has improved his bowling score by practicing his form in the White House bowling alley.
"I bowled a 129 ... It's like the Special Olympics or something," Obama said to Leno with a laugh. The president quickly came to regret this foot-in-mouth moment, and apologized to the chairman of the Special Olympics before the interview even made it to air Thursday evening.
Maybe presidents should leave the joking to the comedians. But, while Obama is the first sitting president to take a stab at late-night comedy, he's certainly not the first to have his humor fall flat.
At a 2004 dinner for journalists, then-President George W. Bush was criticized for joking about the hunt for weapons of mass destruction during wartime. In an effort to show off his sense of humor at the annual dinner of the Radio and Television News Correspondents Association, Bush presented a slideshow to the media. The photographs revealed Bush in various poses in the Oval Office, pretending to search for WMD.
"Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be here somewhere," Bush said while showing a picture of him looking under a desk at the White House. "No, no weapons over there," he said as he continued revealing images to a laughing crowd of reporters.
"Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere ... nope, no weapons over there ... maybe under here?" Bush joked.
Many Democrats were outraged by the attempt at humor, suggesting the remarks crossed a line.
"This is a very serious issue," Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe told "Good Morning America" the same week. "We've lost hundreds of troops, as you know, over there. Let's not be laughing about not being able to find weapons of mass destruction."
Presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., also fell victim to a bad joke. While on the stump for local Democrats, the former presidential candidate caused students of Pasadena City College in California to roar with laughter when he drew a parallel between education and the Iraq war.
"Education -- if you make the most of it and you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well," Kerry said. "If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
Kerry later clarified that he was referring to the president not doing his homework, not to military men and women who have served in Iraq. The senator issued a statement saying he regretted that his "words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform, and I personally apologize to any service member, family member, or American who was offended."
But it was too late, the firestorm of criticism from the right had already spread to the Internet and then to the campaign trail.
Republicans saw the gaffe as an excuse to discuss something other than the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq and a much-needed opening for their party in advance of the 2006 mid-term elections.