“Nobody ever had as good a time as I did as president,” Theodore Roosevelt reflected in 1909. His serious side, which included negotiating peace between Russia and Japan, breaking apart trusts, and preserving the wilderness for generations of Americans, was balanced with pillow fights and outdoor adventures with his children — and boxing matches and Japanese wrestling with friends in the White House. He often drew funny cartoons in letters he wrote to his family.
TR loved to tell stories and laugh at them. He said, “When they call roll in the Senate, the senators don’t know whether to answer, ‘Present,’ or ‘Not guilty.'” His eldest child was notorious for living it up, to which he responded, “I can be president of the United States or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.”
Those who served as chief of the executive branch before and after him could let their sense of humor show, too.
George Washington: When a junior officer boasted he could break a spirited horse and was thrown off head over heels, Washington was so “convulsed with laughter tears ran down his cheeks.” He also wrote in a letter about a duel: “They say Jones fired at his opponent and cut off a piece of his nose. How could he miss it? You know Mr. Livingstone’s nose and what a capitol target it is.”
John Adams: “I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm and three or more is a congress.”
Abraham Lincoln: “If I were two faced, would I be wearing this one?” Lincoln’s stories were legendary — it was not always what he said but how he said it. He was an expert mimic. During the horrible days of the Civil War he often got relief by listening his two secretaries with knee-slapping laughter. “Tell it again, John!” he said to young John Hay.
Calvin Coolidge: After a hostess said she’d made a bet she could get more than two words out of him, he replied, “You lose.” He said in 1929 he didn’t want to run for president again. There was no chance for advancement.
Franklin Roosevelt: “Twenty-two minutes,” he said, when asked what the next Fireside Chat was to be about.
Harry Truman: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”
Lyndon Johnson made some famous analogies but that doesn’t mean they should be repeated.
Jimmy Carter: “It’s nice now that when people wave at me, they use all their fingers.”
Ronald Reagan, a natural storyteller, was the only president with a prior career in entertainment. He poked fun at himself: “Just to show you how youthful I am, I intend to campaign in all thirteen states.” When horseback riding with Queen Elizabeth, her mount passed a substantial amount of gas. She apologized: “I’m sorry.” Reagan shot back, “Why, Your Majesty, I thought it was the horse.”
George W. Bush: “These stories about my intellectual capacity really get under my skin. For awhile, I even thought my staff believed it. There on my schedule first thing every morning it said, “Intelligence Briefing.”
Barack Obama: At an observance of International Woman’s Day he said, “I salute heroic women from those on the Mayflower to the one I’m blessed to call my wife, who looked across the dinner table and thought, ‘I’m smarter than that guy.'”