President Obama shows off his comedic chops at Kennedy Center Honors


Kramer Phillips

President Barack Obama, who recently defeated Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on November 6 to earn a second term in the Oval Office, made wisecracks at the Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday.

The evening was a celebration of entertainers from stage and screen for their contribution to the arts. The honorees were Academy Award-winning actor Dustin Hoffman, late-night talk show host David Letterman, guitarist Buddy Guy, ballerina Natalia Makarova and Led Zeppelin.

“I worked with the speechwriters – there is no smooth transition from ballet to Led Zeppelin,” President Obama said at the Kennedy Center Honors while introducing the honorees at a ceremony in the White House East Room, according to Reuters.

Mr. Obama was not the only one making jokes on Sunday. Robert DeNiro, who is widely considered one of the best actors of his generation, poked fun at his friend and honoree, actor Dustin Hoffman.

“Dustin Hoffman is a pain in the ass,” said Mr. DeNiro, a former honoree. “And he inspired me to be a bit of a pain in the ass too.”

Comedian Tina Fey, star of NBC’s “30 Rock” and a former SNL cast member, joked about honoree David Letterman. Ms. Fey was honored with the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2010.

“David Letterman is a professor emeritus at the ‘Here’s Some More Rope Institute,’” Ms. Fey said. Mr. Letterman, the host of CBS’ “Late Show,” was more reflective than humorous.

“I was full of trepidation, but now I am full of nothing but gratitude,” the late night comedian said. “I don’t believe this, but it’s been nice for my family.”

The award for best introduction of the night, however, goes to Tenacious D rocker Jack Black who introduced the surviving members of Led Zeppelin.

“Led Zeppelin [...] the greatest rock and roll band of all time [...] yeah, I said it. Better than the Beatles. Better than the Stones [...] even better than Tenacious D. That’s not opinion [...] that’s fact,” Mr. Black said, according to BAM’s Blog. “If you don’t agree with me, it’s because you never did the Zeppelin marathon. That’s when you sit your ass down and listen to all nine Zepp albums in a row… What makes them so special is the contrast of power and beauty. Heavenly melodies intermingled with hellish rifts of thunder. The first time I heard Zepp was in high school. My body was changing and my mind was opening to new possibilities when Derek Skanky made me a mix tape of his favorite Zepp jams. They quickly became my favorite band. Throughout the years, I’ve explored all kinds of genres and styles [...] but it’s always come back to the Zepp.”

President Obama was quick to point out the irony of hosting the hard-rocking members of Led Zeppelin at the White House.

“Of course, these guys also redefined the rock and roll lifestyle,” Mr. Obama said. ”So it’s fitting that we’re doing this in a room with windows that are about three inches thick – and Secret Service all around. So, guys, just settle down.”

This is not the first time that the president has cracked jokes with such success. At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in April, Mr. Obama made wisecracks with ease. The president was so funny that night that a Republican operative told The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer that, “Romney could never do a night like this.” Of course, Ms. Mayer noted and Mr. Obama himself admitted, presidents always have access to some of the nation’s best joke writers for events like the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

While the 2012 presidential race was defined more by political gaffes than jokes, President Obama and Governor Romney had their opportunities to use a little lighthearted humor to distract voters from the tenuous nature of the race.

At a rally in Michigan in August, the Michigan native proved that while his delivery may be a little less smooth, he can crack jokes just like the president.

“No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate,” Mr. Romney told the crowd. “They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.”

In a night meant to honor entertainers from stage and screen for their contribution to the arts, President Obama may have stolen the show.

With the election long over, the Kennedy Center Honors reception was seen as a chance for the president to shower the honorees with praise. During the election, pundits noted the president’s influence among Hollywood’s elite. They even called him the “celebrity-in-chief.”

President Obama used his popularity in Hollywood to bring money into his campaign coffers. Actress Sarah Jessica Parker and actor George Clooney both held fundraisers for the president, raising millions of dollars.

Throughout his second term, the president will host a number of White House receptions to honor sports teams and individuals who excel at their craft.

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Obama addresses attendees at Kennedy Center Honors.

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