Kennedy Center Honors Reception: President Obama's 10 Best Jokes

President Obama Kennedy Center Honors Reception - H 2014
Associated Press

The commander-in-chief made several quips at the expense of the honorees — and himself — at Sunday night's event in D.C.

President Barack Obama kept the crowd at a Kennedy Center Honors reception laughing Sunday night as he paid tribute to this year's honorees, including Sting and Tom Hanks.

The event was held in the East Room of the White House before a gala performance hosted by Stephen Colbert that also honored singer Al Green, Lily Tomlin and ballerina Patricia McBride. (The show will be broadcast Dec. 30 on CBS.)

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In his remarks, Obama made several jokes at the expense of the honorees — and also himself. Here are 10 highlights:

1. "Welcome to the White House. Michelle and I love this event. Everybody looks so nice. This is one of our favorites. And as Lily used to say [in character as Edith Ann] — that’s the truth. Now, as a president, I cannot stick out my tongue. That might cause an international incident."

2. "President Kennedy once wrote, 'The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose — and is a test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.' I think Tom Hanks will agree that President Kennedy was probably envisioning Joe Versus the Volcano when he wrote that."

3. "Now, I’m going to start with somebody who I know all of you think about whenever I sing, and that’s Reverend Al Green. I’ve been keeping his traditions alive." (Obama famously sung Green's hit "Let's Stay Together" during a 2012 fundraiser at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.)

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4. "Nobody can sing like Al Green. That soul, that light falsetto. His music can bring people together. In fact, he says he can hardly go anywhere without a fan coming up to him, pulling out a picture of one of their kids, and telling him which of his songs helped that child enter the world."

5. "In Nine to Five, Lily Tomlin plays an undervalued employee whose chauvinist boss steals her ideas and screams at her to get coffee. Finally, she and two coworkers get so fed up, they kidnap him. They get to work changing the office. Working moms get treated better. Productivity rises. The top brass are thrilled. It’s basically a live-action version of the working family policies I've been promoting for years. We’ve sent DVDs to all members of Congress to try to get them on the program."

6. "About 40 years ago, a young singer-songwriter named Gordon Sumner was known to wear a yellow-and-black striped sweater. Ever since, he’s been known by one name: Sting. Now, not everybody can pull off a name like Sting, but this guy can. His wife, Trudie, calls him Sting. Apparently his kids call him Sting. 'POTUS' is a pretty good nickname, but let’s face it, it’s not as cool as Sting. I kind of wish I was called Sting. I’m stuck with POTUS."

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7. "Because just being a celebrity was never Sting’s goal. This is a man who comes from humble roots. He’s the son of a milkman and a hairdresser. When he was a child, he was so tall that his classmates called him 'Lurch.' They regret that now. That’s payback right there. He’s here. You, whoever you are — you’re out there. Before he had any success as a singer, he had worked as a teacher, a construction worker, and in a tax office. And if a few things had gone differently, we could be living in a world with a really hip, cool tax clerk named Lurch."

8. "On the night of Patricia McBride’s farewell performance at the New York City Ballet, the crowd showered her with 13,000 roses. Thankfully, they cut the thorns off first."

9. "Tom's career began just like so many Hollywood legends — dressing in drag for a show called Bosom Buddies."

10. "One of four kids in his family in Concord, Calif., Tom Hanks once said his idea of a good time growing up was to take a bus to Sacramento. In the years since, Tom has flown a rocket to outer space, he’s fallen in love with a mermaid, he’s faced down Somali pirates, mooned the president of the United States (in Forrest Gump). I’m glad he got that last one out of his system before this evening."