Compilation of President Reagan’s Humor from Selected Speeches, 1981-89

or question to President Reagan mr. president I want to raise an issue that I think has been lurking out there for two or three weeks and cast it specifically in national security terms you already are the oldest president in history and some of your staff say you were tired after your most recent encounter with mr. mr. Mondale I recall yet that President Kennedy will had to go for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuban Missile Crisis is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances not at all mr. Truitt and I and I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign I am NOT going to exploit for political purposes my opponents youth and inexperience [Applause] if I still have time I might add mr. Truitt I might add that it was Seneca or I was Cicero I don’t know wish that said if it was not for the elders correcting the mistakes of the young there would be no state I like to head for the fence and try to catch that one before it goes over but but I’ll go out and do another question mr. speaker mr. president distinguished members of the Congress honored guests and fellow citizens today marks my first State of the Union address to you a constitutional duty as old as our Republic itself President Washington began this tradition in 1790 after reminding the nation that the destiny of self-government and the preservation of the sacred fire of Liberty is finally staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people for our friends in the press who place a high premium on accuracy let me say I did not actually hear George Washington savor but it is a matter of historic record on our way here in Air Force One I was looking down over the your countryside out here because most of the way from Oklahoma I was looking down the clouds and I could say that it reminded me of a story but actually I wanted to tell a story whether anything reminded me or not was about a fella that was driving down a country road and all of a sudden he looked out and there beside him was a chicken he was doing about 45 and the chicken was running alongside so he stepped on the gas he got it up to about 60 and the chicken caught up with him and was right beside him again and then he thought was he was looking at him but the chicken had three legs but before he could really make up his mind for sure the chicken took off out in front of him at 60 miles an hour turned down a lane into a barnyard well he made a quick turn and went down into the barnyard too and it was a farmer standing there and he asked him he said did did a chicken come past you yeah well he said am I crazy or did the chicken have three legs he says yep it’s mine he says I breed three legged chickens and the fella said for heaven sakes why well he says I like the drumstick ma likes the drumstick and now the kid likes the drumstick and we just got tired of fighting for him the driver said well how does it taste he says I don’t know I’ve never been able to catch one seriously since thank you very much thank you all thank you as Henry the eighth’s said to each one of his six wives I won’t keep you long I spoke of the difference between our two countries I try to follow the humor of the Russian people we don’t hear much about the Russian people we hear about the Russian leaders but you can learn a lot because they do have a sense of humor and you can learn from the jokes they’re telling and one of the most recent jokes I found kind of more personally interesting maybe you might tell you something about their country the joke they tell is that an American and a Russian were arguing about the differences between our two countries and the Americans said look in my country I can walk into the Nobel office I can hit the desk with my fist and say President Reagan I don’t like the way you’re governing the United States and the Russians said I can do that the Americans said what he says I can walk into the Kremlin into Brezhnev Sophos I can pound Brezhnev snez disc and I can say mr. president I don’t like the way Ronald Reagan is governing and I know that a lot of you’ve been having some fun with my advancing years you even tied my recent surgery to my age well I got to be honest with you I had that same operation when I was young and it felt so good I wanted to have it done again the board [Applause] but I am aware of my age when I go in for a physical now they no longer asked me how old I am they just carbon-date me incidentally I’ve got a news item for you we have a spinoff from our Star Wars research it’s a helmet for me to wear at press conferences all I do is push a button and it shoots down incoming questions you have to admit though that my attitude is better than linebacker George atkinson’s when he was with the Oakland Raiders someone asked him what the players reaction would be if the press box blew up he said we’d have 30 seconds of respectful silence and then continue with enthusiasm now honest I don’t feel that way maybe once in a while Nancy would you like to join me up here for please I know it’s getting late dear but it’s not often that we have so many people who’ve written about us and broadcast about us all together in one room like this and I thought you might like to say a few nice words to them they’re all from the press and radio and television maybe just a friendly little greeting would do how about just a word or two with something friendly even one kind word I’m thinking I’m thinking seriously my friends as always we’ve had our share of laughs tonight at one another’s expense which is as it should be in a city where the issues are important and the passions run so deep may be the fun and good nature of evenings like this is a good place to start it so thank you for your hospitality and thank you for inviting us thank you thank you thank you all so very much in all the 36 anniversaries of my 39th birthday this is certainly been the most memorable George Barbra all of you up here on the top shelf together with me and all of you ladies and gentlemen I am enormous Lee touched yesterday is my birthday 75 years ago I was born in Tampico Illinois a little flat above the bank building he didn’t have any other contact with the bank and that now Here I am sort of living above the store again and you’ve already it’s kind of been touched upon here that speaking of old times you may have heard that tomorrow is my birthday now you know about that I prefer to think of it as the 36th anniversary of my 39th but I’ll be just about due for a midlife-crisis fact I’m thinking about a career change drop this political business and see if I can’t do something different like radio or the movies maybe I’ll give politics another three years this time of the year always tends to be a summing up time for me it’s been swearing-in time and the new year every year and a birthday the 36th anniversary of my 39th birthday I always think age is relative it was once a very famous baseball pitcher satchel page and no one quite knew how old satchel was but he still were throwing that ball and somebody asked him about that and his wise answer was how old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were that’s how I came up with 39 well the late Jack Benny had something to do with that he was 39 for more than 40 years I can’t close without one story about doctors that he will understand very well have you ever noticed how easy it is if you were introduced to someone at a party or a dinner or something and they and he’s introduced as doctor and then there’s always those people that suddenly start saying doctor I’ve been having and well we had a fellow in showbusiness Mosshart the playwright who was an inveterate along that line and so one night at a cocktail party in Hollywood he was introduced to a dr. Jones and almost immediately he started talking about I’ve been having this low back pain and the fella that introduced them said Moss dr. Jones is a doctor of economics and that didn’t stop Moss at all he said doctor I was buying some stock the other day no I don’t want to go on too long this is after all Las Vegas and outside just a moment ago I saw a fella trading ten passes to the Regan talk for one ticket to frankie valli I’m mindful too that bringing things to a good conclusion is always a tricky business you were told that I was a sports announcer wh o Des Moines back in those days the great evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson was making a tour of the country holding revival meetings and one of them in Des Moines now the station thought it would be a good idea an enterprising public relations man to interview Aimee Semple McPherson but why they picked a sports announcer to interview that noted evangelist I’ll never know but there we stood in the studio and I asked her several what I thought were appropriate questions and then she answered graciously but then went into a very fervent plea about the success of her meeting and I sat down until suddenly I heard her saying good night to our radio audience and I looked up at the clock and there were only four minutes to go well I didn’t know enough about Aimee Semple McPherson that I could put on but I could fill four minutes so I got up and in those days of radio and disc jockeys and so forth I started thanking they noted evangelist namely simple McPherson and so forth but I did like this which means get a record ready and the fell out in the control room through the window reached out there was always records around there for such contingencies and picked one up and put it on the table and I said ladies and gentlemen we conclude this broadcast by the noted evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson with a brief interlude of transcribed music I expected nothing less than the Ave Maria the Mills Brothers started singing many of the moochers wedding day [Applause] [Music] [Applause] [Music] she never did say goodbye she just slammed the studio doors she she went out and by the way on the matter of the INF treaty I told the Senate not to worry about verification I told them I’d take care of it and while Gorbachev was here I even made him write a hundred times I will not cheat I will not cheat [Applause] oops oops but out during my presidency I’ve always emphasized diplomacy but sometimes it comes to the point you have to use force in foreign affairs and Here I am armwrestling general Noriega for Panama [Applause] we really enjoyed our trip to China and were amazed that the population was over a billion people and as you can see here the lines are terrible on another trip the government of Indonesia gave us these gifts and they’re our friends actually I love this shirt I finally found something louder than Sam Donaldson and speaking of the press remember during the contra ade vote when the networks wouldn’t let me on the air I bet you wondered how I finally got my message out it’s no secret that the press and I sometimes don’t get along in addition to my standard ploy of using helicopter noise to avoid reporters questions I have now added a new method to avoid questions tear gas I’ve loved almost every minute I’ve been in office although there were a couple of trips to the hospital in case you’re wondering what happened here I had just said so Don you you say you’re gonna write a book [Laughter] [Applause] one of my greatest enjoyment is talking to the young men and women who defend us from attack Here I am on top of the white house listen and the soldiers explaining where he thinks the next book will come from [Applause] it’s fortunate that not everything has been spilled in these books however I [Laughter] mean I hope the environmentalists never find out about this one we used to fly Air Force one over Wyoming Lo and shoot Buffalo from the window but I’ll tell you someone I trust totally George Bush he’s been a wonderful vice president he’ll make an excellent president and that’s why I endorsed him and why I’ll work hard for him this fall here we are listening to one of his speeches you here tonight do good hard creative work and I respect that too so as we say our farewells here tonight this salutes for you and now thank you very much but I think George and I should be applauding you I thought it would be good to get together now that we’ve all rested from our summer vacations and although it’s true summer vacations aren’t always restful you know that that leads to a story was a fella that was on his way to a mountain resort and a policeman stopped him and said did you know that you’re driving without taillights and the driver hopped out of the car he was so badly shaken that the officer took pity on him and said when I wait a minute calm down it’s not that serious and infraction teller said it may not mean nuts to you but to me it means I’ve lost my trailer a wife and four kids I was in Las Vegas some years ago to address the annual farm bureau meeting on my way to the hall a fellow recognized me and asked what I was doing in Las Vegas and I told him I was there what I was there for and he said what are a bunch of farmers doing in a place like Las Vegas and I couldn’t resist I said buster they’re in a business that makes a Las Vegas crap table looked like a guaranteed annual income you know there’s a story about a pig and a chicken they got tired of farm life decided to find jobs in town they know sooner arrived in town when a chicken spotted a sign in the window of a restaurant it said ham and eggs a dollar and a quarter a chicken suggested they go in and apply and a pig said wait a minute for you this job only requires a contribution for me it’s a total commitment you know I can’t resist I’m accused and certainly and some elements accused me of too much of telling anecdotes and so forth but I think it would be appropriate before I say anything else that one of my favorite stories about government had to do with a an employee who sat at a desk and papers came to his desk he read them and determined where they were to go and initialed them and sent them on and one day a classified document came there but it came to him so he read it initial didn’t sent it on 24 hours later it came back to him with a note attached that said you weren’t supposed to see this erase your initials and initially eraser but even howard baker’s writing a book about me it’s called 3×5 the measure of a president Mike Mike D verse in his book said that I had a short attention span well I was going to reply to that but what the hell let’s move on to something else [Applause] George Bush is doing well George has been a wonderful vice president but nobody’s perfect I put him in charge of anti-terrorism and the McLaughlin group is still on the air but with so much focus on the presidential election I’ve been feeling a little lonely these days I’m so desperate for attention I almost considered holding a news conference I’ve even had time to watch the Oscars I was a little disappointed in that movie The Last Emperor I thought it was going to be about Don Regan [Laughter] [Applause] oh one example is a story they tell you no you have to wait 10 years there for delivery after you order an automobile and so if L had finally gotten the money together and was going to buy an automobile only about one out of seven families have them in that country and he went through all the paperwork and everything and finally signed the last paper laid down his money and then the man behind the counter said to come back in ten years get your automobile and a man said morning or afternoon and the fella behind the counter said well what difference does it make ten years from now and he said well a plumber is coming in the morning I know that some of you were no beginners when it comes to writing headlines reminds me a little bit of a cub reporter you knew that something would remind me of a story cub reporter whose first solo assignment was interviewing a fellow who was just going to have a birthday that made him the oldest person in town and he got to the address it was an older building out of the house skirts of the city and elderly gentleman ushered him in he sat down and the reporter determined he was the man and he he said he was there for the interview and he led right to the matter about how old are you and the man said in 96 said to what do you attribute your longevity and the fella said I don’t smoke drink or run around with wild women and at that moment there was a crash from upstairs and the reporter looked up and he said what was that the old boy said oh that’s dad he’s drunk again you know there was a time but being a Republican in this area of the country felt a little bit like being Gary Cooper in High Noon outnumbered in a big way I remember the story of the fella here a while ago who was running for Congress as a Republican he stopped by a farm to do some campaigning and when the farmer heard he was a Republican his jaw dropped and he said wait right here he said I want I get MA she’s never seen a Republican before so he got MA the candidate looked around for a podium to give his speech from the only thing he could find was a pile of that stuff that Bess Truman took 35 years trying to get arey to call fertilizer so he got up on the mound and when they came back he gave his speech end up at the farmer says that’s the first time I’ve ever heard a Republican speech candidate said that’s the first time I’ve ever given a Republican speech from a Democratic platform it can be best described in a story I like three fellas that went out of the building to get in their car and found they’d locked the keys in they were locked out and one of them said get a wire corner had coat hanger and we straighten it out and I can get that the other one says you can’t do with that somebody think we’re stealing the car the third one said well we’d better do something pretty quick because it’s raining starting to rain in the tops down this this convention brings back so many memories we’ll fella like me I can still remember my first Republican convention Abraham Lincoln giving a speech that sent tingles down my spine no I have to confess I wasn’t actually there the truth is way back then I belong to the other party seems that 25 of San Francisco’s top bootleggers this is a little story to illustrate what I’ve just said about candor they were arrested back there in those days of the Volstead Act and as they were being arraigned the judge asked the usual question of course about their occupation and the first 24 were all engaged in the same professional activity each claimed he was a realtor and then he got to the last one the 25th and says and what are you yes the last prisoner and they the fella says Your Honor I’m a bootlegger and the judge was surprised but he laughed and he said well how’s business he said it would be a lot better if there weren’t so many realtors around president alphonsine and I have much in common we both have gone through many campaigns and asked for votes from many different kinds of people down in Texas during the 1976 primary they had me out knocking on doors and I remember one kind of rural area I’d been governor of California but I wasn’t all that well-known in Texas and I knocked on the door in an old cellar in his undershirt and jeans came to the door and I told him I was running for president and having been in the occupation I’d been in for a number of years I was kind of surprised when he asked me what I’d done for a living and I told him I’d been an actor and then he asked me what my name was and I thought well maybe if I give him a hint so I said well my initials were RR and with that a face lit up and he turned then he ran back into the house and he was yelling mama come on out here quick Roy Rogers is outside [Applause] so of course asking for help suggests a certain degree of trust which reminds me of a story has to do with a fella that fell off a cliff and he grabbed a limb on the way down and there he hung dangling above the rocky canyon and he looked up and and didn’t see anyone and he finally shouted out oh lord if you’re up there tell me what to do and a moment later a voice came booming down from the heavens that said if you have faith let go well he took another look down at those rocks 200 feet below and looked up again and says is there anyone else up there we’re to the fourth cartoon now this one mmm it’s called titled the Great Communicator but as you can see there’s been some mistake there they left the balloon blank so I think that I forgot what I was gonna say reminds me a little bit of the story of the man that took his young son in law and was going to introduce him to golf told him all that he had to do and teed up the ball and the kid took a swing and he missed the golf ball entirely but hit a ants nest there and into the air and so lined up and took a crack at it and again hit another gouge out of the ants nest and now that were ants flying all the way through the air and as he lined up with a third try two ants peeked out of the crater that he left and one of them said if we want to survive this we better get on the ball being a former Democrat myself I know how difficult it is we’re proud to have you all with us I have to tell you that I had started working for the party before I got around to joining it and one night 1962 state campaign in California I was speaking at a fundraiser and a woman stood up in the middle of the audience and asked me if I’d rear edge’ stirred and I should know but I I’m going to she said I’m a registrar she walked right down the middle I’ll put the paper up and I signed up and then said no where was I but I just say something here about this I’m half Irish too the other part is English and Scotch but I just I just can’t help but telling Union and you can take this with you for as I’m going to take this with me at the I was the visiting Ireland only my father’s ancestors background and community and so forth and then found myself on Castle Rock where st. Patrick erected the first cross and they young Irish guide was taking us through the old ancient cemetery and we came to one tombstone and he proudly pointed out and the tombstone was inscribed remember me as you pass by for as you are so once was i but as I am you too will be so be content to follow me and this had proven too much for some Irish you would who had scratched on the stone underneath the follow you I am content I wish I knew which way you went you know so much of of what we’re trying to do and so much of this depended on real communications and I can’t resist I’ve told this story before and if some of you’ve heard it before it illustrates communications you’ll have to forgive me but life not only begins or lumbago I should say not only begins at 40 but so does the tendency to tell the same story over and over again but I’ve always thought of the importance of communication and how much a part it plays and what you and I what all of us are trying to do and one day a former placekicker with the Los Angeles Rams who later became a sports announcer Danny Villanueva told me about communications he said he’d been having dinner over at the home of young ball player with the Dodgers the young wife was bustling about getting the dinner ready they were talking sports and the baby started to cry and over her shoulder his busy wife said to the ball players changed the baby and he was a young felon he was embarrassed in front of Danny and he said what do you mean change the baby I’m a ballplayer that’s not my line of work and she turned around put her hands on her hips and she communicated she said look Buster you lay the diaper out like a diamond you put second base on home plate you put the baby’s bottom on the pitcher’s mound you hook up first and third slide home underneath and if it starts to rain the game ain’t called you start all something else I I have to interject here although this is not an occasion for humor but I’ve had a kind of a hobby lately of collecting by way of dissidents stories that are told behind some of those iron curtains and those iron walls by the people themselves showing their own cynicism about the system under which they’re forced to live and one recently that I heard had to do with three dogs that were having a conversation an American dog a Polish dog and a Russian dog and the American dog was telling him about how well he barks and then in our country they his master gives him some meat and the Polish dog said what’s meat and the German are the Pope the Russian dogs is what’s bark it reminds me of a story in case you were wondering this is my way of sliding into a story many of you here work on east-west trade issues and I like to collect stories that I can verify that the Russian people tell among themselves so I’m going to tell you this one it’s about general secretary Gorbachev seems that as part of the campaign to straighten things out there in his country he had issued an order that everyone caught speeding were seen speeding should get a ticket no matter how important they might be one morning he was out at his country home and realized that he was running late for a meeting that he had in the Kremlin and he got into the went out to get in his car and told the driver to get in the backseat that he’d drive and he did and down the street he went and they passed two motorcycle policemen and the one of them took off after him and a little while later he came back and joined his companion the other motorcycle officer and the fellow said did you give him a ticket and he said no well he said why not when he said no no he was this was someone too important well he said we were told to give it no matter who it was that they were gonna take no he it’s not that what he said who was it well he said I don’t know I couldn’t recognize him there but his driver is Gorbachev [Music] I have to tell you right here I have been collecting stories that I can absolutely establish are told by the people behind the Iron Curtain in the communist bloc and they’re stories that reveal their kind of cynicism about the system under which they live and one of the more recent ones that I heard was about the man walking along the street at night Moscow Soviet soldier called to him to halt he started to run the show of soldier shot him another man said why did you do that what he said curfew well he said it’s isn’t curfew yet he said I know he’s a friend of mine I know where he lives he couldn’t have made it slander number three that does I shouldn’t I know but that does trigger another one of those stories I’ve picked up from over there they came to general secretary Gorbachev and they told him there was a woman in the Kremlin she wouldn’t leave unless she could see him so he said we’ll bring her in and they brought her in and he said old mother what is it what she said I have a question he said all right she said was communism invented by a politician or a scientist what he said a politician she said that explains it scientists would have tried it on mice first you know there’s a story about a young fella from the city who hired out to work on a farm during the harvest season and the first morning everyone was up well before dawn that new hired hand and the farmer made their way in the dark out to the oat field and neither one of them saying a word and finally the city fellow asked what kind of oats where they go to cut wild oats or tame oats farmer a little surprised said well tame oats of course why do you ask well he said I was just wondering why we’re sneaking up on him in the dark there’s a story and I understand it’s true it’s about a newspaper photographer out in Los Angeles kind of reminds me of Howard he was called in by as editor and told of a fire that was raging in Palos Verdes that’s a hilly area in the southern part of Los Angeles County and the photographer’s assignment was to rush down to a small local Airport board a waiting plane go out and get some pictures of the fire and be back in time for the afternoon edition well he raced down the freeway broke all the traffic laws got to the airport drove his car to the end of the runway and sure enough there was a plane revving up its engines ready to go he jumped in the plane shouting let’s go and they were off at about 5,000 feet he began getting his camera out of the bag told the fellow flying the plane to get him over the fire so I could get his pictures and get back to the paper and from the other side of the cockpit there was a deafening silence and then he heard those words he will always remember aren’t you the instructor you know when I think of the welfare system it reminds me of a story and I know some here have heard me tell this before and maybe everybody knows it but pretend that you haven’t heard it because I like to tell his story it’s a story about the parent with the two children and two sons and one of them was a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist and the other one was an incurable optimist and they thought they were both so unrealistic that they talked to a psychiatrist about it and he said he thought he could solve the problem and they said well what well he said let’s get the most magnificent set of toys any boy I ever had and we’ll put him in a room would take the pessimists there and then we’ll turn him loose and when he sees those toys and knows they’re all for him he’ll get over being a pessimist they see what he could do about the optimist what he said I have a friend who’s got a racing stable and he said we can get quite a quantity of what they clean out of the stable and we’ll put that in another room and when the optimist has seen his brother get those toys and then he gets that you’ll get over being an optimist well they did it and finally after a period they then went in and followed in where the boy was with the toys and he was sitting there crying and they said what what are you crying about he said well I know somebody could have come and take these away from me and they went down to the room with the optimist and he was on that top of that pile of stuff and he was throwing it over his shoulder as fast as he could and they said what are you doing he says there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere [Applause]