Presidential humor
Basketball legend Bill Russell adjusts his height to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom
February 15th, 2011
05:29 PM ET

Presidential humor

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Today the president awarded 15 people the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their contributions to society. In a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, President Obama said that this is one of the events, as he described it, he most looks forward to each year.

Maybe that’s because the Presenter-in-Chief gets to try his hand at humor.

No more than a few seconds into his remarks, Obama had the crowd laughing when he welcomed the audience and guests to the White House. “Some of you have been here before,” he deadpanned, no more than a few feet from award winner and former president George H.W. Bush.

According to the White House-provided transcript of the event, the president earned just about two dozen laughs in the nearly hour-long event. “Now you can see why I love this day,” the president exclaimed at the event’s conclusion.

Read below the fold for some of the highlights:


On poet Maya Angelou:

As a girl, Marguerite Ann Johnson endured trauma and abuse that actually led her to stop speaking.  But as a performer, and ultimately a writer, a poet, Maya Angelou found her voice.  It’s a voice that’s spoken to millions, including my mother, which is why my sister is named Maya.  (Laughter.)

On Warren Buffett:

In 1942, an 11-year-old boy from Omaha, Nebraska, invested his entire fortune in six shares of City Services Preferred at $38 per share.  The stock soon dropped sharply, devastating his holdings.  (Laughter.)  But true to form, the boy did not panic.  He held those shares until the stock rebounded, earning himself a small profit.  Things got a little bit better after that.  (Laughter.) …A philanthropist is a lover of humanity, and there’s no word that fits Warren better.  I should point out he’s so thrifty I had to give him a White House tie - (laughter) - the last time he came here to visit.  His was looking a little shredded.  (Laughter.)  So then when Bill Gates came, he wanted one, too.  (Laughter.)

On artist Jasper Johns:

Jasper Johns pushed the boundaries of what art could be and challenged others to test their own assumptions.  He didn’t do it for fame, he didn’t do it for success - although he earned both.  As he said, “I assumed that everything would lead to complete failure, but I decided that it didn’t matter - that would be my life.”  (Laughter.)  We are richer as a society because it was.  And Jasper, you’ve turned out fine.  (Laughter.)

On musician Yo-Yo Ma:

Yo-Yo Ma has been a concert cellist since the age of five.  Despite being a late bloomer - (laughter) - he went on to record over 75 albums and win 16 Grammys - which means I’m only 14 behind him.  (Laughter.) 

On St. Louis Cardinal icon Stan Musial:

Stan Musial - his brilliance could come in blinding bursts; hitting five home runs in a single day’s doubleheader; leading the league in singles, doubles, triples and RBIs over a single season; three World Series; first-ballot Hall of Famer; worthy of one of the greatest nicknames in sports - “Stan the Man.”  (Laughter.)  My grandfather was Stan, by the way, so I used to call him “The Man” too, Stan.  (Laughter.)  Stan Musial made that brilliance burn for two decades.  Stan matched his hustle with humility.  He retired with 17 records - even as he missed a season in his prime to serve his country in the Navy.  He was the first player to make - get this - $100,000.  (Laughter.)  Even more shocking, he asked for a pay cut when he didn’t perform up to his own expectations.  You can imagine that happening today.  (Laughter.) 

On hall of fame basketball star Bill Russell:

When Bill Russell was in junior high, he was cut from his basketball team.  (Laughter.)  He got better after that.  (Laughter.)……. More than any athlete of his era, Bill Russell came to define the word “winner.” And yet, whenever someone looks up at all 6’9” of Bill Russell - I just did - (laughter) - I always feel small next to him - and asks, “Are you a basketball player?” - surprisingly, he gets this more than you think, this question –(laughter) - he says, “No.”  He says, “That’s what I do, that’s not what I am.”



soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Liz Carter in GA

    The Medal of Freedom: Great list of recipients, Mr PRESIDENT; every one of them! Very thoughtful decisions! Good Going!

    February 15, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  2. Jarret Lovel

    I believe that Stan Musial finally got some of the 'long due' recognition that he is more than deserving of. One of the greatest that ever played the game of baseball, and potentially the best man off the field, this was long over due. Thank you to all the fans in St. Louis as well as Cardinal fans without, and most especially a great thanks to 'The Man' for all of his contributions both on and off the field. As a long time St. Louis Cardinals fan, I believe that I speak for everyone when I say that he will always be held close to our hearts when we think of our team.

    February 15, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  3. AMERICA 1st that some kind of new stomach disease? the current cause is certainly making me want to vomit!

    February 17, 2011 at 2:11 am |
  4. Liz Carter in Georgia

    @AMERICA 1st; Oh my goodness! Be real careful not to throw-up something you might need! Put a 'potus' on it! That's what my grandmother used to do for my 'childhood' stomach aches! You might feel better! L O L!

    February 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm |