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About (Late) Last Night: George W. Bush wins big laughs on 'The Tonight Show'

November 19, 2010 |  6:23 am

"Thank you for all the material," Jay Leno said to former President George W. Bush on Thursday night's episode of "The Tonight Show." It had been 10 years since Bush appeared on the program, but he came with jokes ready. "Does any of that bother you?" asked Leno of the constant comedic ribbing. "I hate to tell you -- I don't want to hurt your feelings," said Bush, "but I was asleep." The crowd roared as they would many times during the interview, beginning with a standing ovation as the former president entered.

Throughout, the reception was entirely warm. When asked about President Obama, Bush told the host, "I don't think it's good for the country to have a former president criticizing his successor." Cue huge applause. And so it went: a careful Leno set-up, Bush's lead-in and a final, large point -- either a joke or spirited proclamation. Each time, the audience did their part to cheer.

After Leno played clips of both Obama and Bush dancing, Bush reached into his prepared material. "One of my girls called me and said, 'No wonder you're not dancing on the stars,'" he joked, stumbling a bit. Pre-planned one-liners filled the first portion of the interview. "That's the definition of a man without an exit strategy," Bush said after a video clip of him struggling with a door in China.

"I used to do some pretty stupid things," said Bush, chuckling. He was speaking about drinking too much, but really, it was a capitulation to his caricature. Even Leno clapped after certain Bush bits.

But in plugging his new book, "Decision Points," Bush displayed his brave side too. "I looked at the childs -- children -- who were sitting in front of me and I realized my most important job was to protect them," he said of 9/11. "I knew that if you're the head of an organization, you should not create any sense of panic."

"I left the classroom at the appropriate moment," he said, again to a big applause.

He spoke of Osama bin Laden ("He's hiding in a very remote part of the world, I guess."), and on the subject of Saddam Hussein, he reiterated, "The guy's a thug, and I believe the world is better off without him." In listing his regrets, Bush noted the "Mission Accomplished" sign, flying over the Hurricane Katrina damage and his occasionally "blunt" language. He hit every talking point.

When asked about the midterm elections, Bush brushed off the job of political pundit, and he shrugged at the mention of Sarah Palin. Of his brother Jeb's future, Bush told Leno, "You better ask him." At least on his book tour, Bush as ambassador is relegated to one subject on which he always says the right thing: himself.

-- Joe Coscarelli

See the rest of the interview after the jump.

Part two

Part three

Part four