"Oh, you'll appreciate this one," former California governor Gray Davis says of his latest exercise in self-deprecation.
The 61-year-old Davis, still casting about for a career a fter being booted from office by Arnold Schwarzenegger, appeared in a recent promotional spot CBS created for advertisers after Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" and other network problems.
In the promo, Davis commiserated with disgraced baseball star Pete Rose and other down-on-their-luck celebrities.
"You guys think you had a bad year?" Davis tells the group. "I was replaced by the guy who starred in 'Conan the Barbarian.' "
Last year was most definitely a bad one for Davis, who became just the second governor in U.S. history to be recalled by the voters.
But months later, Davis -- a career politician known to most voters as a humorless, cardboard-stiff policy wonk -- has exploited his own misfortune and crafted a funny new image as a lovable loser.
Davis has joked with Schwarzenegger and Jay Leno on the "Tonight Show" and made a cameo appearance on the sitcom "Yes, Dear," playing himself. He also stars in a series of ads for Yahoo!, saying he can use the search engine to find an agent now that he is out of a job.
"An actor got to be governor; maybe a former governor can go into acting," Davis quips in the ad.
Yahoo! spokeswoman Nissa Anklesaria says: "He was great, really charming, and all the feedback we've gotten has been really positive. We're really happy with it."
With his foray into comedy, Davis is showing a part of his personality few people got to see before.
"That's always been a part of me, but I've never been able to reveal it," Davis says, adding that he has hired an agent to field offers. "If people are willing to continue with the self-deprecating tone that I like, then I'd be interested."
If only he had shown such levity before, says Phil Trounstine, who was Davis's communications director and now runs the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University.
"Had he demonstrated a lighter touch and a greater sense of the interests of other people while he was governor, we might not have Governor Schwarzenegger," Trounstine says.
Davis insists he is not obsessing over his downfall. Publicly stoical, he says that losing his office was part of the rough-and-tumble of politics.
"There's no envy there," says Davis, who talks regularly with Schwarzenegger. "I'm grateful for the 30 years I had. It was a long ride. But I didn't appreciate how much stress I was under. Now, I'm just taking life as it comes."
That means taking trips with his wife, Sharon, and allowing himself to do something virtually unheard of in his old life: have fun.
"We went to Napa for four days, and it was so beautiful," Davis recalls, describing a trip through California's wine country. "Before, every time I went to Napa Valley, I was always on the phone and my nose was in a speech -- I didn't ever take in all the beauty. But this time we played golf, did some wine tasting and hung around. It was spectacular."
Nevertheless, the new Davis looks a lot like the compulsive and workaholic old one. He still favors conservative navy suits and drinks a tofu shake for breakfast each morning; his lean frame reflects the daily 90-minute workout he never misses.
A lawyer by training, he will probably join a law firm or an investment bank in the fall, and may do some teaching on the side. He will be a delegate to the Democratic convention in July and is helping John Kerry rake in contributions across California.
As someone who failed to project much personality to voters, Davis offers some hard-won wisdom to Kerry.
"I think he needs to capture some of the excitement and energy that Howard Dean brought to the campaign," Davis says. "I would recommend he find a role for Dean, have him out there actively campaigning."