The Washington Post

Here’s how you make President Obama laugh

US President Barack Obama jokes around before the start of the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) in Washington, DC, USA, 27 April 2013. (Pete Marovich/EPA/Pool) President Obama jokes around before the start of the 2013 White House Correspondents’ Association. (Pete Marovich/EPA/Pool)

What does it take to make President Obama laugh? Ask a cashier in Texas.

Last week, Daniel Webb, who works at Franklin Barbecue in Austin and moonlights as a stand up comic, was prepped for the president’s surprise visit on July 10.

So when Obama jumped the long line to the cash register, Webb was ready.

“Equal rights for gay people!” he demanded, slamming his hand down on the counter for emphasis.

“Are you gay?” the president asked.

“Only when I have sex,” responded Webb in a spontaneous yet perfectly timed punchline. Obama erupted in laughter and rewarded Webb with his trademark fist bump, a photo of which has been making the rounds on Twitter since last Thursday.

So, how does one get the leader of the free world to giggle? If other x-rays of Obama’s funny bone are to be believed, there’s nothing like an expertly crafted punch line to perk up the president’s understandably solemn mood.

Cheesy knock-knock and obvious “guess who walked into the West Wing” jokes need not apply. Catch the commander-in-chief off guard and you’re likely to see him crack a smile. Pop the presidential bubble entirely and he just might bust out laughing.

Be “sincere and honest and real,” advised comedian Joel McHale, who headlined last May’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

“As far as I can tell about him, he has a very, very great sense of humor–uniquely so compared to the last four presidents,” said McHale in a telephone interview from London.

It was McHale’s nine-year-old son, Edward, who got the first laugh at the Correspondents Dinner. The comedian told Edward to look the president straight in the eye and give him a firm hand shake when the two met before the show. The younger McHale followed that script up until Obama made the mistake of calling him “Edward.”

“No!” said the nine-year-old, perhaps still puffed up with his dad’s advice. “My name’s Eddie!”

“I watched the president giggle.” said McHale.  “He thought that was pretty funny.”

In a similar situation involving a handshake, actor Bill Pullman got a genuine laugh out of Obama almost by accident.

In January 2013, Pullman, who played President Dale Gilchrist in the now-canceled sitcom “1600 Penn,” was at a White House screening of the NBC comedy with the show’s cast and crew. Obama made sure to greet everyone before the lights went down. That’s when Pullman realized that he wasn’t wearing a tie like everyone else.

As the receiving line began to shrink, Pullman began to obsess about his breach in sartorial protocol. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, is this a sign of disrespect?'” the actor said.

By the time Pullman got in front of the president he was all nerves.

“Then he came to me and said, ‘So you’re playing me?'” recalled Pullman, “and I don’t know what possessed me, but then I said, ‘That’s why I didn’t wear a tie today, so they could tell us apart.”  Ba dum bum.

“And he laughed,” said Pullman. “He has to laugh for a lot of different reasons, but I thought that was an honest laugh.”

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Helena Andrews-Dyer is the co-author of The Reliable Source. Follow her on Twitter @helena_andrews, and send your hot tips, sightings, and gossip to



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Helena Andrews-Dyer · July 15, 2014

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