The Humor of Ronald Reagan

By Gary P Jackson

As I was writing commentary for my Mourning vs Morning in American piece, I found myself quite nostalgic for Ronald Reagan. I was just leaving my teenage years as Reagan came into office. I was already in the workforce, but things were lean. As Reagan sorted out the mess Jimmy Carter left us, everything began looking up.

One of the reasons Americas felt so good was Reagan himself. This was a good and decent man who truly loved his country, and believed in the spirit of the American people. He was also a happy guy. Someone who was always smiling, always optimistic.

Reagan had a marvelous sense of humor, and that, combined with his decades of honing his acting skills, made him an effective communicator and a wonderful story teller. It’s why he was called “The Great Communicator.”

The video above is a compilation from Reagan’s years in the White House. Funny stories, jokes, and sharp wit. It’s guaranteed to make you smile.

The next video is from one of the Dean Martin Roasts. Younger folks only know the roasts on Comedy Central. While funny, they are kinda lame compared to some of the craziness that went on back in the day. The Dean Martin Roasts were on broadcast TV, of course. This was before cable.

While more formal in appearance, they were side splittingly funny and some of the best comedians of the day would roast the “victim” of the week, as well as each other, with Dean Martin serving as the Master of Ceremonies.

In this clip, Don Rickles is absolutely wearing Reagan out. At the time Reagan was Governor of California and it was well known he had his eye on the White House. Thus the hilarious bit about Reagan and Nixon.


*Note, the original video was pulled, so here is entire video of the Dean Martin Roast of Ronald Reagan:

This next video needs little set up. This is Reagan himself, gently roasting George Burns, one of the real comedy greats.

Our last video is absolutely delightful. This is from the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. For those who are too young to remember, their shtick was Cher was constantly annoyed with Sonny, who was always the straight man, and often the punch line.

This is cool because during the skit Sonny gives Reagan an award, and his “reaction” to this little jewel is priceless. Of course it’s all part of the act. I just threw this one in because it’s fun.

Ronald Reagan was a great man and one of our greatest Presidents, but his ability to make us laugh, and make us feel good, about America, and ourselves, should never be forgotten.



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8 responses to “The Humor of Ronald Reagan

  1. Joy

    Talk about a trip down memory lane! I started out with all those great Reagan humor clips and moved on to more of the classic Dean Martin roasts, followed by several episodes of “What’s My Line?” (You know how it goes on YouTube – you can spend hours just moving through several genres – and they’re all classics!!) I hadn’t realized how often Reagan was a guest on those roasts – and he sure could give as good as he got! But no one could top Don Rickles for years! Anyway, it was a parade of the giants of comedy in the mid- to late-20th century – what a treat!

    Thanks, Gary – that was a GREAT Saturday night diversion!! Maybe Sarah should work up some comedy routines? On the other hand, that just doesn’t seem to be her natural “schtick,” so I guess she better stick to the basics….

    • Gary P

      Yeah Reagan was a master at this stuff. The Rickles bit just kills me. That guy is FUNNY. Those old Dean Martin Roasts were really fun. I watch the ones Comedy Central does now, but past vulgar jokes, and cussing for no reason, there’s no there there. I’m not against vulgar jokes, or cussing, but you compare how funny the old stuff was, without any cursing, off color stuff (this was broadcast TV in the 60’s) compared to the new stuff, and there’s no comparison!

      Sarah is a lot like Reagan, but she’s better with one liners. I tell you though, the number she did on William Shatner, when Conan was still doing the Tonight Show, is a classic. She did a stand up routine on Leno as well. That took courage.

      I’d like to see her go back on Saturday Night Live, as a host and do a couple of skits. That would be fun. The last time she was on that was the most watched episode in 17 years.

      Anyhow, glad you enjoyed the videos. We all need a diversion now and then.

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  3. Joy

    Not to beat a dead horse, but what struck me about Don Rickles’ routines were just how totally NON-PC the guy was – for real!! Equal-opportunity insult genius! Blacks & Jews came in for a lot of jabs – and everyone laughed like Hell. It seemed like a healthier time to me…. And can you imagine, if the climate was different and we all weren’t bowing with our a**es in the air to that phoney ROP, what a comic genius could do to the Muzzies? OMG, we’d be on the floor – but he might end up like Theo van Gogh, that poor, naive filmmaker from the Netherlands! Anyway, all these old guys – many old vaudevillians – had CLASS – whereas today’s generation of comedians (for the most part), thinking that only blue material and plain filth will cut it for them, don’t have an ounce of class in their routines and, to my (older, granted) mind, they’re not a bit funny. ‘Course, in all honesty, I never watch that stuff on TV and rarely go to live variety shows (prices are such a rip-off and the rooms/arenas are too cavernous, etc.).

    Anyway, by coincidence, my aunt & uncle in Canada just sent me an email with some of the old Reagan chestnuts – and I laughed or smiled all over again.

    • Gary P

      Yeah, back in the old pre-PC days, everyone was game. It wasn’t mean either. We’ve replaced the ability to joke about anyone/anything, with just being mean to people and calling it humor.

      Rickles has always been a favorite of mine.

      Not sure if you remember the old beach movies with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, but Rickles starred in four of those. In “Muscle Beach Party” he was “Jack Fanny” a guy who trained body builders.

      In “Bikini Beach” he was “Big Drag” who owned Bikini Beach Drag Strip as well as the hang out where everyone went to dance and listen to good music. This is one of my favorites, as Bikini Beach Drag Strip was actually Pomona, and a lot of the early 60s race cars were featured. Also some fun bands. The Pyramids and The Exciters Band and of course Donna Loren sings. She’s still around and still gorgeous. Lives in Hawaii. “Little” Stevie Wonder shows up at the end to sing.

      It was his first movie.

      A bit of trivia: William Asher directed all of these things. In Bikini Beach his wife, Elizabeth Montgomery, did the voice over for Danielle Aubry “Lady Bug”.

      In “Pajama Party” Rickles played “Big Bang, The Martian” In this one both he and fellow “Martian” Frankie only have bit parts. This is mostly Annette and the rest of the bunch.

      In “Beach Blanket Bingo,” Rickles plays “Big Drop” who owns a sky diving company.

      He was also in “Kelly’s Heroes” with Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas.

      The last thing I saw him in, movie wise, was Casino. He was good in that too.

      You are so right about class though. The old guys could make you die laughing without using one single curse word. They might throw out a little off color stuff, but they actually worked at being funny. Today’s comics are kinda lazy.

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  6. Isabel Matos

    That was great! I’m glad you shared it. Your words were just right about Sarah and her one-liners. She does use humor in her speeches and delivery. I personally liked George Carlin in his early years and before he turned bitter at the end of his life. Talk about politically incorrect! Bill Maher could not even be one ounce of funny compared to Carlin. His wit was unparalleled. To me he was a comedic genius. Don’t remember roasts but I’m sure he was at one or two. Anyway, thanks for the H/T on this. It was fun to listen to. Reagan was fun in addition to everything else! Great lesson for all politicians and politicos alike: laughter disarms and helps make serious matters easier to confront.

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