WASHINGTON - Nailing her status as the most popular of the Bush clan - and funniest First Lady - Laura Bush stunned and delighted partygoers Saturday night with a wicked and bawdy roast of her husband.
While not profane, Bush's comedy routine could have been cribbed from a "South Park" episode, and it ambushed thousands of journalists at the annual White House Correspondents' Association bash, who probably had low expectations.
But in the space of a few minutes, Bush made history with a delicious skewering of her four years inside the bubble.
Hurling terrific one-liners rapid-fire like she was shooting skeet, she compared her sex life to the ABC hit "Desperate Housewives" and her mother-in-law Barbara Bush to movie mafioso Don Vito Corleone.
She joked that her city-slicker hubby took to Texas ranch life by milking a horse. "What's worse, it was a male horse," Bush said to roars of amazed laughter in the vast ballroom.
The First Lady had even the most hardened Bush critics in stitches when she said President Bush's answer to any problem at the Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford "is to cut it down with a chain saw - which I think is why he and Cheney and Rumsfeld get along so well."
The button-down defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, doubled over in hysterics.
Taking listeners inside the private White House residence, Bush described her typical evening with the President.
"Nine o'clock. Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep and I'm watching 'Desperate Housewives' - with Lynne Cheney. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate housewife," Bush deadpanned with perfect comic timing. (The New York Times reported yesterday that Bush actually has never seen the show.)
Bush joked that after she and fellow desperadoes took a much-needed trip to Chippendales, "Lynne's Secret Service code name is now 'Dollar Bill.'"
But the normally demure first spouse ended her spiel on a gracious note, saying her husband gave their marriage "fun and energy," and their twin daughters "absolutely adore him."
The performance earned a standing ovation, which probably made presidential communications guru Karen Hughes blush with envy. Hughes was behind the Bush twins' off-color GOP convention speech last summer, which bombed.
Credit for the First Lady's zingers went to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's speechwriter Landon Parvin, a White House ringer who adds pizzazz to the President's annual media dinner addresses. But Parvin also flopped last year with jokes about Bush looking under his desk for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Bush sources said it was the President's idea for the First Lady to take the mike, though it originally was conceived as a surprise standup routine for the Radio-TV Correspondents Dinner last month. But then Pope John Paul II died and the first couple jetted to Rome for his funeral.
Remarkably, Laura Bush only rehearsed twice - on Friday and Saturday - for 60 minutes total, sources said. And few inside the West Wing knew about it other than top press aides.
"It was intended to surprise everyone, catch them a little off-guard and be entertaining," said a beaming White House insider.
Bush's blockbuster star turn was the latest manifestation of her metamorphosis from shy former librarian and teacher to global role model whose popularity routinely trounces her husband's in opinion polls.
Even Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Bush's opponent last November, lavished fulsome praise on the First Lady during two nationally televised debates.
Surprising some Bush political strategists, she told her husband in late 2003 she intended to be heavily involved in his reelection bid. She made more than 75 solo campaign appearances, raised more than $10 million and was in demand far more than Vice President Cheney. She also was pressed into service to defend her husband on controversial issues like stem-cell research and gay marriage. Since the election, she has eased out the White House chef, overhauled her personal staff, visited Afghanistan and done a fourth appearance with Jay Leno.
She hasn't always been so comfortable with the political limelight. In fall 1998, Bush told the Daily News his wife's reluctance was the main reason he might not run for President in 2000. But by early 1999, he said his wife was coming around. "She's full of spit and vinegar," Bush told The News. "I think she's coming around."</center>
The complete transcript of Laura Bush's comments from the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, held April 30:
President Bush: Thank you and good evening. I always look forward to these dinners, where I'm supposed to be funny — intentionally. I'm really looking forward to hearing Cedric the Entertainer. I kind of think of myself that way.
Cedric, did you hear that hilarious line I ad-libbed down in Arkansas? A woman in a town meeting told me she was from DeQueen, and I said, 'That's right next to DeKing.' You gotta' admit that's pretty good, Cedric. That's what you call sophisticated re — par — tay.
Then out in Montana, I told a joke about a cattle guard, which, to be honest, didn't get a very big laugh — actually, none. But Cedric, I think you'll appreciate this, and you can use it if you want to. See, there was this city slicker who was driving around lost and he came across this ol' cowboy. And so the city slicker asked the old guy how to get to the nearest town, and —
First Lady Laura Bush: Not that old joke — not again.
Ladies and gentlemen, I've been attending these dinners for years and just quietly sitting there. Well, I've got a few things I want to say for a change.
This is going to be fun because he really doesn't have a clue about what I'm gonna' to say next.
George always says he's delighted to come to these press dinners. Baloney. He's usually in bed by now.
I'm not kidding.
I said to him the other day, "George, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you're going to have to stay up later."
I am married to the president of the United States, and here's our typical evening: Nine o'clock, Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep, and I'm watching Desperate Housewives— with Lynne Cheney. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate housewife. I mean, if those women on that show think they're desperate, they oughta be with George.
One night, after George went to bed, Lynne Cheney, Condi Rice, Karen Hughes and I went to Chippendale's. I wouldn't even mention it except Ruth Ginsberg and Sandra Day O'Connor saw us there. I won't tell you what happened, but Lynne's Secret Service codename is now "Dollar Bill."
But George and I are complete opposites — I'm quiet, he's talkative, I'm introverted, he's extroverted, I can pronounce nuclear —
The amazing thing, however, is that George and I were just meant to be. I was the librarian who speant 12 hours a day in the library, yet somehow I met George.
We met, and married, and I became one of the regulars up at Kennebunkport. All the Bushes love Kennebunkport, which is like Crawford, but without the nightlife. People ask me what it's like to be up there with the whole Bush clan. Lemme put it this way: First prize — three-day vacation with the Bush family. Second prize — 10 days.
Speaking of prizes brings me to my mother-in-law. So many mothers today are just not involved in their children's lives — Not a problem with Barbara Bush. People often wonder what my mother-in-law's really like. People think she's a sweet, grandmotherly, Aunt Bea type. She's actually more like, mmm, Don Corleone.
Cedric, am I doing all right?
I saw my in-laws down at the ranch over Easter. We like it down there. George didn't know much about ranches when we bought the place. Andover and Yale don't have a real strong ranching program. But I'm proud of George. He's learned a lot about ranching since that first year when he tried to milk the horse. What's worse, it was a male horse.
Now, of course, he spends his days clearing brush, cutting trails, taking down trees, or, as the girls call it, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. George's answer to any problem at the ranch is to cut it down with a chainsaw — which I think is why he and Cheney and Rumsfeld get along so well.
It's always very interesting to see how the ranch air invigorates people when they come down from Washington. Recently, when Vice President Cheney was down, he got up early one morning, he put on his hiking boots, and he went on a brisk, 20- to 30-foot walk.
But actually, in all seriousness, I do love the ranch, and I love the whole Bush family. I was an only child, and when I married into the extended Bush clan, I got brothers and sisters and wonderful in-laws, all of whom opened their arms to me. And included in the package, I got this guy here.
I think when you marry someone, you unconsciously are looking for something in your spouse to help fulfill something in you, and George did that for me. He brought fun and energy into my life and so many other things. George is a very good listener, he's easy to be around, and on top of it all, he's a loving father whose daughters absolutely adore him.
So in the future, when you see me just quietly sitting up here, I want you to know that I'm happy to be here for a reason — I love, and enjoy being with, the man who usually speaks to you on these occasions.
So George and I thank you for inviting us, thank you for all of the good work that you and the press do, and thank you for your very kind hospitality this evening.</center>