George W. Bush on Leno: 3 things we learned from 'Tonight Show' appearance

George W. Bush, in a rare late-night talk show appearance, looked relaxed. He says he's not worried about the judgment of history. If they're still writing about the first president, 'the 43rd guy doesn’t need to worry about it,' he said.

Stacie McChesney/NBC/AP
Former President George W. Bush (l.) showed off his painting and poked fun at his post-White House years during NBC's 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,' in Burbank, Calif., on Nov. 19. He said he was inspired to take up painting after reading a Winston Churchill essay.

Former President George W. Bush made a rare late-night talk show appearance on Tuesday when he sat for a chat with Jay Leno of “The Tonight Show." President Bush’s agreement to do the show was, in fact, somewhat unexpected, according to Mr. Leno. He said on-air that while he and his staff had proffered President Bush an invite, they had not really expected “W” to accept.

At this point, Bush showed himself a master of comic timing. He answered “only because of you” to Leno, drawing audience applause. Then Bush waited ... just long enough before saying, “You’re about to head out to pasture. Just wanted to see what you look like before you go out that gate."

Leno’s getting pushed out the door, see. NBC has already announced that Jimmy Fallon will replace him at the end of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

So yes, Bush was pretty funny. Asked whether he was worried about history’s judgment, he noted he’d just finished reading a book about George Washington.

“If they’re still writing biographies of the first guy, the 43rd guy doesn’t need to worry about it,” he said.

When Bush and Leno were chatting about pets, the talk-show host asked why Bush’s cat is named “Bob."

“So I could remember how to spell it when I got older,” Bush said.

Here are three other things we’d say we learned from the appearance:

Ex-presidents have more fun. It’s a truism of Washington that presidents age in office. Their hair goes gray, they stoop a bit, and they often look as if they just came from a depressing briefing. Have you seen President Obama lately?

Bush didn’t look like that. He looked way peppier than he did in his last months in office. He looked healthy (despite the fact that he had a stent inserted in his heart in August).

Leno said he look more relaxed.

“No kidding. Duh,” said Bush.

His paintings aren't bad. Bush discussed his hobby of painting at some length. He said he’d been inspired to pick up oils and brush by an essay on the subject by Winston Churchill, who himself was a decent amateur artist. Leno showed a Bush painting of Barney the Scottish terrier that was pretty good and another of the aforementioned Bob that showed the cat against a mirror, positioned at an angle, that looked not easy technically to pull off.

Bush said he takes painting lessons once a week. He told his teacher, “There’s a Rembrandt inside this body. Your job is to find him.”

He’d painted a portrait of Leno and presented it on-air. It was recognizable but we'd have to say it wasn't the artist's best work.

His dancing needs work. At the end, Leno showed a clip of Bush dancing with locals in Zambia when he and former first lady Laura Bush were in the country for the promotion of their cancer-fighting initiative and the opening of a clinic they’d helped refurbish.

“I’m really sorry you found this,” said Bush prior to the clip.

He was game but appeared mostly to be doing that stiff guy dance move where it looks like you’re dribbling a basketball. At one point, he did a little twist of his, um, former presidential booty that had some uumph and worked from a comic standpoint, if nothing else.

“A little Miley Cyrus action there, yeah!” said Leno.

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