WASHINGTON – It seems George W. Bush can take a joke — and tell one.
But before the former President sat down with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show late Tuesday, the comedian turned his successor, Barack Obama, into the brunt of his hard jabs.
Leno raked him over the coals over Obamacare.
"Better him than me," Bush quipped afterward, relieved. He's happy to be out of line of fire.
"Eight years is plenty," he said. "I don't miss the spotlight."
Bush has largely avoided it since he left the White House in 2009, and Leno couldn't help but immediately pry into the reason why.
Leno told the 43rd president that he was surprised that he agreed to appear this time. It was Bush's fourth appearance on the show.
Bush used the opening to land the first shot at the late-night host, who will go off the air next spring after 20 years on the tube.
"You're about to head out to pasture. Just wanted to see what you look like, before you got to the gate," he said to laughs.
Then came his serious answer.
"I don't think it's good for the country to have a former president criticize his successor," Bush said.
As he has often in the past, Bush said that history will judge his legacy. But he didn't appear concerned.
Historians are still preoccupied with George Washington, he said. "If they're still writing biographies of the first guy, the 43rd guy doesn't need to worry."
Leno asked him for some advice to the sitting President on dealing with tough decisions.
"You have to believe in what you're doing," he said. Family, faith and a good team helped him deal with the rest, when he was President, Bush said.
President Obama's approval ratings have taken a pounding in the wake of the technical glitches that have plagued the launch of the Affordable Care Act.
Bush knows what public scorn feels like. But he said he did not take opinion poll numbers to heart.
"The only poll that really mattered was on Election Day. My first election was a little closer than I wanted," he said, grinning over one of many moments of self-deprecation.
Retirement seems to have afforded Bush opportunities for fun and fulfilling charity work.
He and his wife Laura travel often to Africa, where the Bush Institute runs health initiatives.
Leno showed a video of Bush dancing with locals in Zambia, making them laugh, and photo of the former Chief Executive painting a clinic.
It's a good message to leaders around the world, Bush said.
"If it's OK for the President to be painting and scraping, it's OK for them to be painting and scraping."
Bush joked that he has taken up a new profession since retiring from the Oval Office.
"I am a painter," he told Leno with a straight face. Leno asked, if he would add that to his resume.
"You may not think I'm a painter; I think I'm a painter," Bush added with a sly smile.
Bush made a gift to Leno of a portrait of the comedian, which he painted himself. He has been taking lessons in Dallas, and the results show.
When he first met his teacher, Bush said he told her:
"There's a Rembrandt trapped in this body. Your job is to find him."