The former president and his wife, Laura Bush, chat with Jay Leno about life outside the political spotlight

By Alexis L. Loinaz
Updated December 02, 2020 12:46 AM
Credit: Stacie McChesney/NBC

George W. Bush may have stepped away from the political spotlight, but he seems to have won the popular (audience) vote – on Tuesday’s The Tonight Show.

The former president stopped by to chat with Jay Leno, matching wits with the host as he unfurled a series of off-the-cuff zingers that left both Leno and his audience in stitches.

Case in point: When the host asked why he finally accepted Leno’s invitation to return to the show (this was his fourth appearance on it), a deadpan Bush, 67, slyly jabbed at Leno’s upcoming exit from the show.

“You’re about to head out to pasture – just wanted to see what you looked like before you got to the gate,” Bush cracked.

The former commander in chief also admitted he doesn’t miss the limelight – “eight years of the spotlight is enough” – and explained why he remains largely mum on issues of public policy.

“I don’t think it’s good for the country to have a former president criticize his successor,” Bush, whose wife, Laura Bush, also joined her husband at one point during the interview.

So what keeps the former chief executive busy these days?

Painting – lots of it. Bush showed off some of his own artwork (fond of painting his pets, he signs his works “43”) and even brought Leno a personal present: a portrait of the host that he painted.

“There’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body,” he recalled once telling his painting teacher. “Your job is to find it.”

He also gushed about the newest addition to the Bush clan: 7-month-old granddaughter Mila Hager, the daughter of Jenna Bush Hager and husband Henry Hager.

“It was a little slow at first because the kid didn’t say much,” Bush joked when asked about being a first-time grandparent.

But a moment later, the doting grandfather nodded his head and quietly said, “I’m hooked.”