Who Says First Impressions Are Lasting? When the U.s. Changed Presidents, Jim Morris Did Too

updated 05/15/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/15/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

After spending most of his career perfecting a Ronald Reagan impression, comic Jim Morris had reason to worry last year. The Great Communicator was about to leave office, and even Morris's hardiest fans were wondering what he'd do then. "I told them not to worry," says Morris, 31. "I'm no lame-duck comedian."

Apparently not. Last Jan. 20, Morris launched his second tour of duty, this time sporting the wire-frame specs and Waspish ways of George Bush (or more correctly, George Herbert Walker Griffith Joyner Kersee Cougar Mellencamp Bush, the name Morris used for his mock swearing-in at New York's Village Gate). On April 29, he celebrated his first 100 days with an appearance at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner in Washington, turning up on the dais with none other than George Herbert Walker Bush himself.

While the Pres and wife Barbara looked on delightedly, Morris launched into his best Bushwhacking impression, using the voice he calls "a cross between Liberace, Jack Nicholson and Mister Rogers." Careening from verbal mishap to mishap, he called Hispanics "Hispaniels," confused the Midgetman with that fellow "I defeated in November," and referred to the Supreme Court's Miranda ruling as "that Carmen Miranda thing." Then he went global. "We've also got problems in the Middle East," said Morris. "They're all insane over there. Except for the King of Jordan. He's Hussein. I know that."

Morris's own comic insanity began taking shape 20 years ago in Framingham, Mass., where his father was a publishing executive. In high school, "I did a great impression of the principal," he says, fondly recalling the time he tried to proclaim a daylong holiday over the school's public-address system. After a year at Boston University, another at the University of Massachusetts and some time spent traveling in Europe, he broke into stand-up in 1978 and launched his Reagan act as soon as Ron got elected.

Morris's success since then has brought him a one-bedroom bachelor apartment in Manhattan's waterfront Battery Park City, and he's hoping his Bush act will keep him there. With any luck, he says, he may even be able to recycle some of his Reagan gags. "Bush inherited the legacy," says Morris. "He may as well inherit some of the jokes."

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