Sunday's 2012 Kennedy Center Honors celebrated David Letterman, Dustin Hoffman, and others at the annual star-studded event.
Instead of David Letterman on Obama, comedians honoring Letterman told joke after joke about Obama.
Ray Romano of "Everybody Loves Raymond" fame got a big laugh from President Obama while discussing how Letterman inspired Romano to become a comedian despite early setbacks.
"Do you quit when you are down 1 to 0 in the World Series? No, you keep going," he said. "Do you quit when you are down 1 to nothing in the debates? No you keep going, you become the president!"
"It's very surreal that I am talking to the president and first lady…I really wish I had voted," he said. Later Romano said he gets paid more than $600 for appearing on Letterman.
"But that's $296 after taxes," he said pointing at a laughing President Obama. Tina Fey, Jimmy Kimmel and Alec Baldwin also looked up at the president's box.
Jimmy Kimmel got laughs by saying Letterman was a "hero to everyone of us in this room with the possible exception of those who came to see the ballerina." He was referring to honoree Natalia Makarova.
"When I was a teenager, Dave was my Justin Bieber," Kimmel said.
Alec Baldwin honored Letterman with a dig at Jay Leno. During a Top 10 tribute he said Reason 8 was that he didn't do a 6-month stint on prime time, a reference to Leno's disastrous prime time adventure.
Tina Fey said growing up she couldn't figure out if Letterman was "a parody of a talk show host… or a Midwestern goon that was just a little bit off."
Led Zeppelin was honored by actor Jack Black who called the group the best band of all time, beloved by everyone "from Oliver Stone to Paul Ryan and everyone in between."
Foo Fighters, Lenny Kravitz and Kid Rock paid musical tributes.
Early in the show the president seemed subdued while First Lady Michelle Obama energetically enjoyed show.
Ballerina Natalia Marakova was honored by graceful dance performances.
Chicago blues guitarist Buddy Guy, also a Kennedy Center Honors awardee, was given a moving tribute by Morgan Freeman. That was followed by musical performances by Tracy Chapman, Jeff Beck and Bonnie Raitt, all of whom ended up on stage jamming together.
At intermission David Rubenstein, chairman of the Kennedy Center, got big applause when he said he looks forward to Obama attending for four more years.
"This stage always available to you if you ever want to finish that Al Green song," he said, referring to a famous President Obama singing episode.