Many wondered if the president would be hilarious or not on the comic show, and at times his comic timing shone through. But one joke the president told might cost him.
Towards the end of the interview, Obama talked about honing his bowling skills at the White House bowling lanes, saying he bowled a 129. When Leno said "that's very good, Mr. President," Obama replied that it was "like the Special Olympics or something."
Later, White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton attempted to explain the remark saying "the president made an off-hand remark making fun of his own bowling that was in no way intended to disparage the Special Olympics."
"He thinks the Special Olympics is a wonderful program that gives an opportunity for people with disabilities from around the world," Burton said.
Otherwise the president's visit with Leno went well. Obama started off with an early quip, saying, "In Washington, it's a little bit like American Idol except everyone is Simon Cowell. Everybody's got an opinion."
He also struck some serious tones as well, referring to the corporate greed that has made headlines lately.
"People just had this general attitude of entitlement," Obama said. "The immediate bonuses that went to AIG were a problem, but we have to get back to an attitude where people know enough is enough. If we can get back to those values that built America, then I think we're going to be OK."
Obama even heaped praise on his embattled treasury chief Timothy Geithner, calling him a smart guy who was doing an "outstanding job."
Leno asked Obama what it's like to fly in Air Force One, an elementary school fantasy for many -- but apparently not the first daughters Sasha and Malia.
"I personally think it's pretty cool," said Obama. "Especially the jacket with the seal on it. My daughters, they're just not as impressed."
He did mention the dog he promised to his girls on election night. The Obamas are expected to adopt a Portuguese Water Dog soon.
"I think I'm going to have a lot of fun with it," Obama said. "You know they say that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.'
Obama has been on the show before, as a candidate, so the host asked him how things had changed since then.
"I asked Secret Service [in Costa Mesa], 'Why don't we walk over there?'" Obama said. "They said, 'Sir, that's 750 yards.' They let me walk on the way back, but the doctor's behind me with the defibrillator. Michelle jokes about how we have the ambulance, then the caboose, then the dog sled, then the submarine."
Before the president's appearance, signs of his arrival were apparent way before he arrived. The usually busy hallway at NBC Studios in Burbank, Calif., was blocked by wooden partitions and a ramp leading to the large "elephant doors" from the parking area was enclosed. Later in the evening helicopters swept the rooftops of studio buildings for threats.
By coincidence, a group of Marine commanders attended the Tonight Show taping, which are booked weeks in advance. The leathernecks said they were delighted to have lucked out and gotten tickets for the night their Commander-in-Chief was on the program.
"We did luck out," said one who received his ticket in the mail two weeks ago. "It was absolutely serendipitous. It was supposed to be Teri Hatcher earlier in the week. I was pretty pleased. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."