Comedian Bob Hope gave reporters, who were barred from his Christmas tour, a taste of desert one-liners Tuesday, roasting everyone from a U.S. military official to Saddam Hussein.
His throat slightly ticklish, the 87-year-old comedian, who has entertained U.S. forces at Christmas for the past 50 years, said he eliminated "a lot of jokes" so as not to offend Saudi sensitivities.
One joke cut from his monologue, he said, sought to poke fun at the long, black robe-like "abayas" and head coverings worn by traditional Saudi women.
Hope said he had intended to sympathize with the male soldiers about all the layers of clothing the local women wear. ("By the time you get in there, you've lost your desire. But it's fun just searching.")
The U.S. Central Command said in a statement Tuesday it restricted coverage of Hope's three-day tour for security reasons and because media coverage, "however well-intentioned, has a very great likelihood of being exploited by the Iraqis for propaganda purposes."
The U.S. military has been at pains not to offend sensitivities in this Muslim kingdom -- where all other religions are banned -- and also has refused to let the media cover religious services.
Even the armed forces radio network avoided most songs with a religious theme to avoid hurting Saudi sensibilities.
"How will the Americans get the Iraqis out of Kuwait?" Hope asked. "I think they'll tell them there's a note for everybody in Baghdad from Ed McMahon."
On Baghdad Betty, a woman who broadcasts to the U.S. troops from Iraq, Hope said: "She said that all our wives were being wooed by Tom Selleck and Tom Cruise and Bart Simpson. Next day she said they are being wooed by Rudolph Valentino, John Barrymore and George Burns.
"George Burns I could believe because he still chases girls. It's after he catches them that he's in trouble. When they say 'no,' he says, 'Thank you.' "
At a Christmas morning news conference, Hope lamented that he had to leave "the girls," including Marie Osmond and the Pointer Sisters, behind in Bahrain. Saudi Arabia prohibits women entertainers.
"I know exactly what they're doing. The king's running the place. They have their religion and their beliefs and you have to kind of abide by it," he said. "What bothers me is they don't want any entertainment and they still invited me."
Hope joked about having to do an all-male show, with only his wife, Dolores, to sing "White Christmas" as a finale.
Hope said he made seven stops on Christmas Eve, including a show for 7,000 troops in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. He had a big Christmas show Tuesday and was heading north to the desert to visit the Marines today.
The comedian, who put on nine Christmas shows in Vietnam, said he hoped this would be his last performance in the gulf region.