WASHINGTON (AP) _ Comedian Jay Leno played the White House on Thursday, cracking up President Bush with a Mario Cuomo joke and confessing to Dan Quayle that jokes about the vice president are in shorter supply these days.

The heir to ''The Tonight Show'' throne met both Bush and Quayle for the first time, and did a star turn in the White House briefing room.

Bush himself invited Leno at the last minute after reading in the morning newspaper that Leno was in town to speak at the National Press Club.

''Find him,'' Bush instructed an aide.

Bush browsed through Leno's new book of wacky newspaper headlines in the Oval Office, then escorted the comedian on a tour of the White House Christmas decorations.

''I gave him a good Mario Cuomo joke,'' Leno related afterwards. ''Mario Cuomo's public service campaign: 'A mind is a terrible thing to make up.'''

Bush told reporters, ''He had a couple about me, but I can't tell you what they were. ... He's funny and very good.''

Leno came armed with plenty of Democrat jokes, including one about Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., that he told Quayle in a separate meeting. Kennedy's nephew was acquitted Wednesday in the Palm Beach rape case.

''Kennedy jokes have actually been working. As Ted said when he heard the verdict, 'PAR-TY 3/8 PAR-TY 3/8'' Leno bellowed.

Leno said his jibes at Quayle were ''just jokes.''

''I said it was nice to meet him. He kind of smiled. Actually, I said I haven't been doing many Quayle jokes lately,'' Leno said.

Quayle scoffed when asked if he told Leno to lay off the jokes.

''I told him to ease up, you're right,'' Quayle said sarcastically.

''He hasn't been on your case,'' said Bush.

The 41-year-old comedian told reporters there are ''so many candidates out there I'm having a wonderful time.

''Jerry Brown's been working pretty good,'' he said of the former California governor. ''Actually, the sad thing about Jerry Brown's candidacy is that all the people who want to vote for him are locked inside that Biosphere II experiment. ... That's his core constituency.''

Outgoing White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu, whose travels and travails were often lampooned by Leno, asked the comic what he would do now for material, spokesman Marlin Fitzwater related.

Leno got off a Sununu joke before leaving the White House.

After sitting through 10 minutes of a Fitzwater briefing on Soviet affairs, Leno raised his hand and asked, ''Any connection between Sununu resigning and Pan Am going under? I mean they both happened about the same time.''

Fitzwater joined in the general laughter.

''I've got an answer for that one, but in my business, Jay, sometimes the best jokes you can't say,'' the spokesman replied.

Fitzwater deadpanned at the briefing's start that ''Jay Leno has agreed to run against Pat Buchanan.''

Leno, unfazed, said he was still working on a campaign platform and promises.

''How about 'America last'?'' a reporter offered.

''America last?'' Leno laughed. ''That's pretty much taken care of itself.''

The proceeds from ''Headlines III,'' Leno's third book of offbeat newspaper headlines, benefit pediatric AIDS research.