Having an Oscar doesn’t always mean you’re just as good off-script — something Robert De Niro learned the hard way when a joke he made at a fundraiser for President Obama went badly awry.

While introducing first lady Michelle Obama at the soiree in New York on Monday night, De Niro referenced the wives of the current GOP candidates by saying:

Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney … Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?”

Whether or not it was funny is for you to decide, but Mrs. Obama’s staff couldn’t get the word out fast enough that his joke was “inappropriate,” and by Tuesday, De Niro himself issued a statement of apology.

Th actor said, “My remarks, although spoken with satirical jest, were not meant to offend or embarrass anyone, especially the first lady.”

But that didn’t stop Newt Gingrich from seizing the moment, saying on the campaign trail, “I think that Robert De Niro’s wrong. I think the country is ready for a new first lady, and he doesn’t have to describe it in racial terms,” and calling for the president himself to publicly repudiate the star’s comments.

As for Rick Santorum, he simply said De Niro’s gaffe was the result of a Hollywood actor “spouting off as they do. The idea of looking at politics through eyes of race should be over.”