Study: Leno’s Top Joke Target Was Bill Clinton

February 4, 2014

Press Release

February 4, 2014

Contact: Robert Lichter 571-319-0029 Ext 110

Study: Leno’s Top Joke Target Was Bill Clinton

OJ & MJ Led List of Celebrity Targets

Study Tracks 44,000 Tonight Show Jokes since 1992

On the eve of Jay Leno’s retirement as host of “The Tonight Show,” a new study finds that Bill Clinton was Leno’s top political joke target over the past two decades, attracting one out of every ten jokes in his monologues, and O.J. Simpson was his top celebrity target. The study was released by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) at George Mason University (GMU). It covered 43,892 jokes about public figures and public affairs from 1992, when Jay Leno became host of the Tonight Show, through January 24, 2014.

According to CMPA Director/GMU Professor Dr. Robert Lichter, “Leno’s monologues focused on power and scandal, and Bill Clinton was the top twofer.”  Lichter is co-author of the forthcoming Westview Press book, Politics Is A Joke: How TV Comedians Are Remaking Political Life.

Throughout his “Tonight Show” tenure, Leno most often joked about powerful people and scandalous behavior. The two were combined in Bill Clinton, which accounts for his 4607 joke total, over one out of every ten jokes Leno delivered about public affairs and public figures. Clinton, his wife Hillary Clinton, his V.P. Al Gore, and his favorite intern Monica Lewinsky accounted for four of Leno’s top seven targets. Overall, the top twenty list includes the past four presidents and vice-presidents, as well as the past six failed major party nominees for president.

Democrats were the targets of 10,885 jokes, 15 % more than the 9465 jokes directed at Republicans. This reflects the fact that Presidents were usually Leno’s leading targets, and Democrats occupied the White House in 13 of his 22 years as Tonight Show host.

Top Twenty Political Joke Targets

1. Bill Clinton  4607

2. George W. Bush 3239

3. Al Gore 1026

4. Barack Obama 1011

5. Hillary Clinton 939

6. Dick Cheney 673

7. Monica Lewinsky 454

8. Bob Dole 452

9. John McCain 426

10. Mitt Romney 361

11. John Kerry 357

12. George H.W. Bush 343

13. Newt Gingrich 328

14. Sarah Palin 300

15. Ross Perot 288

15. Arnold Schwarzenegger 288

17. Joe Biden 274

18. Dan Quayle 260

19 John Edwards 229

20. Osama Bin Laden 216

Crime, scandal, and otherwise bad behavior put non-political celebrities in Leno’s sights. The top twenty non-political list is dominated by actors, singers, and sports stars whose questionable activities or lifestyles made them fodder for his monologues.

Top Twenty Celebrity Joke Targets

1. O.J. Simpson 795

2. Michael Jackson 505

3. Martha Stewart 208

4. Paris Hilton 153

5. Lindsay Lohan 153

6. Robert Blake 121

7. Anna Nicole Smith 55

8. Roger Clemens 50

9. Tonya Harding 49

9. Alex Rodriguez 49

11. Heidi Fleiss 48

11. Charlie Sheen 48

13. Lance Armstrong 47

13. Michael Vick 47

15. Madonna 46

16. Justin Bieber 44

17. Brittany Spears 42

18. Kobe Bryant 38

18. Chris Brown 38

20. Kim Kardashian 37

The Center for Media and Public Affairs is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization, which is affiliated with George Mason University. It has monitored news coverage of every presidential election and every new administration since 1988.

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10 Responses to “Study: Leno’s Top Joke Target Was Bill Clinton”

  1. […] Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University analyzed 43,892 jokes about public figures and public affairs over the past two decades. The study […]

  2. […] The former two-term president was Leno’s favorite joke target in his two-plus decades as host of the “Tonight Show,” according to a study conducted by George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs. […]

  3. Can you describe your methodology when gathering these statistics? Specifically, were you able to leverage any big data technologies?

  4. […] comes to an end, George Mason’s Center for Media and Public Affairs has numbered the top 20 targets of his political jokes through all 22 […]

  5. […] joke target in his two-plus decades as host of the “Tonight Show,” according to a study conducted by George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs.Of 43,892 monologue jokes about public figures and public affairs tracked by the study, Clinton was […]

  6. […] Jay Leno’s tenure as host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show” is nearing an end, a study released Tuesday by George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs find former President Bill […]

  7. […] Jay Leno’s tenure as host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show” is nearing an end, a study released Tuesday by George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs find former President Bill […]

  8. […] Jay Leno’s tenure as host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show” is nearing an end, a study released Tuesday by George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs find former President Bill […]

  9. […] Kim got off pretty easy compared to some. An official tally compiled by the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University showed that the biggest target was on Bill Clinton‘s back, the […]

  10. […] Show” comes to an end, George Mason’s Center for Media and Public Affairs has numbered the top 20 targets of his political jokes through all 22 […]

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