Political Humor

Stephen Colbert is known for tearing apart politicians with an acerbic, unforgiving wit — a trademark that strikes fear in the heart of many a public official. “He’s clearly the most political late night host, and arguably the most partisan,” said Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University and the author of the forthcoming book “Politics Is a Joke: How TV Comedians Are Remaking Political Life.”

The curtain rose this week on a new era of late-night TV — altering the terrain for politicians who frequent the shows and complicating life for Republicans, who have lost their most comfortable seat in front of the camera.

Thursday marked Jay Leno’s last night hosting The Tonight Show on NBC. He’s told a lot of jokes over the years, but his most common target has been Bill Clinton — so says a study from the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University. Professor Robert Lichter explains why he’s spent more than 20 years of his life cataloging late night TV jokes.

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.