GOP Candidates Were Big Joke to TV Comics in 2011

January 4, 2012

Press Release
January 4, 2012
Contact: Rachel Salabes

But Top Iowa Finishers Were Spared, Study Finds

Leno, Letterman split in treatment of Obama

Republican presidential hopefuls accounted for five of the top ten joke targets of leading late night TV talk show hosts in 2011, according to a new study of political humor by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA). Overall, the study found that Republicans were the targets of jokes almost three times as often as Democrats. President Obama was the single most frequent subject of jokes, but Jay Leno targeted him over twice as often as David Letterman.

Noting that the top GOP finishers in Iowa (Romney, Santorum, and Paul) are the least joked about, CMPA President Dr. Robert Lichter noted, “This shows that it’s hard to vote for somebody while you’re laughing at them.”

From January 1 to December 10, 2011, CMPA analyzed the targets and topics of all jokes about public figures in the opening monologues of the highest rated late night talk show hosts on the broadcast networks – Jay Leno (“Tonight Show”), David Letterman (“Late Show”), and Jimmy Fallon (“Late Night”). CMPA has been tracking the targets of late night TV comedians since 1988.

President Obama was the leading target in 2011 with 342 jokes, and titillating Twitterer Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) was second with 220, but no other Democrat made the top ten list, which included declared GOP candidates Herman Cain (191 jokes), Rick Perry (186), Michelle Bachmann (128), Newt Gingrich (110), and self-declared “potential” candidate Donald Trump (122), as well as father figure and former GOP governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (142).

Republican front-runner Mitt Romney was the lowest ranked major candidate, coming in 13th with only 79 jokes, behind non-candidate Sarah Palin (109) and Vice-President Joe Biden (82). Iowa late bloomers Ron Paul (17 jokes) and Rick Santorum (16) finished far back in the joke race. Joke totals for the top 20 targets are listed below.

The presence of so many GOP candidates among the top-rated figures of fun is reflected in the overall proportion of jokes directed toward all GOP and Democratic targets. Officials and candidates affiliated with the Republican party accounted for 72 percent of partisan jokes, compared to 28 percent directed at Democratic candidates and officials.

Although Barack Obama was the overall target of more jokes than any other individual, the three comedians differed sharply in their treatment of the president. (They did not differ systematically in their attention to the GOP candidates.) Leno told 156 jokes about President Obama, more than twice as many as David Letterman’s total of 77 jokes. Fallon was second with 107 Obama jokes.

Obama was the top joke target by far for both Leno and Fallon. However, he ranked only fourth on Letterman’s list, behind Anthony Weiner (85 jokes), Muammar Khadaffi (82), Rick Perry (81), and Osama bin Laden (79).

For all three comedians combined, joke totals for the top twenty targets of late night political humor were:

  1. Barack Obama – 342
  2. Anthony Weiner – 220
  3. Herman Cain – 191
  4. Rick Perry – 186
  5. Osama bin Laden 172
  6. Arnold Schwarzenegger – 142
  7. Michele Bachmann – 128
  8. Donald Trump – 122
  9. Muammar Khaddafi – 121
  10. Newt Gingrich – 110
  11. Sarah Palin – 109
  12. Joe Biden – 82
  13. Mitt Romney – 79
  14. Chris Christie – 71
  15. John Boehner – 69
  16. Dick Cheney – 66
  17. George W. Bush – 36
  18. Rupert Murdoch – 30
  19. Rod Blagojevich – 24
  20. Tie – Michael Bloomberg and Hosni Mubarek – 22

Sample Jokes:

GOP Candidates: The economy is so bad, God is now calling Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann collect. – Leno

Mitt Romney is so worried, he’s sweating like Rick Perry on Jeopardy. – Leno

Newt Gingrich met with Donald Trump yesterday. That’s two guys, six wives, zero chance of either of them becoming president. – Leno

Newt Gingrich just came out with his new book, The Adultery of Hope. – Leno

Rick Perry and Mitt Romney squared off at the big Republican debate. They only agreed on one thing – wash, rinse, repeat. – Leno

Disney World is the perfect fit for these candidates. Mitt Romney is Prince Charming, Ron Paul is grumpy, Rick Perry is dopey, and Michele Bachmann thinks she’s Snow White. – Leno

Barack Obama: President Obama is more popular overseas than he is here. But then again, he’s created more jobs over there. – Leno

Did you know Rick Perry used to be a Democrat? But then again, Barack Obama used to be a Democrat. – Leno
Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton are more mature than President Obama and John Boehner. – Fallon


The Center for Media and Public Affairs is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization which is affiliated with George Mason University, where CMPA President Dr. Robert Lichter also serves as Professor of Communication. CMPA has monitored political news coverage and political jokes on television talk shows since 1988.

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