LENO – 33,000 JOKES AND COUNTING

May 28, 2009

Press Release
May 28, 2009
Contact: Donald Rieck

CONAN FEATURES FEWER JOKES, DIFFERENT TARGETS

New Study Tallies Late Nite TV Political Humor Since 1992

Jay Leno has told over 33,000 jokes about public figures since taking over the “Tonight Show” in 1992, over four times as many as his successor Conan O’Brien, according to a Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) study that tallies jokes by late night TV comedians. The study also finds that Leno’s favorite target was Bill Clinton, while Conan aimed the most barbs at George W. Bush. According to CMPA President Dr. Robert Lichter, “Conan will make the “Tonight Show” monologues less political but more liberal.”

These joke totals are the latest from the CMPA “JokeWatch” project, which has tallied jokes in the opening monologues of late night TV talk show hosts since 1988, as well as “Comedy Central” shows beginning in 2003. This report covers the period from May 25, 1992, when Jay Leno became the sole host of the “Tonight Show,” through December 31, 2008. The Center for Media and Public Affairs is a nonpartisan media research organization affiliated with George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

MAJOR FINDINGS

Jay Leno – Jay Leno told 33,331 jokes about public figures from his debut as permanent host of the “Tonight Show” in 1992 through 2008, over four times as many as his new replacement Conan O’Brien. Leno’s favorite target during that time was Bill Clinton, whom he zinged 4,468 times, nearly 50% more often than number two target George W. Bush (2,999 jokes).

Several other Clinton administration figures were among the most prominent joke targets for Leno. Clinton’s Vice-President Al Gore placed third with 953 jokes and Hillary Clinton placed fourth with 873. Two other figures from the “Clinton scandals” made the Top 20 list: #8 Monica Lewinski (450 jokes) and #20 Paula Jones (163 jokes). Incoming President Barack Obama placed 18th with 183 jokes. The most prominent non-political targets were O.J. Simpson at #5 (737 jokes) and Michael Jackson at #7 (488 jokes).

Conan O’Brien – Conan told only 7,057 jokes about public figures from 1992 during the same time period. His #1 target was George W. Bush, who edged out Bill Clinton by 963 to 955 jokes. 1996 GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole edged out Hillary Clinton for third place by 203 to 201 jokes

Conan paid relatively less attention than Leno to the Clinton scandals and more to GOP figures. Monica Lewinsky placed #17 (41 jokes) on his list, and Paula Jones didn’t make the top 20 list. By contrast, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appears on Conan’s top 10 list (at #8 with 138 jokes) but didn’t make Jay Leno’s top 20, despite announcing his candidacy for governor on the “Tonight Show” in 2003. However, President-elect Obama placed 13th with 57 jokes. Conan’s non-political targets reversed Leno’s order: Michael Jackson finished 7th with 140 jokes but O.J. dropped to 10th with 83.

Leno’s Top 20 – 1. Bill Clinton (4,468 jokes); 2.George W. Bush (2,999); 3. Al Gore (953); 4. Hillary Clinton (873); 5. O.J. Simpson (737); 6. Dick Cheney (578); 7. Michael Jackson (488); 8. Monica Lewinsky (450); 9. Bob Dole (444); 10. John McCain (346); 11. John Kerry (341); 12. George H.W. Bush (294); 13. Ross Perot (276); 14. Dan Quayle (251); 15. Martha Stewart (198); 16. Gary Condit (196); 17. Newt Gingrich (195); 18. Barack Obama (183); 19. Saddam Hussein (182); 20. Paula Jones (163)

Conan’s Top 20 – 1. George W. Bush (963 jokes); 2. Bill Clinton (955); 3. Bob Dole (203); 4. Hillary Clinton (201); 5. Al Gore (188); 6. John McCain (147); 7. Michael Jackson (140); 8. Arnold Schwarzenegger (138); 9. Dick Cheney (105); 10. O.J. Simpson (83); 11. Martha Stewart (80); 12. Sarah Palin (67); 13. Barack Obama (57); 14. Saddam Hussein (54); 15. John Kerry (52); 16. Dan Quayle (50); 17. Monica Lewinsky (41); 18. Newt Gingrich (39); 19. Janet Reno (35); 20. Paris Hilton (34)

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