Sex And Death Top Latenight TV Joke Topics

August 22, 2011

Press Release
August 22, 2011
Contact: Donald Rieck

Study Finds TV Comics Zap Weiner, bin Ladin, GOP Candidates

Former Congressman Anthony Weiner edged out Osama bin Laden as the leading target of jokes by latenight TV talk show comedians Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Jimmy Fallon, according to a new study of political humor by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA). The study also found that four of the top ten joke targets were announced or potential Republican presidential candidates (Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Donald Trump).

The study’s author, George Mason University Professor Robert Lichter, commented on the results: “This summer has been tabloid heaven for latenight TV humor.” In view of the upcoming elections, he added, “Sex scandals and terrorists come and go, but politics is the gift that keeps on giving to comedians.”

For the three-month period from May 1 to August 1, 2011, CMPA analyzed 1415 jokes about public figures by the leading latenight comedians on the broadcast television networks – Jay Leno (“Tonight Show”), Jimmy Fallon (“Late Night”), and David Letterman (“Late Show”) in the monologues and opening segments of their shows prior to their interviews with guests.

Weiner Edges bin Laden as Top Joke Target as Former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s “sexting” scandal stimulated 207 jokes in latenight talk show monologues, making him the top target of latenight humor since May. He edged out Osama bin Laden, whose death at the hands of the U.S. special forces on May 2 provided the occasion for 199 derisive gibes at the terrorist leader.

The revelations surrounding former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger placed third on the list with 125 jokes resulting from his acknowledgement of an illegitimate child and separation from his wife Maria Shriver. Barack Obama placed fourth with 104 jokes aimed at a variety of his activities and policies as president.

Republican Candidates Are A Joke Once and future Republican presidential candidates occupied the next four slots on the list. Bunched closely together were #5 Sarah Palin (60 Jokes), #6 Michele Bachmann (56 jokes), and #7 Newt Gingrich (55 jokes), while #8 Donald Trump lagged behind with 39 jokes. The rest of the Top Ten list was filled out by #9 Vice-President Joe Biden (34 jokes) and #10 media mogul Rupert Murdoch (31 jokes), whose News Corporation was the focus of a telephone hacking scandal in the United Kingdom.

Diff’rent Jokes for Diff’rent Folks The three talk show hosts differed in their choice of targets. Although bin Laden drew the most jokes overall, he finished fifth on Fallon’s list with only 24 jokes, well behind the 63 jokes aimed at Anthony Weiner, Fallon’s number one target. Letterman topped the bin Laden joke brigade with 105, followed by Weiner with 80, but Michele Bachmann placed third on his list with 42 jokes. By contrast, the Minnesota Congresswoman attracted only 14 jokes from Leno and Fallon combined.

For all three comedians’ combined totals, the top ten targets were:

  1. Anthony Weiner – 207
  2. Osama bin Laden – 199
  3. Arnold Schwarzenegger – 125
  4. Barack Obama – 104
  5. Sarah Palin – 60
  6. Michele Bachmann – 56
  7. Newt Gingrich – 55
  8. Donald Trump – 39
  9. Joe Biden – 34
  10. Rupert Murdoch – 31

Sample Jokes:

Anthony Weiner:
The debt crisis is growing bigger than what Weiner tweeted. (Fallon)
Now he’s back in the private sector, and I thought, your private sector is what got
you in trouble. (Letterman)

Osama bin Laden:
The good news, Osama bin Laden is dead. The bad news, there is no bad news – Osama bin Laden is dead. (Leno)
Mexicans celebrate Cinco de Mayo, and Americans now celebrate Uno de Mayo. That’s the day we got bin Laden. (Letterman)

Arnold Schwarzenegger:
The economy is so bad, Arnold Schwarzenegger is now cleaning his own house. (Leno)
Arnold kept this secret for ten years. Do you realize we found Bin Laden before we found Arnold’s love child? (Leno)

Barack Obama:
Some good news for President Obama: in the last three months his re-election campaign raised $86 million. The bad news: to be re-elected he’s going to need $14 trillion more. (Leno)
It was so hot in the Oval Office, President Obama had to install a debt ceiling fan. (Leno)

Michele Bachmann:
We’re under a heat dome. Meteorologists believe it’s been caused by Michele Bachmann’s hair spray. (Letterman)
Chris Wallace asked Michele Bachman, “Are you a flake?” To call Michele Bachmann a flake is to insult the fine folks at Kelloggs. (Letterman)

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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