Study: Obama Leading Late-Night Joke Target of 2011

Republicans joked about almost three times as much as Democrats.

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The presidential candidates have been a big joke for late-night comedians.

A new study by media scholar Robert Lichter finds that President Obama was the leading joke target in 2011, but Republican presidential candidates also took their share of ribbing and made up half of the top ten joke targets of late-night TV hosts. On the other hand, the top finishers in Iowa this week--Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul--were the least-joked-about presidential candidates over the past year.

[See the latest political cartoons.]

"Overall, Republicans get joked about almost three times as often as Democrats, partly a result of [David] Letterman's reluctance to joke about Barack Obama," Lichter says. Yet he found that Obama was the single most frequent subject of jokes, largely because Jay Leno targeted him more than twice as often as Letterman. Obama was found to the subject of 342 jokes, followed by former Rep. Anthony Wiener, a New York Democrat who was involved in a sex scandal, with 220. No other Democrat made the top ten list.

But these past and present Republican presidential candidates did make the list: businessman Herman Cain with 191 jokes; Gov. Rick Perry of Texas with 186, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota with 128, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 110. Billionaire Donald Trump, who is flirting with the idea of running for president as an independent, was the target of 122 jokes, and movie star and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California had 142.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican party.]

"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," the study says. "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."

Still, only 79 jokes were told about Romney, 17 about Paul and 16 about Santorum.

The study listed these examples of the jokes, all from Leno:

  • "President Obama is more popular overseas then he is here. But then again, he's created more jobs over there."
  • "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."
  • "Mitt Romney is so worried, he's sweating like Rick Perry on Jeopardy."
  • "Newt Gingrich met with Donald Trump yesterday. That's two guys, six wives, zero chance of either of them becoming president."
  • [Obama: We Need Four More Years.]

    Lichter is president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University. For the past year, he and his staff 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 on the Tonight Show, David Letterman on the Late Show, and Jimmy Fallon on Late Night.

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