The problem with political jokes, as someone said, is that they sometimes get elected to Congress. A bit harsh, no doubt, but the mother lode of material for late-night television comedians runs from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other.
Jimmy Fallon will have an inexhaustible source of political laugh lines when he takes over the "Tonight" show as Jay Leno on Thursday night wraps up his 22-year run as host of the show made an institution by Jack Paar, Steve Allen and finally Johnny Carson.
Mr. Leno didn't lean left, which made him unusual in Hollywood. A comprehensive review of his opening monologues found that Democrats were more often the butt of his jokes.
The Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University analyzed 43,892 Jay Leno jokes about public figures (an exhausting job, perhaps, but somebody had to do it) told between 1992 and this year.
Democrats were the targets of 10,885 zingers; Republicans, 9,465. Bill Clinton alone accounted for 4,607, or 42 percent, of the Democratic jokes. Bubba was irresistible.
"Leno's monologues focused on power and scandal," says Robert Lichter, the center's director and lead researcher, "and Bill Clinton was the top twofer." The most popular Republican target, George W. Bush, came in a distant second at 3,239.
President Obama was the punch line a mere 1,011 times, no doubt the reluctance of Mr. Leno's writers to make fun of the nation's first black president, deserving as he is of the occasional poke. Mr. Obama himself sometimes warns off the jokesmiths.
He recently told The New Yorker magazine, "There's no doubt that there's some folks who just really dislike me because they don't like the idea of a black president."
Jerry Seinfeld has been accused of timidity for his cautious prudence. His NBC sitcom was accused during its nine-year run of insufficient commitment to "diversity" because he presented an exclusively "white" view of New York City.
Buzzfeed.com's Peter Lauria asked Mr. Seinfeld on "CBS This Morning" Monday about racial imbalance and lack of comediennes appearing on his "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" series on the Web.
He derided as "PC nonsense" the notion that pop culture should push diversity bean-counting. "This has got to represent the actual pie chart of America?" Mr. Seinfeld asked incredulously. "Who cares? Funny is the world I live in. You're funny, I'm interested. You're not funny, I'm not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that." Bravo for that.
The bean counters have long dogged the long-running NBC program "Saturday Night Live," recently for the absence of black women and Hispanics. Such counters insist on pigeonholing everyone, requiring every show to meet an arbitrary checklist. The complainers are a humorless bunch with a talent only for manufacturing grievances.
Lorne Michaels, creator of "Saturday Night Live," is no conservative — he donated the maximum amount to Mr. Obama's campaign — and he explains the ideological guffaw gap.
"Republicans are easier for us than Democrats," he told New York magazine's Vulture blog this week, "Democrats tend to take [jokes] personally. Republicans think [they're] funny." We do, too.
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