Jay Leno steps down from his role as host of “The Tonight Show” on Thursday, a position he has held almost continuously since 1992. He has more than 4,600 shows under his belt -- that’s a lot of monologue jokes. Bill Clinton was one of the biggest target of those jokes. As far as politicians go, anyway. For celebrities, it was O.J. Simpson.
Those findings were reported Tuesday in a study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University. Yes, those people sifted through 43,892 jokes told by Leno on “The Tonight Show” between May 25, 1992, and Jan. 24, 2014, and tallied them up.
President Clinton, who was elected roughly six months into Leno’s tenure on “The Tonight Show,” is the all-time top joke target, with 4,607 jokes. Not too surprising considering that he was president for eight years, had a full-blown sex scandal during his time in office and has continued to be a very public person since leaving office.
It turns out Clinton was the subject of more than one of every 10 Leno jokes about a public official. The center’s director, Robert Lichter, said in a statement: “Leno’s monologues focused on power and scandal, and Bill Clinton was the top twofer.”
President George W. Bush was also one of the top targets, with 3,239 jokes told at his expense. Al Gore got 1,026 jokes told about him, Barack Obama 1,011, Hillary Clinton 939, Dick Cheney 673 and Monica Lewinsky 454.
Clinton, it’s worth noting, has never been a guest on Leno’s show, though he’s appeared on “Late Show With David Letterman” 10 times over the same span of years and sat down with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” in 1988. Bush, despite having a famously chilly relationship with Hollywood, appeared on Leno’s show four times over the years.
Other public officials in Leno’s top 20 include Bob Dole, John McCain, Mitt Romney, John Kerry, George H.W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Ross Perot, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joe Biden, Dan Quayle and John Edwards. Osama bin Laden was also a major target, with 216 jokes told about him.
The study found that Democrats were the subject of 10,885 jokes, which is 15% more jokes than Republicans. Though it is pointed out that Democrats controlled the White House for 13 of Leno’s 22 years as host.
Surprisingly, celebrities were the subject of fewer jokes overall, mostly when they were embroiled in some scandal. Not surprisingly, Simpson was at the top of that list with 795 jokes told about him.
Other celebs who were frequently mentioned by Leno: Michael Jackson, Martha Stewart, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Robert Blake, Anna Nicole Smith, Roger Clemens, Tonya Harding, Alex Rodriguez, Heidi Fleiss, Charlie Sheen, Lance Armstrong, Michael Vick, Madonna, Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Kobe Bryant, Chris Brown and, with just 37 jokes told about her, Kim Kardashian.
Leno’s final monologue will be delivered Feb. 6. Bring a calculator.