published Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Bill Clinton was Jay Leno's top 'Tonight' target

This NBC photo shows Jay Leno, host of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," on the set in Burbank, Calif.
This NBC photo shows Jay Leno, host of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," on the set in Burbank, Calif.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NEW YORK — For Jay Leno, Bill Clinton was the comic gift who kept giving. By one exhaustive count, the outgoing "Tonight" show host made 4,607 jokes at the former president's expense during his time on the program.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs catalogued nearly 44,000 jokes Leno made about political figures and celebrities at "Tonight" through Jan. 24. Leno is leaving "Tonight" after Thursday.

His first Clinton joke came on May 25, 1992, shortly after taking over from Johnny Carson and when Clinton was still a presidential candidate. "Clinton says that he's troubled by the amount of sex on television," Leno said. "He says that where he's from sex is a deeply personal thing between a candidate and his campaign volunteers."

"Leno jokes about powerful people and he jokes about scandals. Bill Clinton is both," said Robert Lichter, director of the Washington-area think tank and author of the upcoming book, "Politics is a Joke: How TV Comedians are Remaking Political Life."

How long has Leno been joking about Clinton? One popular topic was the politician's weight and penchant for fast food — now he's a lean vegetarian.

Not only is Clinton more than a thousand jokes ahead of the runnerup (George W. Bush, 3,239 jokes), Leno's top 10 targets also include Hillary Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

Leno's concentration on politics is evident in the list of his top 10 targets. They include seven people who served as president or vice president or ran for the presidency. And just outside the top 10 are John McCain, Mitt Romney and John Kerry.

Meanwhile, Kim Kardashian had a relatively low count of 37 jokes.

"Leno is an old reliable," Lichter said. "He's like an old shoe that fits and is comfortable. He was never trendy, he was never cutting edge. But he was a master of the one-liner."

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