Count on comics to love a scandal

August 25, 1998|By Judith Forman | Judith Forman,SUN STAFF

Jay Leno has already taken 545 shots at the 1998 White House sex scandals. And that's not even counting any jokes from his August shows.

David Letterman isn't doing too shabbily himself. The king of the "Top 10" list has told 364 sex jokes about President Clinton and his escapades, while fellow late-night funnymen Conan O'Brien and Bill Maher clocked in at 152 and 111 jokes respectively.

All told, the late-night television comedians have told 1,172 sex jokes related to the scandal affectionately known as "Zippergate."

These figures are part of a study released yesterday by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a Washington, D.C., organization that studies media coverage. Researchers tallied all the jokes about public figures in monologues by Leno, Letterman, O'Brien and Maher from Jan. 1 through July 31.

The study found that five of the six leading targets in 1998 are associated with the sex scandal: Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Independent Counsel Ken Starr, Paula Jones, Linda Tripp and first lady Hillary Clinton.

"Looking at the volume of these jokes, people can't help but form an impression of a person that is not necessarily representative of their professional personality or character," complained the center's executive director, Bob Mulligan, in a telephone interview yesterday. "These jokes have not uplifted anyone's spirits or enhanced anyone's reputation. The nature of the humor has gotten very nasty."

Other findings from the study:

Clinton sex jokes averaged almost 10 per night during January and February. They slowed to three per night from March until late July when Lewinsky's testimony produced more than 14 per night (71 jokes) during the last week.

Counting jokes on all topics, Clinton leads the field of targets with 1,028, already surpassing his 1997 total of 810 jokes.

The other four joke targets on the top 10 list were O.J. Simpson, Vice President Al Gore, Saddam Hussein and Attorney General Janet Reno.

Pub Date: 8/25/98

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