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Rest Easy, Bill: After 4,000 Clinton Jokes, Leno's Run Wraps Up


Tonight is the end of Jay Leno's long run as host of NBC's "Tonight Show."


It's also the end of a chapter for Robert Lichter.

ROBERT LICHTER: I direct the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University. Since the late 1980s, we've been tracking political humor on late night television.

BLOCK: And for Lichter's team, tonight means no more Leno jokes to study.

CORNISH: For years, Lichter's team has pored over the late night shows, but not Lichter himself.

LICHTER: I go to bed too early.


CORNISH: It's his students who have been recording all those opening monologues.

LICHTER: This is like a treat for our best student coders. We let you laugh at the jokes while you're taking them down.

BLOCK: They found in all that cataloguing that many of Jay Leno's jokes had one particular target.

JAY LENO: That one person that brings it all together. That one person becomes the focus of what you're doing. Of course, for me, that person: Bill Clinton. God bless him.


LENO: Where would I have been? Oh, my God...

LICHTER: Leno's favorite target by far was Bill Clinton who accounted for over one out of every 10 jokes about all topics over the last 20-some years.

LENO: You know, we've done so many jokes but Bill Clinton and I really have a lot in common. He was elected in '92. I started in '92. He's still married to his first wife. I'm still married to my first wife. I smile when I sit behind my desk. He really smiles when he sits behind his desk.


CORNISH: According to Lichter's math: over 4,000 Bill Clinton jokes.

BLOCK: And those numbers aren't lost on Leno.

LICHTER: Jay has actually in the past acknowledged our study. He mentioned that he heard some people track these things, and sort of shook his head and suggested that it's just a pretty weird thing that anybody would actually take his material that seriously. And it is.


LICHTER: We are pretty weird for taking this stuff seriously for so many years.

BLOCK: Tonight in his last show, Leno may even make one last Clinton joke for old time's sake.

CORNISH: And Robert Lichter might even stay up to count it.


BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.