Trump is guaranteed to win — as top joke target

Published 9:00 am Saturday, August 6, 2016

NEW YORK — There’s one area where Donald Trump is guaranteed to beat Hillary Clinton this fall: He’ll be the butt of the most jokes by late-night comics.

That would be true even if Trump didn’t present such a unique target. In every election year since 1992, the Republican candidate was mocked more by comedians than the Democrat, according to a think tank that tallies punch lines.

Republicans maintained that status even though Bill Clinton was the most joked-about politician during the past 24 years, said Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University.

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The center’s count didn’t surprise Comedy Central’s Trevor Noah, one of four late-night comics included in the study. The others are Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert.

“Comedians are generally progressive,” Noah said. “It is very rare that you will find it skewing the other way.”

Noah, from South Africa, dipped cautiously into American political humor upon replacing Jon Stewart last fall as host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” He’s since become much more comfortable expressing his point of view, and it’s decidedly liberal.

He said the phrase “conservative” alone implies a sense of comedic opportunity. Whether political, social or religious, conservatives “are the easiest people to poke fun at because they are essentially really steadfast in their ways, and even if their ways seem ridiculous, they’re going to stand by them.”

Not only are most comedians liberal, but comedy writing rooms are filled with them, said Michael Loftus, a conservative who hosts the syndicated satire show “The Flipside” and frequently writes for television. He’s currently working on Kevin James’ new sitcom for CBS, “Kevin Can Wait.”

“I always thought comedy works best when you’re the underdog,” Loftus said. “And man, oh man, I’m the underdog in all of this.”

While Trump is clearly “the gift that keeps on giving” for comedians and Bernie Sanders opens himself up to material, Loftus said Hillary Clinton is kind of a dull subject for jokes. Meanwhile, Noah found the Republican primary contenders, particularly Ted Cruz and Chris Christie, a font of material.

“Even if you don’t know which political side to fall on, you know what side you want to fall on comedically,” Noah said.

During the six presidential elections between 1992 and 2012, Republicans were the target of 5,944 late-night jokes and Democrats 3,298 barbs, Lichter said. The average margin will widen this year. Just through April, the most recent numbers tallied, Lichter’s researchers counted 587 Trump jokes, and 115 directed at Clinton since last September.

The 1996 campaign was the closest, between Republican Bob Dole (839 jokes) and Bill Clinton (657), the center said.

Late-night comedy is in transition, and getting more liberal. NBC’s Seth Meyers isn’t included in Lichter’s count, and he’s been particularly rough on Trump. John Oliver of HBO and Samantha Bee on TBS host very progressive shows, although not quite as punch-line centered as the monologue-driven programs.

Former “Saturday Night Live” comic Dennis Miller swings right, and is a frequent guest on Fox News Channel. Fox has its own conservative-oriented comedy show, “Red Eye,” but blesses it with a 3 a.m. time slot.

The key to success as a conservative comic is to worry about the funny first, said Loftus, who got his start in comedy clubs. “If they don’t laugh in the comedy clubs, why would I expect them to laugh on my little TV show? You can’t go out there spewing venom — ‘they’re ripping up the Constitution! Why aren’t you laughing?’”

“In a nutshell, it’s not fair,” he said. “But nobody said the entertainment business is fair. Hopefully, we’re in a system where the funniest guy wins in the end.”