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International Journal of Humor Research

Editor-in-Chief: Ford, Thomas E.

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Volume 30, Issue 1


Laughing or learning with the Chief Executive? The impact of exposure to presidents’ jokes on message elaboration

Amy B. Becker
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Communication, Loyola University Maryland, 4501 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21210, USA
  • Email
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Don J. Waisanen
  • Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, Baruch College, City University of New York, New York, NY, 10010, USA
  • Email
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
Published Online: 2016-11-16 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2016-0056


Using the White House Correspondents Dinner (WHCD) and the State of the Union (SOTU) as stimuli, our experiment (N=403) examines the differential effect of exposure to humorous vs. serious presidential speech on the likelihood of engaging in post-exposure message elaboration. The results suggest that viewers are more likely to engage in message elaboration when viewing serious presidential speech like the SOTU rather than the more humorous WHCD. Additionally, disposition toward the president fails to moderate the impact of varied speech exposure on message elaboration. Our results ultimately show that, while WHCD humor may be quickly discounted, it can also provide a strategic distraction from political content. We discuss the implications of these results and confirm our main findings across the two most recent U.S. presidential administrations.

Keywords: presidents; comedy; message elaboration; speech; humor


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About the article

Amy B. Becker

Amy B. Becker (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, abbecker@loyola.edu) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, MD. Her research examines public opinion toward controversial political issues and the effects of exposure and attention to political entertainment including late night comedy.

Don J. Waisanen

Don J. Waisanen (Ph.D., Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, Don.Waisanen@baruch.cuny.edu) is an Associate Professor of Communication in the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College in New York, NY. His research addresses the role of comedy in public culture, the functions of political language, and the factors that can best sustain deliberative democratic practices.

Published Online: 2016-11-16

Published in Print: 2017-02-01

Citation Information: HUMOR, Volume 30, Issue 1, Pages 23–41, ISSN (Online) 1613-3722, ISSN (Print) 0933-1719, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2016-0056.

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