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Health Commun. 2006;19(2):143-51.

Serious as a heart attack: health-related content of late-night comedy television.

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  • 1Department of Communication, Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar, MO 65613, USA.


Although the medical community hoped that Vice President Dick Cheney's public experiences with heart problems and subsequent treatments would serve to raise awareness, educate the public about heart disease and treatment options, and showcase advances in cardiac care, late-night comedians saw Cheney's health problems as joke fodder. Comedians like Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Conan O'Brien ridiculed Cheney in their monologues, suggesting the vice president was frail, weak, and near death-certainly not a "poster boy" for contemporary cardiac care. This investigation presents a textual analysis of late-night comedy monologue jokes from July 25, 2000, to October 7, 2003. The themes that emerge in the jokes include Cheney's infirmity, his questionable fitness for office, and ridicule for his state-of-the-art defibrillator. Implications of health-related content in late-night comedy programs are offered, including the potential impacts on health knowledge and attitudes toward illness. This study takes an important step toward understanding health messages in an unconventional yet powerful media venue.

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