Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are taking varying levels of heat over a joke they made during a scripted skit at a roast-style event for local members of the press. The joke involved wordplay around the expression “CP Time,” which is a reference to the stereotype that black people are prone to tardiness. The abbreviation stands for “Colored People Time,” but the punchline to the joke, delivered by Hillary Clinton, was a switch to “Cautious Politician Time.”
Context is everything, though, as evidenced by this clip of then-Senator Barack Obama addressing a group of black journalists in 2007, in which he nails the same theme and the crowd eats it up:
I want to apologize for being a little bit late. But, you guys keep on asking whether I’m black enough. (laughter) Uh-huh! That’s right! So, I figured I’d stroll in about ten minutes after the deadline. (laughs) I’ve been holding that in my pocket for awhile.
That “all in the family” context makes all the difference in the world, and while Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have long been guests at the family barbecue, lately they’ve been knocking over the potato salad. There are a few other reasons why the joke may not have gone over quite as well as Barack Obama’s. Here’s Hillary Clinton’s entire appearance at the Inner Circle show. Note the difference in the audience’s reaction:
As you can see, the crowd loves Hillary, applauding uproariously when she makes her entrance, but the joke goes over like a drunken pole-vaulter. It’s possible that nothing could have salvaged it, but I think if it had been delivered with the confidence and the dead-perfect comic timing that Obama used in 2007, it might have worked.
Also not helping matters, I would submit, is the fact that the audience had already been subjected to several minutes of this:
I don’t care who you are, a performance like that will put you on waivers for at least the next three Racial Drafts. That’s the most undeserved mic drop since MC Rove.
Cable news has paid little attention to the joke, which some have taken as a double-standard, and while there’s probably some truth to that, I think it’s probably also a function of them not knowing what to make of it. Clearly, it did not go over well, but does it make de Blasio and Hillary racist monsters? If a Republican made the same joke, the answer would likely be yes, and the coverage more intense, but there’s a reason for that. It’s a distinction that the mainstream media is ill-equipped to understand, let alone explain.
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