Hillary Clinton's best — and worst — campaign jokes, ranked
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There’s an oft-repeated cliché that much of the American public decides who to vote for by asking themselves superficial questions, like “which of the two candidates would I rather have a beer with?”

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Although this presents a rather simplistic view of the motivations of voters, it’s hard to argue that there isn’t some truth in it. American presidential candidates don’t campaign with speeches that allow the public to determine how effective they’d be at governing the country. They campaign with fluffy rhetoric, contrived narratives, and attempts at being funny.

The latter of these strategies, humor, is a bit of a cheat code for manufacturing likability. If a politician can land good jokes with a degree of regularity, it’s easier for them to convince the segment of voters that is unequivocally convinced that all politicians are inherently evil, that they’re not just another rehearsed product of a rigged system.

Swaying this segment of voters has been one of the greatest challenges faced by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonYoung Turks founder says Democrats should avoid repeat of 2016 and pick a progressive Young Turks founder says Democrats should avoid repeat of 2016 and pick a progressive Trump highlights polls that showed Clinton beating him by double digits MORE this election season. On several occasions, she’s actually addressed her unlikability directly, acknowledging that she has a tendency to come across as “aloof or cold or unemotional.”

Among the various techniques she’s used to combat this perception on the campaign trail, perhaps the most unsuccessful have been her attempts at humor. Clinton possesses many admirable qualities, to be sure, but the ability to deliver a good joke is not one of them. Every joke Clinton has attempted on the campaign trail thus far has been disastrous, borderline offensive, or somehow impressively both.

The following is a definitive breakdown of the various jokes she’s attempted this electoral season, ranked according to their appropriateness and the quality of their joke structure/delivery:

1. The Joke:

"I don't know who created Pokémon Go, but I’m trying to figure out how to get them to have Pokémon-go-to-the-polls."

Appropriateness:

This joke exists in somewhat of a grey area between appropriate and inappropriate. On the one hand, there’s no specific community of people who would hear this joke and think, “Well, that seems distasteful,” but on the other hand, it provokes a sort of viscerally negative reaction in every single person with ears.  It somehow manages to offend no one and everyone simultaneously.

Joke Structure/Delivery:  

Look, I’m not one of those snobs who’ll tell you that wordplay is always bad, but I do think that it sort of has to sneak up on you for it to be effective. “Pokémon-go-to-the-polls” doesn’t sneak up on you, so much as it calls you a week in advance, confirms twice over text, and then calls you again en-route to see if you need ice.

2. The Joke:  


Hillary Clinton: “Thanks for the endorsement, Bill. Took you long enough.”

Leslie Odom Jr. (Actor From Hamilton): “Oh Snap!”

Bill de Blasio (Current Mayor of New York City): “Sorry, Hillary. I was running on CP Time”

Leslie Odom Jr.: “That’s not — I don’t — I don’t like jokes like that, Bill. That’s not funny”

Hillary Clinton: “Cautious Politician Time”

Appropriateness:  

By making reference to the term “colored people” in 2016, this joke fails perhaps the most elementary of litmus tests in assessing whether or not something is appropriate. It is decidedly not so.

Joke Structure/Delivery:  

Are people generally familiar with the concept of “CP Time?” I ask this question because the concept is ostensibly a relic from a time when it was still commonplace to refer to people of color as “colored,” which would make it at least 40 years out of date.

My assumption is that the public’s unfamiliarity with this concept would drastically limits its effectiveness as a joke-premise. One of the otherwise unstated axioms of comedy is that the audience should, er, know what the comedian is talking about. As far as axioms of comedy goes, it ranks right up there with: Speak in a language the audience understands and perform in the same general location as the audience.

3. The Joke:  

 Reporter: “Did you wipe the server?!” 


Hillary Clinton: “What, like with a cloth or something?!”

Appropriateness:

Not appropriate. Regardless of how objectively ridiculous the accusations about Clinton’s emails are, a seemingly large number of voters seem to care strongly about them. My rudimentary understanding of the democratic electoral system would lead me to conclude that being brazen towards issues that large swaths of voters care about is an ill-advised technique for success.

Joke Structure/Delivery:  

Calling this a “joke” is a bit of a stretch.

Its success would seem to be predicated on whether or not the audience believes that Hillary doesn’t know that the word “wipe” can be used in this context. It’s shaky ground to stand on. This is about as much of a joke as when a teacher tells their student “I suppose you can go to the washroom,” insinuating that the student’s question was phrased with incorrect grammar.

It’s about as much of a joke as when a cashier at the grocery store asks my dad if he has air miles, and my dad replies “enough to fly from here to the parking lot.”

4. The Joke: 

Angela Yee: “What’s something that you always carry with you?” 

Hillary Clinton: “Hot Sauce”

Charlamagne Tha God: “Are you getting into Formation right now?!”  

[Cross Talk]

Charlamagne Tha God: “I just want you to know that people are going to see this and say ‘okay, she’s pandering to black people again’”

Hillary Clinton: “Is it working?!”

Appropriateness:

Hillary Clinton has a fairly complicated relationship with the black voterbase. A history of well-documented dog-whistling back in the 90s has caused many people of color to develop a healthy skepticism towards her desperate attempts to extend an olive branch.

It doesn’t particularly help that many of these attempts can be viewed as shallow pandering (see: the time she tried to do the “Whip/Nae Nae” on Ellen). This historical context is necessary to appreciate why it was insanely inappropriate for Hillary Clinton to make this joke.

If Hillary Clinton’s biggest problem with the black community is that she keeps treating them as a monolithic block of voters, rather than as, y’know, people, asking Charlamagne the God (as an apparent ambassador for the entire black community) if her attempts to pander are “working,” probably doesn’t help her case. 

Joke Structure/Delivery:

All things considered, this is a surprisingly decent retort. Although it’s not a funny joke per se, it performs a useful function. Charlamagne the God painted Hillary into somewhat of a corner by calling her out live on air. She could have tried to deny the accusation that she panders to black people, but knowing Charlamagne’s on-air personality, he would’ve almost certainly pushed back.

By making a mildly witty remark, Hillary was able to put an end to the conversation, and also demonstrate to the show’s listeners that she’s not always a robot politician.

It makes me think that Hillary’s true comedic talents may not lie in standup, but in improv. In fact, her presidential campaign has a lot in common with the career of a UCB performer, in that many progressives are about as excited to vote for Hillary as they are to go to their friends’ improv shows.  

5. The Joke: 

“By the way, you may have seen that I recently launched a Snapchat account. I love it. I love it. Those messages disappear all by themselves”

Appropriateness:  

To reiterate why it’s so inappropriate for Hillary Clinton to make casual jokes about her email scandal, consider how tone deaf the following exchange of dialogue seems: 

Many American voters: "We’re worried that you deleted your emails to cover up your responsibility for an incident where American soldiers died in Benghazi. As you know, we’re American citizens, and the lives of American troops is an issue that is very important to us. After baseball, caring about our troops is perhaps our second national pastime. It is imperative that our president takes this issue as seriously as we do. This will be a major determining factor in whom we choose to vote for.

Hillary Clinton: Uhhh, want to hear a joke about Snapchat?!

Joke Structure/Delivery:

Putting aside its ill-conceived nature for a moment, I have to acknowledge that this is probably the best joke Hillary Clinton has made on the campaign trail thus far.

It has a set-up (one the audience actually understands), a pregnant pause for delivery, and a punchline that offers a mildly surprising twist. In other words, it’s a joke. It doesn’t exactly push the medium forward or challenge the status quo, but it fulfills the minimum criteria for being a joke. It sounds like something Jay Leno might have said in a Tonight Show monologue by the time he was creatively spent.

Good for Hillary.

Here’s the thing: It’s not Hillary Clinton’s fault that she isn’t funny. Most people — and this is true by an overwhelmingly large margin — aren’t funny. It’s true of most politicians, it’s true of most writers, and it’s even true of many professional comedians.

Luckily, being funny is not a skill that is particularly necessary for the president. I can’t think of a single presidential activity that would be enhanced if the president interrupted every two minutes to offer a witty non sequitur. I can’t imagine Clinton will ever be negotiating a trade deal and feel the need to say something like “embar-go change your laws,” and I’m sure there are almost no moments in the situation room where a pop-culture reference would be appropriate.

In fact, the same qualities that make Hillary Clinton an unlikable candidate are likely those that would make her an effective governor. Consider the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel as an analogous example.

Merkel is often charged with the same criticisms as Hillary, and yet she is widely regarded as being one of the most effective heads of state in the world. Imagine Merkel on stage, trying to tell a joke about the differences between male chancellors and female chancellors:

“Why do female chancellors take so long to get ready? Because there’s a disproportionate amount of scrutiny placed on the appearances of women in positions of power. The joke is over. You have permission to laugh now.”

It’s unfathomable.

Pandya is writer based in Toronto, whose writing has appeared on popular outlets like Pacific Standard, Splitsider, and Pigeons & Planes. He writes jokes on Twitter @Hershal_P.


The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.