Gaffe Track: There's No Good Time for a C.P. Time Joke

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The candidate: Hillary Clinton, with an assist from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio

The gaffe: Appearing at New York City’s annual Inner Circle Dinner, the Democrat conducted an awkward skit with the mayor. She thanked him for his endorsement, while ribbing him for taking his sweet time to deliver it. “Sorry Hillary, I was running on C.P. time,” de Blasio said, a reference to “colored people time,” the idea that African Americans tend to run late—a joke that can be funny when delivered by a black person, but doesn’t fly from Hillary Clinton and Bill de Blasio. (Sorry, it doesn’t count that Blaz’s wife is black, or that Bill Clinton was once called “the first black president.”) Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr., who is black, delivered the next line, saying he didn’t “like jokes like that.” Clinton tentatively offered the punchline: The mayor went “cautious politician time,” she said, adding, “I’ve been there.”

Why it matters (or doesn’t): It’s true that Clinton has been criticized for being too cautious, but she should have been more cautious about this. It’s not so much that the skit is racist—hey, it’s a bait-and-switch that satirizes people’s racism!—as that it’s awkward and stereotype-driven, and isn’t all that funny. That said, it’s probably not a huge deal. The Inner Circle Dinner is a hotspot for ill-advised politician performances. Remember that time Donald Trump motorboated then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, dressed in drag?

The lesson: If she could turn back time, if she could find a way, she’d take back this skit.