Almost exactly 24 hours after they met in a testy third-and-final presidential debate, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton again found themselves on the same stage — although this time, the insults they traded were supposed to be for laughs.
At least, that was the idea.
The two were taking part in a longstanding New York City tradition, the Al Smith charity dinner. (For more on the festivities, see this scene-setter from the Times.)
Backstage, Al Smith Dinner. Mayor DeBlasio, Melania and Donald Trump, Cardinal Dolan, Hillary Clinton, Al Smith and Governor Cuomo. pic.twitter.com/0tg4IlWDRf
— MARK SIMONE (@MarkSimoneNY) October 20, 2016
And now, to the important stuff: The jokes. Below, we'll pull our favorites — and favorite clunkers — from each candidate('s paid joke-writers) and explain why they did — but mostly didn't — work. Trump's comments seemed unusually mean-spirited, given the forum, while Clinton's jokes often fell flat.
As usual, these are our expert opinions, not to be questioned or second-guessed.
“Oh this one’s going to get me in trouble — not with Hillary. You know the president told me to stop whining, but I really have to say the media is more biased this year than ever before. You want the proof? Michelle Obama gives a speech, and everyone loves it. It’s fantastic. They think she’s absolutely great. My wife, Melania, gives the exact same speech, and people get on her case! And I don’t get it. I don't know why.” (Points for wife-deprecation. This was a very good joke -- and one that Trump should have concluded with. Instead, he kept talking.)
“We have proven that we can actually be civil toward each other. In fact, before taking the dais, Hillary accidentally bumped into me, and she very civilly said, ‘Pardon me.’ And I very politely replied, 'Let me talk to you about that after I get into office.'” (Not great, but as you'll see, the bar is low.)
“Last night they said that was the most vicious debate in the history of politics. … I’m trying to think back to Lincoln. I don’t know.” (Do people really know what was said at the Lincoln debates?)
“I have no doubt that Hillary is going to laugh quite a bit tonight — sometimes even at an appropriate moment.” (I have been following this campaign closely, and even I don't know what this means. UPDATE: Some suggest it had to do with allegations that she laughed during Wednesday's debate while they were talking about serious issues. Others think it's a reference to her laughing on tape while talking to a reporter about defending an alleged child rapist as a lawyer in the 1970s, which would be very dark.)
“The truth is I’m actually a modest person. Very modest. In fact, people tell me that modesty is actually my best quality — even better than my temperament.” (Negative points for a cliche premise — Trump as not humble. Even more negative points for the temperament addendum.)
“And Hillary was very gracious. She said if somehow she gets elected, she wants me to be without question either her ambassador to Iraq or to Afghanistan. It’s my choice.” (This evokes some very real things that people may not want to revisit.)
The Even Worse
“I wasn’t really sure if Hillary was going to be here tonight, because I guess you didn’t send her invitation by email — or maybe you just did, and she just found out about it through the wonder of WikiLeaks.” (Again, the addendum.)
“Hillary is so corrupt, she got kicked off the Watergate Commission. How corrupt do you have to be to get kicked off the Watergate Commission?” (It is not true that Clinton was kicked off the commission, so negative points for a faulty premise. And the joke was meh.)
“We’ve learned so much from WikiLeaks. For instance, Hillary believes that it’s vital to deceive the people by having one public policy and a totally different policy in private. … For example, here she is tonight, in public, pretending not to hate Catholics." (Besides being unfunny, this is also objectively unfair: it's a reference to a WikiLeaks email in which Clinton advisers — not Clinton herself — speak disparagingly about conservative Catholics.)
“Everyone knows, of course, Hillary’s belief that, 'It takes a village,' which only makes sense, after all, in places like Haiti, where she’s taken a number of them." (This is about human suffering.)
"I took a break from my rigorous nap schedule to be here. And as all of you heard, it's a treat for all of you, because usually I charge a lot for speeches like this." (Solid self-deprecation.)
"Your eminence, you do deserve great credit for bringing together two people who've been at each other's throats — mortal enemies, bitter foes. I've got to ask: How did you get the governor and mayor here together tonight." (Inside joke for those assembled — Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Democratic New York Mayor Bill de Blasio have feuded — but thoroughly decent.)
To Trump: "After listening to your speech, I will also enjoy listening to Mike Pence deny that you ever gave it." (Topical. Timely. Even without knowing that Trump would go off the rails when the remarks were prepared.)
"Just to be clear, I think the Cardinal is saying I'm not eligible for sainthood, but getting through these three debates with Donald has to count as a miracle. So I guess I'm up against the highest, hardest, stained-glass ceiling." (Again, quit while you're ahead.)
"Now, I've got to say, there are a lot of friendly faces in this room -- people I've been privileged to know and work with. I just want to put you all in a basket of adorables." (Sort of self-deprecating, given Clinton backed off her "basket of deplorables" comment, but a little short on execution.)
"And you look so good in your tuxes -- or as I call them, formal pantsuits." (Pantsuit jokes should have been retired eight years ago.)
"I'm not boring at all. In fact, I'm the life of every party I attend. And I've been to three." (The execution was just...off. Hard to put it into words here.)
The Even Worse
"People look at the Statue of Liberty, and they see a proud history of a nation of immigrants — a beacon of hope for people around the world. Donald looks at the Statue of Liberty and sees a 4. Maybe a 5 if she loses the torch and tablet and changes her hair." (Some will love this. It was roast-y and semi-clever. It also was one sentence too long.)
"Every year, this dinner brings together a collection of sensible, committed mainstream Republicans. Or, as we now like to call them, Hillary supporters." (Too self-serving for our taste.)
"Come to think of it, a good number for a woman: 45. But I digress." (It's because she would be the 45th president. Do you get it?)