When Hillary Silenced Her Haters ... With a Roast

When Hillary Silenced Her Haters ... With a Roast

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking with supporters at a "Get Out the Caucus" rally at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School in West Des Moines, Iowa.

SourceGage Skidmore/Flickr CC

Why you should care

Because sometimes it’s better to laugh than cry. 

Hillary Clinton is no stranger to awkward campaign situations. Or pointed criticism. And during this heated presidential campaign, she has turned to one of her most trusted aides on the campaign trail: her sense of humor.

She used it to defang a particularly barbed question from a college student at a presidential town hall in Iowa earlier this year. She deployed it skillfully in a memorable exchange at a presidential debate two days after the 2008 Iowa caucuses when asked by the moderator why voters found Barack Obama more likable: “Well, that hurts my feelings” she said to raucous laughter right before the smug-sounding senator from Illinois impaled himself on his own “you’re likable enough, Hillary” interjection.

And whether or not you find Clinton all that likable, it’s hard not to admire the comedic resiliency she has demonstrated on occasion — and perhaps no occasion demanded it more than the Democratic National Committee’s roast of its chairman, Ron Brown, on Jan. 30, 1992, just a little more than a week before that year’s Iowa caucuses.

Making fun of something that was perceived as a liability was quite risky.

Daniel Urman, Northeastern University

It was an event not so remarkable in itself: A schmoozy reception for the D.C. glitterati at the Sheraton Washington, emceed by CNN’s Larry King, that Clinton, age 44 and still a lawyer and first lady of Arkansas, had to attend — and crack jokes — as a surrogate roaster for her husband, who was campaigning for president and too busy to attend. King’s opening number contained a number of jokes about those not in attendance, including then-President George H.W. Bush (“out looking for a philosophy”), which the leering cable-news legend rounded off by asking, “It’s 10 o’clock, Hillary, where is Bill Clinton?”

That’s a tough act for any political spouse to follow gracefully, not to mention a cruel jab given that Clinton was not the object of the roast, nor had she, shall we say, had the best week. Three days before, at a motel in Pierre, South Dakota, she had flipped on the TV to King’s network and watched as Gennifer Flowers, looking like every married woman’s worst early-’90s nightmare, claimed to have had a 12-year affair with her husband. And now, after nationally televised appearances on 60 Minutes and Primetime Live and the entire country speculating about her marriage, Clinton had to answer King’s callow question.

“Bill Clinton is with the other woman in his life,” confessed Hillary after taking the podium in a black evening dress. “And I’m sure you’ll read about it as you’re checking out of the supermarket next week.… He is back in Little Rock … attending a Y teen dance with his daughter, Chelsea.”

Whew. And damn.

“Making fun of something that was perceived as a liability was quite risky,” says Daniel Urman, the director of Northeastern University’s Doctorate in Law and Policy program. “You could sense the nervous laughter in the room.”

Clinton continued, taking aim at that room: “I’ve heard so many rumors this week, I can’t keep track of them. And I know you’ve heard them too.” She paused. “You may have even started some of them.” Cue the squirming.

Funny? Not especially. Awkward? Absolutely. Tough? As nails.

Enjoy the full incredible/cringeworthy performance below.

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